If you’ve been to my site frequently since its launch in March of last year, chances are you’re aware of a feature called “War Stories,” wherein I discuss some of the random, mind-boggling things that have happened to me in my life and professional career. I’ve had a lot of fun writing those pieces, and it’s meant a lot to me that others have enjoyed reading them.
This column represents an evolution of that concept. It’s the first in a recurring series I’m calling “Champagne’s Campaigns,” which will feature some stories, a few thoughts on matters that I didn’t necessarily want to put in standalone columns, and other stray thoughts that I felt the need to put into writing. Furthermore, it provides me with another outlet to speak to the people who enjoy coming to my site and reading the content that I produce.
I’m excited to roll this out, and I’m eager to hear what you have to say. Got an idea for a future such column? Submit it using the ‘contact’ feature this site provides, or send me a tweet. If it’s good, I’ll work it into a piece. For now, here’s what we’ve got!
ON AUDIBLE, MENDELSSOHN, AND MCKINZIE MUSICAL CHAIRS
This past weekend was a big one on the road to the 2018 Kentucky Derby. All season long, we’d been waiting for a dazzling effort from a high-profile 3-year-old in a major prep race. In the span of nine hours or so, we saw two.
When Audible dropped way back down the backstretch of the Florida Derby, I was concerned. Yes, the early pace was ridiculously fast (quick enough for 99-1 shot Millionaire Runner to snatch fifth and earn $28,000 on what was basically a freeroll for his connections), but that had never been his game. However, when the field hit the far turn, there was Audible, rocketing past the field and hitting the front as they straightened for the stretch drive.
Maybe he got the perfect setup, but any 3-year-old that shows this much versatility must be respected. Todd Pletcher won the Kentucky Derby last year with a late-developing horse that was just beginning to figure things out, and he’s got a real chance to do so for the second season in a row.
Meanwhile, earlier that day, Mendelssohn overwhelmed a mediocre field to win the UAE Derby for European powerhouse trainer Aidan O’Brien. He was making his first start on dirt, but he took to the new surface like a duck to water, making the lead and kicking away on the far turn before widening away to win by an Abu Dhabi city block.
What most impressed me was his stride and way of going. He did most of the widening while on the wrong lead, but when he switched to the correct lead in mid-stretch, he found yet another gear. If there’s any flaw to speak of here, it’s that I’d be much more impressed with the effort if the Meydan surface didn’t play very kindly to early speed all meet long. However, he earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure in that win, which is the top such number by any 3-year-old to this point in the season. He’s shipped to the U.S. effectively once already, and if he comes over in good order, look out.
Unfortunately, amidst the head-turning performances, we may have also seen a huge defection from the Run for the Roses. McKinzie, who was last seen being DQ’d from a win in the San Felipe, was ruled out of the Santa Anita Derby, where he’d have had a highly-anticipated rematch with Bolt d’Oro. With McKinzie on the shelf, Justify has been re-routed to that race, and that could also mean a re-routing of Solomini, who had been pointed to Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial but could now be headed to the Arkansas Derby.
BUNNIES, NOT BETS?
Shortly after 8 a.m. Pacific time on Sunday morning, I got woken up by a text message from my father, who still lives in New York. He had just gotten through the Gulfstream Park card, and logged on to his ADW of choice to find a reminder that residents of the state of New York were not allowed to bet on Easter Sunday.
This is ludicrous to me, on a number of counts (and yes, we’ll head into light political talk here; sorry about that). Firstly, what is a state’s government doing telling its residents that something legal 364 days of the year is somehow illegal on the 365th? Also, doesn’t this go against the whole “separation of church and state” thing that’s outlined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?
Here’s what may be the most important question: Who, exactly, is clamoring for this archaic law to stay on the books? A study by the Public Religion Research Institute published in 2016 shows that New York’s Catholic and Protestant populations are dropping, and that 25% of New Yorkers do not affiliate themselves with any religion at all (up from 17% less than a decade earlier). Why should racing fans be penalized one day out of the year with this piece of legislation, one which seems to be getting more and more outdated with each passing year given the people that reside in that area?
The NTRA’s lobbying efforts have done spectacular work of late, most notably changing the government’s federal tax code to benefit horseplayers and improve churn at the betting windows. I’m using this space to call for the NTRA to direct some of its lobbying efforts to the state of New York, and to any other states where legislation like this exists. At last check, other forms of gambling (casinos, racinos, etc.) were not targeted by this legislation, which serves no positive purpose, denies fans a chance to participate in the pari-mutuel side of the game, and cuts ADW’s off from a valuable revenue stream.
ANDREW’S DO’S AND DON’T’S OF TROLLING
As some of you know, I recently took a hardline stance against certain forms of online trolling. I can’t say for sure what set me off, but I’d seen enough from a number of people to where I decided enough was enough.
New Twitter rule for me: Constructive criticism of content I produce is fine, as is debate and conversation about it. Unmitigated bashing, especially if you use a fake name/a profile picture that is not you, doesn’t fly anymore, nor do things that get personal in nature.
— Andrew Champagne (@AndrewChampagne) March 17, 2018
Life’s too short to worry about nonsense. If you’re complaining about free content, or whining for the sake of being a troll solely because you can, do it somewhere else. Penalty for this is an instant block, plus some sort of public shaming (unless you’re begging for attention).
— Andrew Champagne (@AndrewChampagne) March 17, 2018
Like with anything else, there’s an art form to trolling people online. Certain things are acceptable, and certain things are not. Here’s a quick rundown of how to do this without making me want to put my fist through a wall.
– Put your name/likeness on what you’re tweeting. If you tweet this stuff while using a fake name and/or a picture that obviously isn’t you, you’re a gutless coward whose opinions aren’t worth the time it takes to read them. Put another way, don’t be the clown that’s tweeting behind Frosted’s name and likeness, who I had to put on blast the other day.
Observation on what could be an award-winning fight come December: It takes an awful lot of guts (read: none) to insult people when you’re not putting your real name or likeness on any of what’s written. https://t.co/V6CPpm3He9
— Andrew Champagne (@AndrewChampagne) March 25, 2018
– Pick your spots. If you’re telling me I made a bad pick when my choice runs up the track, that’s reasonable (although even the best handicappers are wrong seven out of 10 times). If you’re trying to criticize me when I’ve picked the third choice in the field and it runs third, or if I’ve given out a price that didn’t win but outran his or her odds, that’s a different story.
– Make a pick yourself once in a while. If all you use Twitter for is to bash handicappers, as opposed to contributing any content of your own, the handicappers you target will notice (and yes, we know when members of the peanut gallery make new accounts thinking their targets won’t realize it). Oddly, most of us are kindred spirits that get along with one another, and chances are we WILL laugh at you behind your back.
– Personal insults are never OK. If you want to debate handicapping philosophies, ticket construction, or any other aspect of this great game, chances are I’m all for it. If you make it personal, that crosses a line, and there’s no going back.
Follow these four simple rules, and I guarantee you that what you put forward will get a response other than, “Wow, this person’s a jerk.”
AN UNCONVENTIONAL INTERNSHIP
I’ll finish things off with a story I haven’t told yet on this site. Here’s something you probably don’t know: My career likely turns out MUCH differently if not for the presence of ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio.
On its surface, it’s an odd link, but it’s easily explained. Several of his children attended Ithaca College, and I was fortunate enough to interview him on a radio broadcast my senior year. He treated every college student he came across warmly and with tremendous respect, and he also won favor with all of us by driving our collective arch-nemesis, the sports information director nobody liked (read this for more information on why), absolutely bonkers simply by coming to the press box.
Sal took an interest in me, and he was friendly with Merrill Reese, the radio play-by-play man for the Philadelphia Eagles (and another one of the good guys). In addition to those duties, Merrill runs WBCB, a community radio station in Levittown, Pa., a small city northeast of Philadelphia (near Trenton, N.J.). Because of my ties to Sal, I landed an internship there in the summer of 2010.
In my time there, I did commercial spots, conducted a few interviews, assisted with promotions, rubbed shoulders with some really cool/talented people (shout out to Paul, Mike, Matt, Steve, Dan, Cassandra, and Wendy, among others!) and helped out with a Wednesday night sports show called “The Second Shift.” Most notably, though, I got to call regional play of that year’s Little League World Series, which was much less of a drive for me to get to than for the rest of the staff since it took place in Connecticut. My work there was part of what got me hired at Siena College, which in turn led to my job at The Saratogian, which in turn opened doors at HRTV, TVG, and The Daily Racing Form. That first door got opened in large part because Sal put in a good word for me, and I’ll always be grateful to him for that. Sal, if you’re out there: Thanks.
The internship was a blast, but there was a catch: It was a three-hour drive from my then-hometown! This meant waking up early once or twice a week, heading down the highway, and doing the same drive in reverse at night. The quickest way home took me down State Route 206 in New Jersey, which leads to I-287 and the New York State Thruway. If you’re not familiar, 206 goes through a lot of the state’s richest suburbs. These suburbs had police departments that did not exactly take kindly to old, cheap cars with out-of-state plates on them rolling through in the dead of night, as I’ll explain.
It’s just before midnight, and I’m driving on 206 through Hillsborough, N.J., which is just north of Princeton. Suddenly, a local cop gets on my tail, and he starts doing a few tricks to try to throw me off. He rides my back bumper, drops way back, and then creeps back up, trying to see how I’ll react. We get to a red light after several minutes, and I say to myself, “OK, he’s either going to blow past me, or his lights are going on and he’s pulling me over.”
Sure enough, lights and sirens come on, and he pulls me over. He asks for my license and registration, asks what I’m doing there…and then starts asking me about narcotics. Yes, folks, apparently in order for this cop working the graveyard shift to meet his quota, I was expected to fill the role of a suspected drug mule for doing nothing more than driving through town with New York plates on a 1998 Mercury Sable.
Quickly, he realizes this is going nowhere, and he busts out his flashlight. In scanning my car for drug paraphernalia that does not exist, he notices two cards of DRF past performances in my front seat. He asks if I’m a gambler, to which I respond that I’m heading to Saratoga twice later that week (once with my dad, once with my mom). Disgusted and disappointed, the cop mutters, “Well, good luck,” bolts to his car, and before I can even digest the situation, he’s gone off to bug someone else.
I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of interesting things in my career, but that experience was among the weirdest ones I’ve ever been through. I’m a 21-year-old kid just trying to get home from work (albeit with a ridiculously long commute), and now I need to worry about local cops pulling me over just because they can? I loved my internship, and, as mentioned, it did a lot of good, but let’s just say I found a different way home after that!