…we were SO close.
I’m a pretty easygoing guy. Maybe it’s my California residence, maybe it’s that I have what I consider to be a dream job, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had a darned good year at the betting windows, but it takes a lot to tick me off, and for the first 35 days of the racing meet at Saratoga, that didn’t happen.
That was before Wednesday night, though, when I saw a post in a popular Facebook group called “Thoroughbred Racing in New York” that sent me over the edge. Full disclosure: I like and/or respect most of the group’s 2,600-plus members. I’ve met many of them on multiple occasions in various settings, and I consider the group’s chief moderator, Ernie Munick, a great ambassador for the sport and an even better person.
Here’s the full story. NYRA analyst Anthony Stabile, who I don’t know and have never met, went on TV after Arrogate’s second-place finish in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He remarked that he was a member of the “younger generation,” and that not only did he consider Arrogate to be one of the best horses he’d ever seen, but that he also considered the big grey to be one of the best horses of all-time.
As comrade and Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello would say, “…and there we go with the antics.”
Outcry from some racing veterans against Stabile’s comments got pretty harsh. Before we go any further, here’s the crux of my column: I’m not here to argue for or against Stabile’s opinion. What I’m crusading against is the belief of some in the game that the opinions of those younger than them don’t carry weight, simply because of when the people carrying those views were born.
Nowhere was that more evident than in a comment I saw from a few days ago. The comment said, and I’m quoting here, “Stabile is just like so many younger fans who are blind to the past.”
I was fine before reading that. Every other comment, I could shrug off and move on from without a second thought. For some reason, that one hit me hard. It’s probably because I’m a nerd who has devoured most of the books on racing history that have been published in the last 20 years, but that comment reeked of such ignorance and snobbery that I could not possibly let it go unchecked.
I’ve always been a believer that most aspects of horse racing revolve around one central mission: Use what’s happened in the past to your advantage as you work forward. Gamblers do it every day reading the Daily Racing Form. Trainers do it in their barns when making split-second decisions on how to train their horses and where to run them. Owners and breeders analyze pedigrees and running lines on a constant basis when looking to breed or purchase horses. Marketing and business-types analyze handle numbers from every conceivable angle using data that would make your head spin (I worked for an ADW/television network for more than two years; trust me, I’d know). Heck, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, an organization for which I’m proud to cast an annual ballot, is BUILT on that very concept.
Put simply, any claims that younger people in the industry don’t know their history are wrong. If we didn’t know our history, we wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, let alone thrived. I’m 28 years old, and I have no memory of seeing any great horse before the days of Cigar. Does that make me any less fit to express my opinion? Of course not.
I’ve won awards for my work in the business. I work for the leading authority on horse racing news in this country, and my resume includes stops at both HRTV and TVG. I’ve also been fortunate enough to continue my work for The Saratogian as that paper’s main handicapper, and I’m simply stating a fact when I tell you that any credible list of top public handicappers at that track (based there or anywhere else) has me on it. That isn’t arrogance, or bluster, or ego, or a strong personality talking. That’s a conclusion grounded in statistics and facts from the past several years.
So yeah. Forgive me if I took those comments just a wee bit personally.
I’m not alone in having a certain amount of gravitas in this business at a young age. The aforementioned Pete Aiello isn’t even halfway to social security, and he’s emerged as one of the top race-callers in the business. Joe Nevills, Nicole Russo, Matt Bernier, and David Aragona are similar-aged colleagues at the Daily Racing Form and TimeformUS, and I’d put their skills in their respective lines of work up against those of anyone else in the business. They’re that good, and they’re going to BE that good for a long, long time.
I’ve worked with Gino Buccola, Caleb Keller, Joaquin Jaime, Tom Cassidy, and Britney Eurton at TVG, along with a large number of people behind the scenes whose names you don’t know but who the operation would not work without. HRTV was much the same way. Once again, please let me stress that this is not a matter of if I agreed with those people all of the time. The point I’m trying to make is different, and it’s simple: You don’t get to bash the source of those comments simply because that source is younger than you’d like him/her to be.
I’ve heard this stuff before, and I’m tired of it. I’ve gotten hate mail from a Kentucky Derby-winning owner. I’ve been told by people that I’m not good at what I do, and in fact, being told that there were certain things I wasn’t good enough to do sparked the very existence of this site. Those who know me well will tell you that the best way to motivate me is to tell me I can’t do something. That flips a switch, and my priority instantly becomes to prove people wrong. Dislike me as much as you want, and I probably won’t care. Disrespect me, or try to discredit me, and I’m going to pull out all the stops to prove you wrong.
If it seems like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder sometimes, that’s probably accurate. The stuff about ego and bluster, though, is a bit overblown, and if you think my personality is that strong, understand that you’re seeing my competitive nature and a freakish desire to be the best at what I do, all the time. I know that doesn’t sit well with some people, and I’ve paid for that (for stories on that topic, check back in 30 years when I write my memoirs to pay for Pick Four tickets). I’ve come to terms with being labeled as “the motor-mouthed kid that doesn’t shut up,” but what I refuse to tolerate is the notion that anyone under the age of 35 or so shouldn’t be taken seriously solely because we’re younger than most of our contemporaries.
What was said struck a chord with me in all the wrong ways. I won’t speak for some of the people that I’ve mentioned in this column, but I will say that I refuse to be disregarded simply because I’m younger than most of the people in my field. I’ve done too much and worked too hard to be treated that way, and I know I’m not alone in putting in the time and effort.
To those who come here and value my input and thoughts: Thank you. You’re a large part of the reason I write this stuff. If you’re one of the people who thinks those younger than you are somehow inferior simply because of their age, think again. I won’t accept it, and I’ll be happy to tell you, and show you, that you’re wrong.
Also- when you love a sport don’t you want it to flourish? Doesn’t that mean encouraging younger people to be invloled rather than discouraging them?