THE DARK DAY FILES: A Struggle with Perceived Irrelevance

Sean Clancy’s a better writer than I am. I take no shame in saying that, nor do I feel a sense of defeat, because he’s better than just about everyone. My name is on the extensive list of former interns at The Saratoga Special that went on to long careers in the racing business, and as I half-joked on Twitter a few weeks ago, I sincerely hope I’m not the Eric Mangini to the Clancys’ Bill Belichick.

Sean’s annual “I’ll miss/won’t miss” column is a must-read, and it was published Sunday. There’s a line in there that hit me like a ton of bricks, though, as good writing is prone to do.

“I’ll miss the enthusiastic interns, their futures ahead of them,” he wrote. “I won’t miss the jaded veterans, their irrelevance grinding away at them.”

I’m not taking this as a shot against me. I haven’t been to Saratoga yet this year, so I’m not in a position where I could be someone Sean would mention in that regard. However, that one line made me think more than just about anything else I’ve read in a long time, and this column spawns from that train of thought.

– – – – –

Those who followed me last year may remember a column I filed upon the completion of the 2018 Saratoga meet. It came hours after I fell one win short of Liam Durbin, largely due to three lost photo finishes in the last two days, and was written following a soul-searching meal eaten at a local dive bar.

Two days later, after working 36 hours over the course of Labor Day weekend (largely thanks to a situation involving gunfire at Del Mar), I was informed that my full-time position at The Daily Racing Form was being transitioned to part-time. This came a few weeks after a satisfactory evaluation, and was a continuation of layoffs at the publication that came earlier in the summer. When I left that part-time position for a full-time role at a non-racing company in November (the less said about my four months at that job, the better), that position was not filled.

Over the past year, racing has done a tremendous job of scaring off passionate people. The Stronach Group laid off a bunch of them late last year, and DRF had a widely-publicized round of cuts earlier this summer that claimed a number of visible writers and content contributors (several of whom I consider friends).

It’s brought about a real identity crisis for me, one that I wrote about back in November. If we’re mostly in agreement that racing needs knowledgeable handicappers who can make the sport more fun for novices, which in turn drives handle and adds repeat customers, why are such people being forced out?

I grew up reading the New York City papers and spending the lion’s share of drives to Saratoga pulling out the racing sections of The New York Daily News and The New York Post. This was a time when major newspapers had racing writers and full-time handicappers, as well as space for content contributors to expound on what was going on. Like many other racing enthusiasts, I worshipped Russ Harris, laughed at the antics of the participants in the annual “Battle of Saratoga,” and strained my eyes to read the small, blocky text that was found in the Post’s racing section at the time.

I’d wind up sharing press boxes with those folks, and many of them became my friends. Now, it’s an effort to see where they’re at. I sat behind Paul Moran, John Pricci, and Jerry Bossert (among others) for two summers at Saratoga. Paul is dead, John spends most of the year in Florida, and Jerry was laid off by the Daily News not long after I left for California. The Post laid off its racing team as well, indirectly sparking one of the weirdest sagas of my life involving a $70 Kentucky Derby future bet (P.S.: John paid up).

HRTV, the network I moved 3,000 miles west to work for, is long gone, having been purchased by TVG in early-2015. I was hired over as part of the acquisition. The first two years of my tenure there were some of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at any job (those close to me know why). The last two months were some of the least enjoyable times I’d had up to that point (again, those close to me know why), and that experience prompted a move over to DRF.

It’s 2019 now, a year after I was informed of my change in employment status at The Daily Racing Form, and Saratoga is the one time where I get to test my skills against some of the best handicappers in the game on a daily basis. For 10 months out of the year, I’m a semi-professional handicapper who uses racing as a side hustle. For the other two, I go 15 rounds with some of the smartest, sharpest horseplayers I’ve ever known, and every once in a while, magic happens (as it did in 2017, when I topped all public handicappers with 128 top-pick winners). That’s why it means so much to me to be a part of The Pink Sheet’s pick box, as I have been for seven seasons, and it’s also why I take what I do incredibly seriously.

I know that I’m fortunate to have had my experiences, and it’s not like I’m detached from the racing industry. I still freelance for DRF with two Formulator videos per week, and I’ve been able to pick up writing assignments for Horse Racing Nation, Trainer Magazine, Granite Media, and a few other outlets. I maintain my ballots for both Eclipse Awards and racing’s Hall of Fame, and I consider both of those to be tremendous honors.

Having said that, Sean’s words hit me hard. I’m 30 years old, passionate about horse racing, and eager to teach people who want to know more about it. However, I don’t care about the social side of racing. As a goofy guy with no patience for those who are blind to the necessity of gambling money in this sport, I’m never going to be the focus of one of those “I Am Horse Racing” videos. I don’t bet enough to be considered a big player, and my emergence as a handicapper/content producer wasn’t necessarily anyone’s idea. I know that doesn’t sit well with at least one person in power at a major company, and I’m sure there are some in the sport who would like nothing more than for me to sit down, shut up, and do something else.

Does that make me irrelevant? Does that make those similar to me irrelevant? Are people like me simply shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic as foal crops decline, field sizes shrink, and handfuls of trainers get most of the top-tier horses? All of these are really tough questions, and they’re ones I’m now pondering a lot as I prepare to venture east later this week.

– – – – –

This Wednesday, I’ll be spending lots of time in the air en route to upstate New York. Over the course of a week or so, I’ll be seeing my family (including my two adorable nieces), mooching lots of free food, and, of course, making several trips to Saratoga to watch horses turn left.

I’ll be at the track Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, and if you see me walking around, don’t be afraid to say hello. I greatly appreciate anyone who takes the time to read my stuff (either in print or online), and I see that as validation for the effort I put into trying to solve 10 or so handicapping puzzles each day. Each puzzle, by the way, has become incredibly important. I’m locked in a three-way battle for top honors in The Pink Sheet, and have two wins to make up on Liam Durbin with six cards left in the meet.

I don’t know if I’m irrelevant. Maybe I always have been. Maybe we all are (we certainly will be if protestors have their way). Here’s what I know: I enjoy the hell out of this game. I love reading the past performances and trying to find things others don’t see. I’m going to keep doing this for as long as racing’s media outlets will have me, and for as long as people keep reading my stuff. Want to reach out? Tweet me at @AndrewChampagne, or email me using my site’s “contact” section. I try to respond to everything I get (just don’t use the term Runhappy on Twitter; I’ve muted it, so I won’t see your tweet if you do that).

The people who don’t like me aren’t going to change their minds. I’ve been at peace with that for a pretty long time (it’s sort of a family curse). Maybe I’m irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not for a lack of trying to grow the game. I’m going to be around for as long as people will have me, and I’m always going to believe I’m one of the better ones at what I do.

As far as writing, though…yeah, Sean’s better than me.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Lessons from a Day Trip to Lake Tahoe

On my day off Monday, I drove three hours each way to watch horse racing on television.

Before anyone calls me an idiot (in some cases, again), I suppose I should explain. You see, I had casino loyalty points that were going to expire in mid-September, and rather than start from scratch, I opted to make my maiden voyage from my home in northern California to Lake Tahoe.

I make a few trips every year to Las Vegas, and there are some similarities between the journeys to the two Nevada locales. When I lived in Los Angeles, it took between three and a half and four hours to get to Sin City by car, and it’s a similar-length drive from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe. Additionally, there are agricultural inspection stops on both trips back that do nothing but inconvenience roughly 97% of motorists passing through.

However, that’s about where the similarities end. First, the drive from LA to Vegas is best known as a kind of competition. Everyone has a time they’re trying to beat (my personal best from Pasadena to a Vegas hotel is 3 hours, 32 minutes, and that’s without driving recklessly or hitting traffic), and everyone has a small town along the way they prefer to stop in for gas, food, or bathroom breaks (mine is Baker, which boasts a population of 735 people and, more importantly, an Arby’s).

The drive from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe is anything but a competition. The last road one takes to get there is Route 50, which is mostly a two-lane road with intermittent passing lanes scattered about on the trek through the Eldorado National Forest. In other words, the trip could take anywhere from two and a half hours if you don’t hit traffic to four hours if you’re unlucky enough to follow huge trucks down that road with a peloton of your closest friends also in pursuit. I got there in three hours with a quick stop in Folsom (not at the prison), and the trip home took four with a dinner break in Vacaville.

Having said that, though, if you’re traveling during the day, you probably don’t want to hurry. Route 50 is one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the United States, and there are several improvised spots to pull over for photographs. Once you wind your way through the forest, you come out in the rare kind of ski village that also thrives during the summer.

Of course, if you’re in the neighborhood to gamble, that’s prominently catered to as well. In fact, once you weave through the village and get to the state line, two casinos greet you. Harrah’s is on one side of the street, Harvey’s is on the other, and they sit literally inches beyond the California/Nevada border.

As one can expect, both places weren’t exactly bustling with activity at 9:15 on a Monday morning. As the day went on, though, I noticed a theme. Unlike Las Vegas, which thrives on providing sensory overload at all times, Lake Tahoe provides a relaxing environment that struck me as incredibly refreshing. The race book was quiet, with jovial tellers and wait staff. The casino floor had outgoing dealers, and each table had open seats and low minimums. Las Vegas is a wonderful place, but between the crowds and the elevated minimums at busy times, there are some circumstances that give gamblers major headaches.

Those didn’t exist Monday in Lake Tahoe. Instead, what I saw were fun atmospheres with people having a great time. Horse racing types, take note: Gamblers don’t necessarily mind losing if external factors provide some bang for their buck. It wasn’t Vegas, but it didn’t have to be.

I spent most of the day in the race book at Harvey’s, and for the last two races on Saratoga’s Monday program, I spent time chatting with a group of maybe five or six people. We all wound up on the same horse in the finale, first-time starter Surge of Pride. The Linda Rice trainee won on debut at odds of 7/2, and we were all pretty fired up as we headed to the windows (which, by the way, boasted no lines the entire day) to cash our winning tickets.

To tie all of this together: I’ve used this space a lot over the past few months to advocate for fan education, which I believe makes for a more attractive gambling product. Fans that feel comfortable with the product bet more, and they’re much more likely to recommend what they do to friends who are curious. Judging by what I see on Twitter on a daily basis, we have a large portion of the racing fan base that would not recommend the sport to those close to them, and that’s a problem that must be fixed (Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, are you listening?).

It’s great to provide all sorts of data to fans and handicappers, and if that leads to betting action, then a large part of the mission has been accomplished. That’s a large part of what I do for a living, and I hope I’m doing a decent job of that. However, what also works is to provide an atmosphere people feel comfortable in. We can produce that in really simple ways. We can fix timing issues that should not exist in 2018, both with the scheduling of races at different tracks and the times of those races themselves. We can test proposed rule changes by asking if novices would understand explanations of said changes made in 15 seconds or less. We can find ways to legitimately grow the game by marketing to the people who keep it going with steady action, as opposed to those who come to the track once or twice a year and don’t put money through the windows.

Nevada, of course, also has legalized sports betting, and that’s the elephant in the room. When sports betting becomes widely legalized, we need to present the best wagering product imaginable in order to stay competitive. There are steps we can take right now that aren’t huge ones. It’s my hope that we take them, improve the gambling atmosphere in this sport, and give horse racing an improved foundation moving forward.

THE DARK DAY FILES: The Importance of Student Journalism, and Those That Don’t Recognize It

Before becoming The Pink Sheet’s in-house handicapper, I was a multimedia sports journalist for a year and a half with The Saratogian, the main paper that produces it. It was actually my first full-time job following two years interning at Siena College’s athletic communications office, and it provided me with one heck of an entry point to the real world of journalism (and media production as a whole).

I got to do a lot of cool things, and not just at Saratoga Race Course (though using the press box as an office for seven weeks during the summer definitely topped the list of perks the job offered). I interviewed professional athletes like Jimmer Fredette and Kyle Busch, but primarily, I got knee-deep in high school and college sports, where I built relationships with coaches, student-athletes, parents, and administrators. Those are the moments I remember the most, from improvising a press box in my car when lacrosse was played in sub-freezing temperatures to having to get said car towed out of a makeshift parking lot when it sunk into mud during a baseball doubleheader.

Most of the time, my interactions with members of the community were cordial, even pleasant. However, there were times where it was necessary to take hard looks at certain situations. The men’s soccer program at the local Division III college had a hazing scandal that led to 24 players being disciplined and its spring season being cancelled. The main local high school in town had an incident with its boys basketball coach, and loudly took exception when one of our writers covered a baseball game where a player made four errors (you can read about that story here; it’s as absurd as it sounds). Additionally, racing fans may appreciate that I once fielded a few angry calls from a steeplechase trainer and his top assistant when I mistakenly reported a horse had been vanned off due to an error in the official chart that was corrected after my article went to press (if Richard Valentine and Laird George happen to be reading this, sorry again).

My point is simple: Journalism isn’t public relations. It’s about fulfilling responsibilities to communities that depend on your outlet for information as to what’s going on, good or bad. It’s not a responsibility to take lightly, nor one that should be burdened by people who are easily bent to the wills of the people or organizations they’re tasked to write about.

At this point, you may be wondering why I’m writing about this in what’s supposed to be a racing column. That’s a very fair question. I was fully prepared to write about Justify, Accelerate, and the race for this year’s Eclipse Awards. However, when I looked at Twitter after spending my day off in San Francisco eating a strawberry crepe and garlic fries (possibly the first time in the history of humanity that this combination has been ordered), I was horrified to see news out of Liberty University, an institution that, per Teddy Amenabar of The Washington Post, has taken drastic steps to shape their student-run newspaper.

First, the obvious disclaimers: Liberty University is a private institution that is well within its rights to do this. There are no constitutional or legal issues in play here, so do not fall into the trap of saying such measures violate the First Amendment.

Having said that, discouraging aspiring journalists from undertaking actual journalism is entirely the wrong course of action to take. What the school’s dean of communications is saying is that the school intends to use its newspaper as a public relations device. PR is not journalism, and it will never be journalism.

Journalism covers the things people deserve to know about, not what those in power necessarily want us to see or hear. In a perfect world, serious journalists hold everyone accountable. It’s not a profession undertaken by the meek. Journalists work long hours, wear many hats, and are often ridiculously underpaid for the work they do. They don’t do the job because they’re beholden to people or groups they cover. They do it because serious journalism is worth saving, even in an age when newspapers and other outlets are struggling mightily.

The young men and women that want to be journalists have already shown toughness by choosing that career path. They don’t want to create puff pieces that are easily digestible. They want to go the extra mile, do the dirty work, and tell the stories that need to be told. That these stories don’t line up with the ones Liberty University wants publicized is unfortunate for those in power, and any attempts to get students to conform to the desires of higher-ups are scary, at best.

Perhaps what’s weirdest about this is that the dean of communications doesn’t realize that quality student journalism is, in fact, the best form of public relations his institution could ever receive. I went to Ithaca College, whose student-run newspaper (The Ithacan) was often very critical of the school’s administration. It wins awards on an annual basis, and it’s trumpeted as an example of the Park School of Communications’ devotion to training young professionals who exit ready to make an impact in their chosen professions. Those in power don’t try to suppress the voices of its student journalists. They give those students platforms to find their voices, and that stance is a large part of why I’m proud to be an Ithaca College alumnus.

If you’ve read this far, chances are this story has hit you in a similar way it hit me. This is where I need your help. If you’re a communications professional, share what’s happening. If you’re a faculty or staff member at an institution of higher learning, and your administration is holding students back from doing what they want to do, say or do something about it. Your students want to be better journalists. Do everything you can to give them that opportunity.

Liberty isn’t the first school to do this, and chances are they won’t be the last. There are students out there whose voices are being suppressed for no good reason, and I want to do something about it. I’ll always be a journalist regardless of anything else I’m fortunate enough to do, and I feel a responsibility to make sure the field is as strong as it can be in the years to come.

If what’s happening at Liberty is common, I want to fight it. I want to give the suppressed students a chance to work around restrictions that should not exist. I don’t know what this would take, how this would work, or even what this would look like. All I know is that this is the right thing to do, one that I’d hope someone would do for me if I had wound up in a place not as receptive to the idea of a free press.

If you’re out there, and this speaks to you in some way, tell me. Click this link to use the contact feature available at this website to reach me. I read every single piece of correspondence that comes in, and I want to know how I can best help out some people that need it.

THE DARK DAY FILES: How Can We Appropriately Honor Fourstardave?

Saturday’s feature at Saratoga was the Grade 1 Fourstardave. Named for one of the most beloved horses in recent Saratoga history, the race was won by another local favorite, Voodoo Song. Voodoo Song was previously best known for winning four times at the 2017 Saratoga meet, and this quickly inspired some in racing to compare the two horses.

I like Voodoo Song. He’s a cool horse and a great story, having risen from the claiming ranks to become one of the better turf horses in the eastern part of the United States. In a sport that desperately needs cool stories, his is a cool story. However, comparing him to Fourstardave does the latter a great disservice.

Records in sports are made to be broken. They’re how we measure greats of varying eras, and there are some that, try as competitors might, will likely never be approached. For example, we’ll never see a pitcher throw three no-hitters in a row and break Johnny Vander Meer’s mark of two, and we’ll never see an NBA player go for 100 points in a game, like Wilt Chamberlain once did.

All of this leads up to this one indisputable fact: Fourstardave holds the most unbreakable record in horse racing. No horse will ever win a race at eight consecutive Saratoga meets, and horses outlined on the hood of Ferraris will drive them before one of their fellow equines wins one at nine in a row. Shoot, the only horses with careers that long nowadays are converted steeplechasers, and those races are probably even harder to win than ones on the flat!

From 1987 through 1994, Fourstardave made at least one appearance every summer in the Saratoga winner’s circle. He was never a top-tier thoroughbred. He was never beating the likes of contemporaries such as two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure, and an argument can be made that he wasn’t even the most accomplished offspring of sire Compliance and dam Broadway Joan (full brother Fourstars Allstar won the Group 1 Irish 2,000 Guineas). That lack of high-profile form is probably why, the further you get from upstate New York, the less people you find that fondly remember Fourstardave.

What he did have, though, was longevity unmatched by any horse that ever summered at the Spa. As a comparison point, let’s look at Wise Dan, the latest model of the “hard-knocking, hard-trying, ornery gelding” that the racing gods molded out of clay and gave to us for our betting and viewing pleasure. During his Hall of Fame career (and yes, Wise Dan bashers, he’s a Hall of Famer), he won a race at Saratoga in three straight seasons. He was in training for a 2015 return before he was officially retired.

Had Wise Dan won that season’s Fourstardave, it would have given him four straight years with a win at Saratoga. This is nothing to sneeze at, and would look great on a plaque across town at the Hall of Fame. However, and let this resonate…such a total would have only put him halfway to Fourstardave’s lofty total.

Unless scientists find ways to turn horses into indestructible robots, no top-tier horse will run long enough to even get halfway to Fourstardave’s record. It’s simply a different sport now, and horses that appear at four or five Saratoga meets are getting harder and harder to come by.

As the years roll on, Fourstardave’s accomplishments should be growing in magnitude because of that fact. However, it seems as though the opposite is happening, at least in some circles. While he was given an edible key to the city of Saratoga Springs upon his retirement, and even paraded inside local hot spot Siro’s, Saratoga’s Hoofprints Walk of Fame (in principle, a very good idea) does not have a spot for him as of yet.

Former Saratogian colleague Mike Veitch (one of the smartest, kindest men I’ve ever known) is on the selection committee. He and I have had a few conversations about Fourstardave’s credentials over the years, and from those, the information I’ve been given is that his resume does not have enough wins over top-tier competition for the committee’s liking.

This is a fair, accurate assessment of his body of work. As I’ve mentioned, Fourstardave wasn’t close to the top horse of his era. Having said that, if the purpose of the Hoofprints Walk of Fame is, as stated online in a recent NYRA release, to honor the most prolific and notable horses to compete at the track, how can one justify Fourstardave’s exclusion? It is physically impossible for any horse to be as prolific as Fourstardave was from 1987 to 1994. His wins spanned three Presidents, for crying out loud! And notable? The track the Hoofprints Walk of Fame sits outside of has a Grade 1 race named in his honor, and one of the side streets near the backyard bears his name, too.

If the purpose of the Hoofprints Walk of Fame is to honor prolific and notable horses, there is not a justification for Fourstardave’s exclusion. For the sake of this conversation, I don’t think it matters that he couldn’t beat the likes of Lure (to be fair, many others couldn’t, either). Over the course of his career, he accomplished something much, much greater. He gave fans a horse to follow and root for, one that wasn’t immediately retired at the first sign of trouble or handled with kid gloves because the connections couldn’t stand the thought of losing. We need more horses like that, and we need to appropriately honor the ones that have come and gone.

I don’t know if my voice carries to Saratoga from my little one-bedroom apartment in northern California. I’d like to think that it carries at least a few ounces of weight, and it’s my hope that the Hoofprints committee gives Fourstardave his due next summer.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Entries, Purse Money Only, and Lots of Preventable Headaches

I have a rule of thumb at the racetrack, and it’s a simple one: If you have an opinion on a horse, and you bet it, and you’re right, you should be rewarded for it.

This sounds like a given, and it should be. However, the events leading up to Sunday’s first race at Saratoga turned this concept on its ear.

Here’s what happened, in as few words as I can muster: One of two coupled Joe Sharp trainees scratched at the gate. By New York law, the other half of the entry was forced to run for purse money only, and no wagers would be taken on the horse. That horse won as much the best, but for wagering purposes, the runner-up was declared the “winner.”

The aforementioned law, as it’s been explained to me, is on the books as an attempt to protect bettors. However, let me ask this question: If you’re a gambler, and you were betting the entry because of the horse that ran (as opposed to the horse that scratched), exactly how are you being protected? The only thing that’s protected, in this case, is the cash residing on the track’s end of the betting windows, as they’re refunding your wager rather than paying out a win.

This isn’t just an issue with straight, one-race bets. There have been issues with this in multi-race wagers, as well. The one that stands out to me came a few summers ago at Saratoga. I spread pretty deep in a Pick Four that included a 2-year-old race, and one of the betting interests I used was an entry trained by Edward Barker. Before the race, a part of the entry named Yorkiepoo Princess (who went on to win three stakes races) scratched, leaving just stablemate Kissin Cassie to run for purse money only.

You can guess where this is going. Kissin Cassie won by two lengths (she was about 8-1 or so when her stablemate scratched), and the horse that ran second was a 33-1 shot I did not have on my tickets (nor did pretty much anyone else, judging by the eventual payoffs). I was right to use the entry. The connections of the entry celebrated a victory. Those who bet the entry, however, were left with no profits to show for their astute handicapping.

Explain the concept of, “being right to bet a horse to win, but not winning,” to a novice horse racing fan, and the fan’s head might explode. It should never happen, yet it happens several times a year on the NYRA circuit. These are the simple things we need to clean up if racing is to survive once sports betting becomes widely legalized. If I bet the Michigan Wolverines to beat Notre Dame, and they beat Notre Dame, I expect to collect money. The same principle should apply to horse racing, and it’s not rocket science to think that.

I understand why multi-horse entries exist. Having said that, it’s entirely possible the concept has outlived its usefulness. Southern California does not have entries, and as a result, the circuit does not have this problem. Furthermore, since horse racing’s top level is being populated by fewer and fewer trainers, there are races where entries do not serve their intended purpose.

As an example of this statement, I submit Saratoga’s third race from the August 2nd program. It was a maiden special weight event for turf horses, and Chad Brown had three entrants. Two were coupled (#1 Business Cycle, a main-track-only runner who scratched, and #1A Frontier Market). A third, #3 Hizeem, was not part of the entry, which defies the very principle of entries. If entries exist to protect the public by coupling horses that share owners and/or trainers, why was one Chad Brown trainee not coupled with the other two? This holds especially true since one of the runners would only run if the race was rained off the turf, and in that circumstance, it’s highly likely that at least one of the other Chad Brown-trained runners would scratch. With that in mind, a three-horse entry would have been very improbable and should not have been seen as a bad thing.

The procedures here seem inconsistent to me, and it doesn’t pass the test of being able to explain the concept to a casual fan in less than 15 seconds. If I’m a fan, and I have a discretionary amount of money with which to bet, why would I want to spend all of this time trying to understand principles that don’t make sense? In much less time than it would take to wrap my head around these concepts, I can look up a game preview, read 300 words on the participants, and have enough substance to formulate wagering opinions on that contest.

I believe that we’d be smart to treat every issue this game has with fan education and retention at the forefront. I am not a, “THE SKY IS FALLING!,” type who believes every little issue could be the downfall of horse racing. In fact, my views are far from that. I earnestly believe there are a lot of people in the sport that genuinely want it to succeed and prosper in an age where gambling, in theory, will have less of a stigma attached to it. However, when the sports betting folks get their ducks in a row, and when that provides real competition to horse racing, we’d better be ready with a customer-friendly product that attracts people and keeps them coming back.

There are big problems the sport has that will take a lot of thought to solve. Those will all need time, unity, and, in some cases, short-term sacrifices to fix. However, there are problems we can deal with right away with very little effort that will make it easier to attract and keep new fans, and this is one of them.

In lieu of a better solution (and if someone has one, I’m all ears), NYRA and other organizations that still have multi-horse entries should treat each horse as a separate betting interest. The rules that are on the books are not working as intended, and they’re costing players money rather than ensuring they’re protected. Changes to these procedures and policies would be to the benefit of everyone involved, and they would prevent issues like the ones that arose Sunday at Saratoga from happening again.