The last time I wrote something, the finished product became the most-read piece on AndrewChampagne.com. It was a 50-point plan designed to improve horse racing, and while several of the ideas had been ruminating in my brain for years, the drive to write it came from…well, from showing someone that if you accuse me of not having ideas or a drive to get things done, I’m going to take you to school.
I wrote that article in an hour, and honestly, it’s a miracle my keyboard didn’t melt from how fast my fingers moved. When I saw the responses, I was floored. For as much bluster as I appear to have on social media sometimes, I’m quite a different person once the “wannabe pro wrestling manager” shtick goes away. Seeing so many people identify with certain points I made (even when they didn’t agree with everything I wrote) was genuinely powerful, and, to be blunt, it reminded me that I can still write. To everyone who gave that a read and identified with some of it, thank you.
With the end of 2019 upon us, I see fit to offer up wishes for horse racing in the year 2020 and beyond. Since it worked so well last time, I’ll stick to a 50-item list. Some of these may sound a bit familiar if you read my previous piece, but this is meant as more of an idealistic/humorous piece rather than a memo outlining policy initiatives to be undertaken by the holder of a job I’ll never get.
Got ideas of your own, or thoughts on my list? Tweet me or shoot me an email via this site’s “contact” function. As I will make clear every time I do this, I see everything that comes through, and I respond to most of it.
With that in mind, here we go with a list of 50 wishes for the new year!
1) Friends of mine/all-around good guys Joe Nevills and Ernie Munick get carte blanche to go as long as they want in acceptance speeches at the Eclipse Awards later this month.
2) The place for true storytelling within the sport widens. The best pieces in racing aren’t bought and paid for, nor are they blasted out in ads that fans won’t click on. They’re written, edited, and broadcast with heart, which isn’t visible in a profit/loss sheet but is the most valuable thing in the entire industry.
3) Accusations of a certain set of brothers fixing races while riding at high-profile tracks stop immediately.
4) Failing the previous wish being granted, those who accuse these brothers of improper activities will stop betting on races where they insist these improper activities are being conducted, rather than pumping money through the windows and enabling whatever alleged activities they’re accusing the riders of to continue.
5) Team Runhappy makes its own racetrack dedicated to him and spends all of its sponsorship money there, as opposed to permeating track feeds to where live video of the races becomes borderline unwatchable at times.
6) The Donn Handicap’s 2021 return is announced.
7) The downhill turf course at Santa Anita reopens.
8) The phrase “we’ll train up to” is uttered 50% less by connections that think a top-notch horse running third in a graded stakes race is a crisis that merits a six-month vacation.
9) The “breeze” portions of 2-year-old sales are cancelled due to horsemen refusing to participate.
10) Instead of changing tracks, whip rules, or medication schedules, we breed sounder, sturdier, stamina-oriented thoroughbreds that can withstand longer campaigns, run more frequently, and energize fans at their home tracks.
11) The word “brilliance” is banned from all racing and breeding circles, effective immediately.
12) Everyone goes to at least one new-to-them track during the upcoming calendar year.
13) Keeneland rolls out the red carpet (and turns on the heat!) if I make a spring trip I’m mulling.
14) Those familiar with Keeneland inundate me with recommendations of things to do in that neck of the woods.
15) Racing gets a new high-quality video game. “Champion Jockey,” the last title to hit major consoles, is still playable…but it came out in 2011 for prior-generation machines. Koei/Tecmo, get on this!
16) When the game gets produced, I get the master list of all the cheat codes.
17) King Elliot, my 2-year-old prodigy in “Off and Pacing,” realizes his lofty potential.
18) Elliot, my 8-year-old cat/partner in crime, stops jumping in my lap when I’m trying to handicap a race.
19) The Pink Sheet continues to be enjoyed by all who buy it outside Saratoga’s gates.
20) The handicapper on the far right of the paper’s pick box retains his title for what would be a fifth Pink Sheet championship in the last seven years.
21) I somehow learn how to handicap steeplechase races.
22) John Shapazian of The Saratoga Special slows down enough to give the rest of us a chance to catch him for the all-media title.
23) Assuming I visit Saratoga this summer, I get to patronize Walt and Whitman Brewing, which pays homage to The Saratogian (the building’s prior tenant) by having editions of the paper and The Pink Sheet on its walls.
24) Jokes about my picks literally being in the toilet (since Pink Sheets are on the bathroom walls, too) are kept to a minimum.
25) This year’s Triple Crown races go off without a hitch, with horses running clean races and ideally not dumping riders out of the gate.
26) Racing’s big events are marketed smartly, with materials aimed at people who will actually wager on the races.
27) Artifacts at major racetracks are not obstructed, at all, for any reason.
28) Those with ideas to improve the sport get an environment in which to debate freely, constructively, and with a shared interest in improving the game.
29) Trolls with no ideas who don’t have the guts to put their faces and names on what they post lose every photo finish for the rest of time.
30) The Vosburgh gets its Grade 1 status restored.
31) Every graded stakes race restricted to 3-year-olds after October 1st gets knocked down at least one level. If you don’t beat older horses after that date, you don’t get to claim a Grade 1.
32) The Santa Anita Handicap gets moved to the last weekend in April or Memorial Day, in order to preserve its importance.
33) Either way, the Santa Anita Handicap now starts a three-race series featuring the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July) and the Pacific Classic (which remains in August).
34) When the term “handicap” is used to describe a race, it’s accurate. The days of differences between top and bottom weights being five pounds are done.
35) Tracks with access to casinos and sports books utilize these platforms to get gamblers to put money through the racing windows.
36) A solution to late odds changes gets worked out and implemented immediately.
37) If this means widespread exchange wagering with fixed odds, find a way to roll it out in such a fashion that tracks don’t go broke.
38) Short-term sacrifices for long-term gain are viewed as necessary rather than burdensome.
39) The Breeders’ Cup Derby is always viewed as the worst idea in the history of horse racing.
40) Plans are announced that will bring the Breeders’ Cup back to New York. I understand there are political barriers in place, but if I’m wishing, I’m wishing big.
41) The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Filly and Mare Sprint, and Juvenile Turf Sprint are dissolved, and their purses are re-allocated to races that would benefit from runners in those races going elsewhere.
42) Bettors get protected.
43) In that vein, all horses that break through starting gates prior to a race become immediate scratches.
44) Additionally, New York’s “purse money only” rule (which I’ve written about several times) gets kicked to the curb. If this means no more entries until a better rule is written, so be it.
45) If a top official in racing can’t explain to a novice within 20 seconds why things are what they are in certain parts of the sport, the rule or standard in question gets rewritten at one’s earliest possible convenience.
46) On-track concession prices are brought down to Earth, especially for track-goers who bet. We’ll start with people who bet $50 on a card getting a 25% discount across the board and go up from there.
47) Every Twitter fight within the horse racing community gets a poll popping up after its conclusion asking who won. Winners advance to a battle royal held at the Beemie Awards after-party.
48) More people participate in Operation Gift Horse. 2019 was my first year, and it was an absolute pleasure to take part.
49) Less people participate in behavior that reflects poorly on the sport to novice fans. Also, the less we’re in bed with organizations that promote misogyny, the better.
50) We’ll end with my personal favorite: All serious horseplayers get one “STOP THE RACE!” button to use at a single solitary point in their lifetimes. Use it however you want, but once you do, it’s gone for good.