The Worst Horse Racing Opinion(s) I’ve Ever Seen

On Thursday, I read one of the most-pompous, least-informed “letters to the editor” in the history of journalism. It was published on the Thoroughbred Daily News website, and it contained a variety of wild accusations and untruths about horse racing journalists and media companies. Should you want to read it and subject yourself to the nonsense as we go along, here you go.

Before we go much further, I feel it prudent to point out my experience in the field. I worked with The Saratogian, HRTV, TVG, and The Daily Racing Form on a full-time basis. I’ve written for print and websites, I’ve run social media platforms, and I’ve geared content to a variety of different audiences. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve achieved significant growth in key metrics, and I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of good people doing various things to keep each business going.

I’m not in racing full-time anymore, but I’m fortunate to still do plenty. I host a show on the On The Wrong Lead podcast network, I freelance for The Paulick Report and The Pink Sheet, and this site you’re on right now got more than 30,000 hits during the 2022 Saratoga meet. It hit that total with zero in the way of paid promotion, and with its only hype being on my social media platforms and the occasional blurb in The Pink Sheet.

I’m not saying this to gloat, but to prove that any decent list of competent horse racing writers, editors, podcast/video people, etc., has me on it. That gives me the credentials to be taken seriously when I say that this letter to the editor is barely worth the microscopic amount of space it takes up on the TDN servers.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look. Firstly, let this sink in: The writer of the letter to the editor, who urged accountability and transparency, requested anonymity.

That’s not a typo or an untruth. Already, the letter starts from behind, as the writer fails to practice what they preach and doesn’t understand the absurdity of what they’ve produced. How is this writer any better than the, ahem, “journalists with an agenda” they complain about, when the letter-writer is content to lob grenades from behind a cloak of anonymity? If you want to show you care about writers being held accountable for what they write, be accountable yourself.

That brings me to the “most journalists have an agenda” comment. Trying to keep this part brief is hard, but in short: No. To paraphrase my good friend and Catena Media colleague Alicia Hughes, news is good, bad, and indifferent. It doesn’t care what you think a reporter should or shouldn’t be covering, and it’s a good reporter’s duty to cover everything, warts and all. Like every sport, racing has its share of warts, and trying to act like they don’t exist is borderline delusional.

Reporters are not publicists, no matter how much executives at many racing and breeding organizations that employ publicists want them to be. Stuff gets tricky, awkward, and messy sometimes. That’s the nature of the beast, and fair reporters get that reputation by covering newsworthy stories that come their way, not by cherry-picking and only writing the warm and fuzzy stuff.

(On a related note: Have you ever noticed the people who say reporters need to be writing happier stories are often the ones saying racing should be covered like a mainstream sport? Go watch ESPN’s coverage of the situation involving NBA star Ja Morant and tell me how good reporters would cover any mildly-controversial issue in racing. If you can’t stand the heat thrown by solid reporters NOW, imagine the scrutiny that would come with being covered “like a mainstream sport.”)

Moving on, we get to complaints about “dishonesty at each stage of the pipeline, from the sources through the writers to the readers.” This also included that sources of most stories “are agitators that pull the strings by contributing to online fearmongering publications.”

This is about when my anger turned into bewilderment. To recap: Most journalists have an agenda, everyone’s lying…and it’s the PUBLICATIONS, not the writer of this letter, that are, ahem, “fearmongering?” These are tactics straight out of low-rent sensationalist political talk shows that paint pictures of “us” versus “them.” They don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny, and it’s another example of why this attitude should never be taken seriously.

I don’t shy away from what I write, and neither do a lot of extremely talented writers I’m proud to call friends and colleagues. They’ve won Eclipse Awards for what they do. They wake up at dawn, take in workouts, go through days at the races and nights at the sales, write brilliantly about the things they see, and in some cases don’t get paid nearly enough for the quality of their work. They deserve better than flimsy, lazy attacks from someone who doesn’t have the courage to publicly identify themselves, and I’m about done staying quiet about it.

Stuff like we saw in the TDN Thursday isn’t okay, and I’m not alone in thinking it. Don Clippinger wrote a rebuttal to that letter that TDN, to their credit, published later in the day. I’ll quote some of his response here, because it puts things in perspective very well:

“The motivation of most all the journalists I’ve encountered in that time, which probably number in the thousands, was to get the story and get it right. That means telling both sides of the story. True, I have seen instances where the text may have been influenced by a losing bet, and industry members have at times tried unsuccessfully to throw their weight around in publications.

But those instances are exceedingly rare. To say that these journalists are ‘dishonest,’ to use the word of the anonymous coward, borders on libel.”

I’m big on accountability. My name is on everything I’ve ever written or produced at every outlet I’ve ever worked for, and as those who know me well can attest, I’ve taken my fair share of lumps for it. If anyone has a problem with anything my name is associated with, I’m a VERY easy guy to find.

With that in mind, there’s no dishonesty, clickbait, or sensationalism when I say this: The letter run by the TDN was a slap in the face to a LOT of good people. It was put into the world by someone who created the kind of negative story they wrote in to complain about, and the writer did so by lobbing wild, unjustified, and unsourced insults and accusations at folks who deserve much, much better.

Shame on them, shame on anyone who thinks this way, and shame on those who enable these people to continue acting as though good, hard-working writers are somehow the enemy of this industry.

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