INTERLUDE: Gimmick Andrew, the Kentucky Derby, and horse racing insanity

We find Normal Andrew in his absurdly-overpriced Northern California apartment, mulling over the events of the strangest day in the history of horse racing Twitter. It’s quiet.

Too quiet…until music familiar to wrestling fans of a certain age blares from the parking garage next door.

Suddenly, we see the familiar flair and panache of Gimmick Andrew strut right through the front door and past Elliot the fearsome attack cat. Unlike past run-ins, this time, Gimmick Andrew is clad in a freshly-tailored suit, walking with a newfound spring in his step in time with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s theme music, and speaking when marked in bold.

“Is the music really necessary? And the suit? And…is that a cane?”

“Everyone else is doing stupid things with no ramifications for their actions. Why not me?”

Both Andrews judgmentally look at a nonexistent camera for a few seconds, a stretch of time that feels like an eternity.

“You know what you need to do?”

“Write something that’ll go over the head of 90% of my audience but hit the other 10% square between the eyes?”

“…other than that.”

“Ask when you’re refunding the money you won on Derby Day?”

“Nobody’s going to make either of us feel guilty about hitting the race. I won’t allow it. All the naysayers can come take my Kentucky Derby winnings from our cold, dead hands, like Charlton Heston and his guns.”

“Credit where it’s due. We had Medina Spirit and gave out winning wagering strategies on every platform…”

“So why shouldn’t I be celebrating?”

“Read the room, dude. It’s not exactly a celebratory time.”

“What? Trainers cheating in horse racing comes as a shock?”

“Not quite. It’s moreso the fact that we’ve got so few chances to get things right as an industry and can’t do it. Then, when stuff happens, we have no uniform response because jurisdictions can’t work together.”

“Did I hear right that Baffert’s blaming a groom for urinating in a stall?”

“Yep. He’s also blaming ‘cancel culture.’”

“How is ‘cancel culture’ at fault with regard to a drug test? His horse tested positive. He’s either got a drugged-up horse or the testing system is flawed.”

“I wrote that.”

“Well, one or the other clearly has to change.”

“I wrote that, too. Read the site.”

“Sorry. I spent all day getting my suit worked on. It’s like an Italian sports car. Gotta get it fitted just right.”

“Whatever. It’s just sad.”

“Why do you feel that way?”

A pause.

“Don’t get all clammy on me. I’m your subconscious. If you can’t tell me, who CAN you tell?”

“I’ve given a lot to this game. A lot of passion, a lot of gambling money, a lot of time spent creating content. Now, everybody’s got an opinion, everyone thinks their opinion’s the only one that counts, and whether you’re being logical or not, and whether you have any credibility or not, isn’t worth a damn.”

“Welcome to Twitter.”

“It’s never been like this, though. Monday was unprecedented. Horse racing really can’t get out of its own way.”

“Then why do you care so much?”

“That’s why I paused. Between this situation, how it’s being handled by everybody, and the general disrespect being shown by everyone towards everyone else, it’s the first time I haven’t been proud to be part of the racing community. I just…wish there was room for some logic, somewhere, ANYWHERE.”

“You wish there was room for you.”

“…you don’t pull punches.”

“What good would I be if I did?”

“You want to fire up the CM Punk pipe bomb, or should I?”

“Go ahead.”

“Hey, WordPress isn’t allowing me to post a link to the spot in the video.”

“Tell them to scroll to 4:14.”

“Better now?”

“A little. There’s so much wrong that I want to change, except I can’t change it. Being passionate is almost a negative nowadays.”

“You wrote about that a few years ago.”

“Nothing’s changed. The people angriest about this situation may not be the connections involved in the Kentucky Derby. It’s the fans, the bettors, the people the sport cannot function without yet sometimes completely takes for granted and fails to appreciate.”

“You mean the people that groom from Claiborne went after?”

“I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole.”

“You’re no fun.”

“Anyway, it really stinks to be passionate about something when a perfect storm of horrible things comes together and threatens to destroy it.”

“You’re not going to quit betting, are you?”

“No, why?”

“Because if you did, I’d say, ‘see you tomorrow,’ which is literally the only possible retort against an attention-seeking person who resorts to that.”

Normal Andrew smiles.

“I’ll give you that. But what do you do when the thing you love very much seems hell-bent on destroying itself and doesn’t much care what you think about it?”

“You be yourself. In your case, it means being the very best you can be, doing things very few other people can do as well as you can, and hoping that one day, it’ll be enough for…well, whatever it is you’re chasing.”

“What am I chasing?”

“It seems like a moving target. But if it’s meant to be, you’ll hit it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m double-parked outside.”

“You bought a car?”

“Yeah! Brand new Camaro.”

“How’d you afford that?”

“What I made on Medina Spirit pales in comparison to what I made buying Dogecoin.”

Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby, and two important words

A long time ago, I composed a 50-point plan to improve horse racing’s future prospects. One of the most important ones was also probably the simplest one on the list. It was two words, and comprised a philosophy that racing had yet to embrace at that time.

“Optics matter.”

You know why I’m writing this column. It was announced Sunday morning that Medina Spirit, the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, tested positive for a banned substance. We’re now playing the waiting game as a split sample gets tested. If that comes back positive as well, we’ll see just the second medication-based disqualification in Derby history.

When trainer Bob Baffert was reached for comment on the situation, he denied giving Medina Spirit the illegal substance.

“I don’t know what is going on in racing right now but there is something not right,” he said to reporters Sunday. “I don’t feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged.”

This is consistent with his responses to situations involving top-tier horses such as Justify, Gamine, and Charlatan, among others, all of whom tested positive and have largely had those situations swept under the rug. In the latter two cases, the Arkansas Racing Commission recently overturned rulings made by its own stewards and reinstated victories for those two horses. Justify, meanwhile, tested positive for scopolamine following the 2018 Santa Anita Derby, but was not disqualified, either immediately after the test results came in or after lengthy legal proceedings stemming from a lawsuit filed by Bolt d’Oro’s owner/trainer, Mick Ruis.

I’m not a vet. If you’re looking for a detailed analysis of the substance Medina Spirit tested positive for, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. What I am is a lifelong racing fan, a handicapper since I was in middle school (for better or for worse), and someone with a career in marketing and communications that can provide some insight into how this will go over with the people racing needs in order to survive.

Spoiler alert: It’s not going over well.

Many in racing want the sport to be mainstream, as it was many years ago. As Alicia Hughes, a friend of mine and one of the best writers in the game, continually points out, this means an acceptance of criticism and coverage that is good, bad, and indifferent. Right now, what we have are a bunch of people who are very angry, for legitimate reasons.

Those who bet Mandaloun, who ran his eyeballs out to be second and tested clean, feel robbed. Those who took to social media to complain after the Derby, either because they didn’t use a 12-1 Bob Baffert trainee in a race he’d won six times before last weekend or because they genuinely felt something was afoot, have all the ammo they need to say the game is crooked (though cries of “I’M NEVER BETTING AGAIN” from those who shove the GDP of a developing nation through the windows or ADW’s will always come across as hollow and/or ego-driven).

How does any of this help racing draw the new fans it desperately needs? How has racing’s continued inability to effectively police itself in any way, shape, or form helped ensure a place for itself moving forward? And when will people who have the ability to make decisions that impact the sport moving forward realize trainers constantly complaining about being wronged are taking lessons from the Taylor Swift School of Spin, where nothing bad is ever their fault?

The answers: It doesn’t, it doesn’t, and they won’t, at least not without significant prompting to do so.

It took the FBI moving in for Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis to be run off the racetrack. In Navarro’s case, he had a rap sheet as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arm but continually received mere slaps on the wrist as he took bottom-level claimers and turned them into stakes winners. All the while, bettors had an idea of what was going on, bet money accordingly, and watched as racing took no significant action despite enough smoke to indicate a giant wildfire.

At a time when perception is everything, it seems racing is deliberately choosing not to be proactive. In combating the issue of race-day medication, the sport decided to phase out Lasix, a substance designed to stop horses from bleeding. While Lasix may be A problem, the Medina Spirit situation shows it was not THE problem. Add in that horses may need Lasix to run at the sport’s highest level due to the way horses are bred in 2021, and that several of those top-tier equine athletes have bled during races, and anyone who’s watching closely knows significantly more work is needed in order to ensure any consistency and integrity moving forward.

If Medina Spirit’s split sample comes back negative, I hope it’s a stimulus for the complete and total rebuild of post-race testing from coast to coast. I don’t care what it costs, nor what the hurdles are in instituting a nationwide system where all results can be trusted. If we can’t get this right when the entire world is watching, who’s to say we’re getting this right when it isn’t?

If Medina Spirit’s split sample comes back positive, I hope it’s a stimulus for a new era of stricter sanctions for trainers who cheat. Horses run for millions of dollars, and paltry fines that amount to change “supertrainers” might find between their couch cushions means the usual punishment doesn’t come close to fitting the crime. Meaningful fines and suspensions, ones that shut the door for assistants to step in as program trainers and allow a “business as usual” mentality, are long past due.

Optics matter. And if for horse racing doesn’t apply those two words to this situation on a national level, it casts doubt on if the sport ever will in a meaningful way.

NFL Picks, Plays, and Daily Fantasy: Nov. 15, 2020 (Week 10)

Last week: 1-3
2020 season: 21-13-2 (61.8%)

All lines and totals are courtesy of America’s Line. All DFS costs are courtesy of DraftKings.

Packers -13.5 over Jaguars

Jacksonville nearly pulled off a sizable upset last week against Houston. The Jaguars played hard and had a chance to tie with a two-point conversion, but the attempt failed and the Texans survived. This week, however, holds a much taller task for the Jags, who will once again trot out backup quarterback Jake Luton against the 6-2 Packers at Lambeau Field.

The half-point here is crucial. If this was a 14-point spread, it would look significantly less appetizing. However, in a world where a 28-14, “not as close as it looked” victory is a win for Green Bay backers, I want as much of Gang Green as I can get.

Chargers/Dolphins: OVER 48.5

By and large, I thought the totals were pretty spot-on this week. This one, however, seems a few points low. Justin Herbert may be the best offensive rookie in football, and the Dolphins have shown they’re a competent offensive squad with a special teams unit that can make big plays.

This hits me as a 28-24 sort of game, with both defenses showing up but not being totally immune to big plays. I’m looking forward to seeing two rookie quarterbacks in action, and I’m rooting for them to put up plenty of points.

Ravens -7 over Patriots

This line confuses me. I know the Baltimore offense has been inconsistent, but the Patriots nearly lost to the bottom-feeding Jets on Monday Night Football and will be coming in on a short week. Perhaps the presence of Bill Belichick is keeping this line tighter than it should be, but whatever the case is, I feel like Baltimore should be a double-digit favorite.

The Patriots…are simply not good. The shine’s come off of Cam Newton, who has no wide receiving corps to work with, and while the defense hasn’t been awful, it also hasn’t been good enough to completely stop opposing playmakers. I think Baltimore wins and wins comfortably, far more comfortably than the seven-point spread would suggest.

Bears +3 over Vikings

Initially, I wanted no part of this game. I thought Chicago giving two, as the Bears were when wagering opened, was a decent line. However, with news that David Montgomery won’t suit up, the line has shifted five points, and I think that’s an overcorrection.

Yes, Chicago losing Montgomery will hurt. However, while the Vikings have won two in a row, it’s not like they were overwhelming in last week’s win over the Lions. The Bears, meanwhile, have been competitive against far better squads the last two weeks and should relish the class relief. I can’t pass up the chance to get three with the Bears here, and Chicago’s money line (+$160 as of this writing) wouldn’t be the worst bet in the world, either.

DAILY FANTASY PLAYERS TO WATCH

QB Ben Roethlisberger, PIT ($6,200)
WR Diontae Johnson, PIT ($5,200)
TE Eric Ebron, PIT ($4,400)

The undefeated Steelers face the Bengals, whose secondary has been ravaged by injuries and COVID-19. With that in mind, I think Sunday will be a great day for the Pittsburgh aerial attack, and that bodes well for this mini-stack. Johnson and Ebron are also pretty low-investment guys this week, which opens room in the budget for other playmakers.

WR Travis Fulgham, PHI ($6,400)

Fulgham has been a revelation for the Eagles, who moreso resemble a MASH unit than a football team. A sixth-round pick in 2019, he’s seen 41 targets the past four weeks and has found the end zone three times.

Philadelphia gets the woeful Giants on Sunday. Between his apparent talent and his likely volume, I like his chances at another big day. $6,400 isn’t a bargain price tag, but here you get a #1 wide receiver for high-end #2 money.

RB Duke Johnson, HOU ($5,000)

One of my players to watch last week, David Johnson, left the game early with an injury, which opened the door for Houston’s OTHER D. Johnson to shine. Duke will once again be the featured back this week in a game at Cleveland where heavy winds could keep the ball on the ground for most of the afternoon.

Duke doesn’t have the highest ceiling, and he managed just 73 yards on 20 touches a week ago. However, he did find the end zone, and with his likely workload, I need to buy low. A similar output Sunday would make him a bargain. Improvement after a week with the first-team offense would make him a steal.

NFL Picks, Plays, and Daily Fantasy: Nov. 1, 2020 (Week Eight)

I know you’re probably here for football, but I need to give a few cheap plugs for stuff I’ll be doing this week. We’re less than a week from the Breeders’ Cup, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can create some cool content and help others do the same.

We’ll be doing two episodes of “Champagne and J.D.” this week. Ren Carothers will join us Wednesday to preview the Friday slate, while Nick Hines will return for his second appearance to discuss the Saturday program. I’m proud to call both Ren and Nick friends of mine, and I’ve learned a great deal from them. You won’t want to miss this, so head to the “Champagne and J.D.” YouTube channel and hit the “subscribe” button.

I’ll also be part of Gino Buccola’s Murderer’s Row-ish lineup of guests on his podcast, “That’s What G Said.” Darin Zoccali and I will join Gino to talk about the Turf and Filly and Mare Turf, and given some of our past episodes where we’ve dived into fields and wagering strategies, this’ll be even more good stuff for you to sink your teeth into ahead of racing’s year-end championship event.

Anyway, on to the week eight slate of NFL picks, plays, and daily fantasy players to watch! Last week was another good one, as a 3-1 mark moved me to 19-8-1 on the season. As usual, point spreads and totals are courtesy of America’s Line, and daily fantasy costs are courtesy of DraftKings. Let’s get to it!

PICKS/PLAYS

Titans/Bengals: OVER 51

I’m really looking forward to watching this one, for a lot of reasons. These are two offenses that can put up a lot of points, and I think the public might be sleeping on that fact just a bit. The total opened at 52.5 and has actually drifted down a bit, which surprises me.

The Titans did just record their first loss of the season against Pittsburgh, but they still put up 24 points against a top-tier defense. Meanwhile, the Bengals have gone over the total in three of their last four games and have positively crushed the number each of the last two weeks. They’ll likely be playing from behind, and I think that could set things up for a shootout (more on that in the DFS section).

51 seems too low. With 31-20 being a push, this is probably my best bet of the weekend, and I’m hoping for carnage.

Bills -4.5 over Patriots

Given the way San Francisco took New England behind the woodshed last weekend, I’m stunned the line is this low. Honestly, I think a big reason for that is the New England stigma in the AFC East. Take that fact out of the equation, and this hits me as two or three points too low.

Buffalo did not look good last week, when they had to come from behind to beat the woeful Jets. With that said, New England will be without Julian Edelman and Stephon Gilmore for this game, and I simply don’t think they’ve got the firepower to keep up with Josh Allen and company. This hits me as a 24-14 sort of game, which would be a comfortable cover for Buffalo.

Seahawks -3 over 49ers

This is the contest many are seeing as the game of the week, and for good reason. These two NFC West rivals are loaded with talent, and the last three meetings between these two teams have been decided by a total of 11 points.

My question: Are George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk enough to match Russell Wilson and company? I simply don’t think so. Perhaps Kyle Shanahan has fun stuff cooked up, but this game looks to be a high-scoring one, and Seattle just seems to have far more weapons. It doesn’t surprise me that the spread is narrow, and it’s not like it’d be shocking if San Francisco covered or even won outright, but give me the Seahawks in what seems like a 38-31 kind of game.

Bucs -12.5 over Giants

No two ways around it, gang: The Giants are bad. They’re not historically bad, like their fellow MetLife Stadium residents, but they’re bad, and I just cannot see a way in which this one is even remotely close.

Tom Brady has the Tampa Bay offense humming right now, and the Bucs defense is a top-10 unit that’s second-best in the entire league against the run. Add in the friendlier-than-expected spread, which I’d anticipated being 14 or 15 points, and I’ll gladly back the Bucs in this Monday night tilt.

DAILY FANTASY PLAYERS TO WATCH

WR Tyler Boyd, CIN ($6,600)
QB Joe Burrow, CIN ($6,200)
WR A.J. Green, CIN ($4,500)

Need an economical mini-stack that may not draw much attention? Consider Cincinnati, which will likely be throwing early and often against the Titans. Burrow has thrown for 300 yards or more in five of his last six games, and while Boyd has drawn most of the targets, Green stepped up with a big game last week, one that indicates he could finally be rounding back into form.

If you want to bet on the Bengals even more, running back Giovani Bernard is available for a reasonable price tag as well ($5,800). However, my biggest bet is on the Cincinnati passing attack, one that I’m hoping holds up its end of the bargain in a shootout.

WR Brandon Aiyuk, SF ($5,800)

Aiyuk doesn’t touch the ball much, but when he does, he’s a threat to take it the distance from wherever he is on the field. That’s a recipe for success against a Seattle defense that’s every bit as poor as the team’s offense is sharp. I think he’ll have several opportunities at big plays in a game where San Francisco will need as many of them as they can get, and he only needs to convert on one or two to make this modest price tag a bargain.

TE Darren Waller, LV ($5,600)

I usually don’t like to splurge on the tight end position, and this is a bit more than I’d prefer to spend. However, Waller, one of last year’s revelations, is reasserting himself as one of the league’s top weapons at the tight end spot. He’s been targeted 16 times over his last two games and has scored in each of those contests, which is appealing enough. Add in that the Raiders are playing Cleveland, whose defense is one of the worst in the league against tight ends, and I think there’s a lot that says Waller will have another big game Sunday.

Green Bay Packers DEF ($2,900)

On paper, Minnesota’s offense looks quite good. However, I think their numbers are a bit inflated after high-scoring games against the Falcons, Seahawks, and Texans, three defenses who have been exploited by many teams so far this year.

Green Bay’s defense has, for the most part, been a solid, if unspectacular, unit to this point in the season. They looked strong in holding Houston to 20 points a week ago, and held Atlanta to 16 earlier this month. At this price, I’m buying a lot of shares and using the savings on other positions.

NFL Picks, Plays, and Daily Fantasy: Oct. 25, 2020 (Week Seven)

Last week’s article went on Twitter as opposed to my website, and for good reason. Work’s been running me ragged, and I simply didn’t have the time to write something fancy. However, I’m back for the final NFL Sunday of October, and after going 3-1 last weekend, I carry a 16-7-1 mark into week seven.

As usual, all point spreads and over/under totals come courtesy of America’s Line, and all DFS costs come courtesy of DraftKings. Let’s take a look!

PICKS/PLAYS

Bills -10 over Jets

I’d love to provide some substantial mathematical analysis. I really wish I could get more creative than stating the obvious, which is that the Jets are one of the worst teams in recent NFL history. To me, it doesn’t even matter that they’re likely getting Sam Darnold back from a shoulder injury.

The Bills have dropped two in a row and will likely be playing angry in this spot. With Miami just a game back in the AFC East standings, they can’t simply take this contest for granted. I think the Bills cruise to an easy victory here, and that the 10-point spread could easily be three or four points higher.

Chiefs -7 over Broncos

Denver pulled off a shocking upset of New England last week, one that likely knocked plenty of people out of survivor pools. However, they did it against a Patriot offense that could not move the football. Kicker Brandon McManus had a busy day and came through when he had to.

I don’t see a similar game script coming to pass here. Kansas City’s offense has far more firepower, and while the Broncos aren’t a bad team (especially now that some starters have healed up), I can’t see them keeping pace with the reigning champs.

Jacksonville/LA Chargers: OVER 49

On paper, this may be the least appealing game of the late window of games. However, the total hits me as far too low. The Charger offense has shown life since Justin Herbert took over, and they’ve lost a pair of high-scoring games where that unit has kept it close against Tampa Bay and New Orleans. Meanwhile, Jacksonville’s offense is streaky, but they can put points on the board and their defense has looked lackluster all season long.

49 hits me as far too low. I think this is a potential shootout, and that these two teams clear that bar with room to spare.

Rams -6 over Bears

The 2020 Chicago Bears may be the worst 5-1 team in NFL history. They’ve won several games in pretty ugly fashion, and shaky play from the quarterback position has made every offensive drive an adventure.

In this one, the Bears get to face Aaron Donald and the Rams defense, which is coming off a subpar performance against the 49ers last week after two straight strong showings against overmatched NFC East teams. I think LA comes out angry, and that the Bears will have a tough time moving the football.

DAILY FANTASY PLAYERS TO WATCH

WR Kenny Golladay, DET ($6,700)
QB Matthew Stafford, DET ($6,500)
TE T.J. Hockenson, DET ($5,000)

The Lions get the Falcons this week, and this game looks like a track meet in the making. The Falcons boast a high-scoring offense and a defense that doesn’t put up much in the way of resistance. That’s a recipe for a mini-stack, and with these three Detroit playmakers, I can form one without breaking the bank.

If you want an even bigger stack, running back D’Andre Swift, who had a breakout game last week against Jacksonville, is available for $5,400. However, the committee Detroit has been going with in the backfield means I’m not quite as bullish on Swift as I am about his three teammates.

RB David Johnson, HOU ($5,300)

Perhaps David Johnson isn’t the explosive playmaker we saw in Arizona a few seasons ago, but he’s established himself as a high-floor option heading into Sunday’s tilt with Green Bay. The Texans showed life last week after the organization fired Bill O’Brien, and they’ll be in position to play another high-scoring game against the Packers this weekend.

If you want another Texan to watch, tight end Darren Fells may be worth considering at his $4,100 price point. He’s caught touchdowns in back-to-back games and will see tons of snaps with fellow tight end Jordan Akins likely out this weekend.

WR Corey Davis, TEN ($4,800)

Davis was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and will return to action Sunday. Before going to the sidelines, he caught 15 passes in three games and was one of Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets. He’s fresh, and with Pittsburgh’s offense moving the ball well, Tennessee may need to respond with aerial aggression. At his price, I think Davis is a fun flex play.