The Sam F. Davis, a Rainbow Six Mandatory Payout, Three Pick Fours, and an Interlude: 2/9/19

Before we do a deep dive into the Sam F. Davis, the mandatory Rainbow Six payout at Gulfstream Park, and three other multi-race sequences at tracks from Florida to California, I’m going to attempt to wade into the deep water and go through some stuff that’s been lingering in my subconscious for a week. If you want to scroll down past the next several paragraphs and resume reading at the section marked “TAMPA BAY DOWNS,“ feel free to do so. If you do, though, know that you’re missing the most bizarre “thank you” I’ve ever written.

As those who know me well can attest, I’m cursed, and I’m only half-joking. My mind rarely stops, and sometimes, what it conjures up are some of the weirdest, most whacked-out things known to mankind. There are times where this has worked (every journalism award I’ve ever won), times where it hasn’t (one major track pushing for me to be fired; you’re all going to want to hear that story when I can tell it), and times where the reactions I get generally puzzle everyone (me going into “pro wrestler cutting a promo” mode, as I’m prone to do).

Last Friday was one of those times. I’d just come back from dinner at Vinnie’s, the local dive bar in my neighborhood that prides itself on cheap burgers, bright TV’s, and a juke box with long songs designed to tick people off when you buy them with the “advanced priority” option (my go-to is the 12-minute version of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”). Before cranking out a 2,700-word column, I took to Twitter.

 

24 hours later, I looked, and that tweet had more likes than anything else I’ve ever tweeted. Please understand that this, for lack of a better phrase, scared the hell out of me.

I beat everyone at Saratoga in 2017, less than six months after being told by someone that I had no use to him/her as any sort of a handicapper. I’ve won awards for the work that I’ve done with several different outlets. I’ve been different combinations of fortunate, proud, and successful at a lot of different things…and me calling myself an old fart who needs help was what got the most attention.

Being scared was the short-term reaction. Some in horse racing genuinely believe that I’m a joke who isn’t to be taken seriously, and I’m sure that group includes some pretty high-profile people. However, what I ultimately realized, in the aftermath of that tweet, is that I’ve got the support of way more people than I ever thought I did.

I can’t really go into too much depth about why that means as much as it does right now (it’s a long story for another time and place). Suffice it to say, though, that when I digested everything, I was pretty moved. I’m not in the horse racing business full-time anymore, so nobody’s paying me to write this stuff. This is a labor of love for me, and between the response to that tweet and the stats I’ve seen on my website, I’ve realized that I’m a very blessed person. I have some value to people who read my stuff, and any writer will tell you that that’s an incredible thing.

To everyone who read this (and those that scrolled down to the next section and are only catching this paragraph by accident), thank you. Now, let’s get to work!

TAMPA BAY DOWNS

Derby Prep: Sam F. Davis Stakes (Grade 3)
Late Pick Four: Races 9-12

The Sam F. Davis Stakes headlines the Saturday card at Tampa Bay Downs, and Kentucky Derby points are on the line. The race drew a field of 10, and it’s headlined by #3 KNICKS GO, who ran second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Game Winner.

Knicks Go can certainly win this race. His clunker in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club is excusable given the sloppy track he ran on, and he’s working well ahead of his 3-year-old debut. Having said that, there’s a lot of speed in this race, and while Knicks Go doesn’t need the lead to run well, I think he’ll be up close to a very fast pace.

I’m looking elsewhere for my top pick, and I landed on #8 SO ALIVE, a Todd Pletcher trainee that will likely go off much shorter than his 5-1 morning line price. He boasts a win over the Tampa Bay Downs surface, and he’s shown a strong closing kick. His final pre-race work was a bullet earlier this week, and it’s never a bad thing to have Javier Castellano in town to ride.

In addition to those two, I’ll also use a price on some of my wider tickets. #10 STILL DREAMING is a half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and he stretched out with authority last time out at Laurel Park. The post position is definitely an issue, and he almost certainly has to step up, but logical improvement and some racing luck puts him right there for a piece of it.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 2,4,7,8,9
R10: 2,4
R11: 3,8
R12: 1,4,6

60 Bets, $30

The late Pick Four features three stakes races, and it starts with the Suncoast for 3-year-old fillies. I found this race positively confounding, and I had to spread in order to be at all comfortable with getting out of the first leg. Had Rymska’s connections not opted for the Grade 3 Suwanee River at Gulfstream instead of the Endeavour, I’d have hit the “ALL” button, but I had to chop a few horses off the ticket to save money.

Rymska scratching actually opens this sequence up a bit for me, because I don’t like the new favorite. #6 HAWKSMOOR certainly has speed and back class, but she hasn’t run since October, hasn’t won since 2017, and figures to see some opposition up front. My top pick is #2 GET EXPLICIT, who got pretty good near the end of last year, and I’ll also throw in #4 MONTE CRISTA. That runner is a price, but something clearly went wrong two back and her 2019 debut came off a three-month layoff. She showed serious ability last summer, and anything close to the 12-1 morning line would hit me as a considerable overlay.

I’ll go two-deep in the Sam F. Davis (though I’ll likely save with Still Dreaming in doubles), and I’ll go three-deep in the payoff leg. This is a claiming race for older horses going two turns on the turf. I’ll use the two likely favorites, #1 ADIOS NARDO and #6 HUNTSTOWN, as well as #4 AT THE READY, who has run very well over this track, would benefit from a pace meltdown, and could give us some value at anywhere close to his 8-1 morning line price.

GULFSTREAM PARK

$0.20 Pick Six: Race #7

R7: 2,4,5,9,12 (15)
R8: 2
R9: 2,3,4,7,9
R10: 3,5
R11: 4,5,6,8,9
R12: 5

250 Bets, $50

The handicapping puzzle of the day at Gulfstream is the Rainbow Six, which boasts a mandatory payout. Naturally, the folks in Hallandale Beach have put together some incredibly difficult events to decipher, and if you hit, I think you’ll get paid handsomely.

Right off the bat, we have an overflow field in a maiden claiming event. As usual in a race like this, there isn’t much in the way of proven form signed on, so I felt the need to go five-deep. One note: If one of my horses scratches, that opens the door for #15 CROWN ROMANCE to draw in. If that’s the case, I need to have him on the ticket, hence the parentheses above.

The eighth, however, seems much more clear-cut. #2 REAGAN’S ODYSSEY has burned some money of late, but was a good second last time out at this level and goes to the barn of Audrey Maragh, which has been on a hot streak of late with horses first off the claim. I think she’s considerably best in here, and we need to single somewhere given my self-imposed budget, so that’s what we’ll do.

The ninth is a maiden special weight event for 3-year-old fillies, and it starts the late Pick Four (note: if you want to play my last four legs, it would be a $25 Pick Four ticket). This is another spread race for me, as several in here are stretching out in distance. My top selection, though, is a juicy 6-1 on the morning line in her turf debut. That’s #2 EBULLIENT, who’s bred up and down for the lawn and gets Lasix for trainer Michael Matz.

The tenth is a loaded allowance race headlined by a pair of 3-year-olds that could be on their ways to bigger things. The morning line favorite is #3 GLOBAL CAMPAIGN, who was a very impressive debut winner for Stanley Hough. The close second choice is #5 STANDARD DEVIATION, who misfired in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after running a sneaky-good third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Some may single one or the other, but I’m playing it safe and going two-deep.

The eleventh is the final spread race on my ticket. It’s the El Prado Stakes, and there may be a lot of tickets out there that buy this race. That’s how difficult it is, and for an ungraded stakes race, it drew a very strong field. #5 MR CUB was a close second behind Pegasus World Cup Turf winner Bricks and Mortar last time out, and I’d be stunned if he went off at his 9/2 price. The big price I need to use, though, is #4 SIDING SPRING, whose best races have come over this turf course. He’s simply a different animal in Hallandale Beach, and even though he’s lacking a bit in figures, I need to have him on the ticket.

I hate singling in the last leg of a ticket like this. However, there’s a filly in the finale that I like a fair bit, and she’ll likely be a bit of a price. #5 SUNNY DALE ran evenly in her career debut going two turns last month, and I think she’ll take a big step forward at second asking. John Servis’s horses tend to improve with experience, and she’s bred to be a very good turf horse. It’s tough to debut at two turns, so I’ll take a shot against #1 CAFÉ AMERICANO (the likely favorite). If that one beats me, so be it.

OAKLAWN PARK

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 1,2,11
R7: 1,5,8
R8: 9
R9: 4,5,7,9,10,11

54 Bets, $27

For the second Saturday in a row, Oaklawn’s late Pick Four is a doozy. I’m building it around one horse I really like, and I’m hoping we get a price or two home around that one to make this pay a bit.

The sixth is a $20,000 claiming event. The entry trained by Robertino Diodoro figures to be tough, but I like #11 DOCTOR LEE best. He was fourth against a much better field last time out, and he won three straight races not long ago. 6-1 seems like a square price, and anything close to that would certainly entice a win bet.

I’m also going three-deep in the Saturday feature, the King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters. I can’t get too cute in here, as I’m using the three likely favorites. If #1 WILBO is ready to go off of the long layoff, I think he’s the horse to beat. He won this race last year and has done some of his best running in Hot Springs. He boasts a steady work tab ahead of his return, and I think trainer Chris Hartman (who’s 0 for 13 at the meet as of this writing) could get off the duck in a big, big way.

My single comes in the eighth, an allowance event for older fillies and mares. That single is #9 SPRINGDETTI, who has been working lights-out for trainer Norman McKnight. McKnight is hitting at a 27% clip this meet, and if this mare runs to her works, I think she’ll be very tough.

I’m happy I could single with some degree of confidence in the eighth, because the Saturday finale is a mess. It’s a maiden claimer with a full field, and it includes several runners dropping in class. #10 AUGIE is the likely favorite, and if he’s ready, he probably wins, but he hasn’t run in almost 11 months. If he’s not ready, I have no confidence in much of this group, so I’ll include five others to buy some security.

SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #11

R8: 6
R9: 1,3,4,6
R10: 3,5,8,9
R11: 3,5,7,10,11

80 Bets, $40

We’ll finish things off with Santa Anita, and I’ll start with a bit of a rant. The opening leg of the sequence is an optional claiming race for 3-year-olds going six and a half furlongs. Sunday’s feature is the Grade 2 San Vicente for 3-year-old sprinters going seven furlongs. Why was Saturday’s race even carded, especially with the San Vicente struggling for entries? My head hurts.

Several runners in this field likely would’ve taken some play in the latter race, and I’ve singled one of them. #6 MUCH BETTER was part of a contested pace in the Grade 3 Sham, which was won by the fast-closing Gunmetal Gray. That one ran OK when second in the Robert B. Lewis last weekend, and I think Much Better will run…well, much better, on the cutback in distance for Bob Baffert and Mike Smith.

The ninth race is the Grade 2 San Marcos, and while the West Coast turf marathon contingent isn’t any great shakes, I thought this was a fascinating betting race. #3 CHICAGO STYLE and #4 EPICAL will take money, but the former does his best running at Del Mar, and the latter takes a big step up in class and may have to work for the early lead. My top pick is actually #1 UNAPOLOGETIC, who runs for red-hot trainer Bill Spawr, and I’ll also use European invader #6 SEJO, who gets Lasix for the first time after hinting at some potential last year in France.

The tenth is a claiming race for older horses, and your guess is as good as mine with regard to who will be favored. #9 HONEYMOONZ OVER gets that distinction on the morning line, and I’m using him on the drop in class, but the barn is ice-cold this meet, so it’s not like he’s a cinch. Of the bigger prices, #3 CRAZY UNCLE RICK caught my eye. He takes a massive drop out of the allowance ranks to run here, and the last time he ran for a tag on dirt, he jogged. This may wake him up, and if he wins, there’s a chance plenty of tickets get knocked out.

We finish with a maiden race for fillies going down the hill. Naturally, there isn’t much proven hill form signed on (what fun would THAT be?), so I’m spreading and hoping to catch a price. The possible bomb I used here is #10 SPANISH CHANNEL, whose debut was far from bad for an outfit whose firsters tend to need their initial outings. Kent Desormeaux hopping aboard is noteworthy, as is the odds disparity with other runners from that race. #11 SETTLE IT beat Spanish Channel by just a half-length that day, yet the latter is three times the price. I’m hoping Spanish Channel gets ignored, because I think she deserves just as much attention as anyone else in this spot.

INTERLUDE: An Important Life Update, and What I’m Thankful For This Thanksgiving

If you’ve followed me for the past several years, chances are you’ve noticed that I’ve been pretty quiet for the past few months, both on my site and on social media. There’s a rational explanation for this, and I’m ecstatic to report that it comes with a happy ending.

To tell this story, I need to go back to early-September. I had just worked, by my estimation, roughly 34 hours over Labor Day weekend, which included a lot of racing at Saratoga and Del Mar and a shooting outside the latter establishment. The following Wednesday, I was informed that, due to corporate cutbacks that are all too common in the fields of journalism, publishing, and horse racing, my position at The Daily Racing Form was being transitioned from full-time to part-time. This was not a performance-based decision, but strictly a money move.

At this time, it’s important to point out that I have no ill will towards anyone at DRF. I’ve been privileged to work with a lot of people who are among the best in the world at what they do, including my boss (editor in chief Jody Swavy), fellow web producers Neil Bisman and Matt Brennan, writers/handicappers, and people whose names you don’t know, but without whom nothing would get done. I’m proud of the work that I’ve done, which included massive gains in social media metrics and providing some fun audio-visual and written content. Additionally, that I was able to stay on in a part-time role (plus pursue other freelance work) as opposed to being cut entirely allowed me to at least have SOME financial security while I looked for a full-time opportunity.

I kept this pretty quiet for a number of reasons. I don’t enjoy being a burden to others if I don’t have to be, and I also didn’t want people feeling sorry for me. For the things I know how to do in social and digital media, I’m in one of the best places imaginable. While this situation was completely out of left field and threw me for a loop, I was confident I was going to be okay in the long run.

It’s with that in mind that I can make the following statement: I’ve landed on my feet.

I have accepted an offer to join the team at Outpost Capital, a venture capital firm located in San Francisco, as a Content Writer. My duties will actually be pretty similar to the things I’ve done at DRF, TVG, HRTV, The Saratogian, Siena College, and NBC Olympics, just in a different environment. I’ll be handling a lot of social and digital media tasks for one of their companies, MOAC (a tech company specializing in blockchain development), while also taking on some PR responsibilities and assisting in production of their weekly webinars. It’s a great job, and I’m excited to get started.

Now that I’ve lined up a full-time gig, I need to spend a LOT of time talking about those who have helped me. This list is filled with many different types of people, but it’s headed by a select group that I’m incredibly grateful for.

First and foremost, I would never have been able to get through this without my family. My father, mother, stepfather, sister, and stepsister, among others, were as supportive as a family could be (no small task from 3,000 miles away), and it’s a tremendous relief to be able to tell them that they don’t have to worry anymore (at least not about this!!!).

Just as important in all of this has been my girlfriend, Alicia. I moved to Northern California nine months ago to spend more time with her. She’s been a rock in a time that wouldn’t have been easy for anyone, all while teaching a classroom of 26 third and fourth-grade students. We’re celebrating our five-year anniversary this weekend, and it’s great to have something else to celebrate on top of it. She’s amazing, and I love her very much.

Without freelance work, the past two-plus months would’ve been incredibly tough (have you SEEN rent prices in the Bay Area?!). Most importantly in this regard, I need to thank Joe Nevills, who introduced me to several contacts that provided work and helped me survive. A little less than two years ago, he listened to me vent my frustration about a situation I wouldn’t wish on anyone when he absolutely did not have to. That’s sparked a friendship I’m incredibly proud of, and one where I hope to someday repay the debts I’m quickly racking up.

In that vein, I also need to thank Patrick Mahan and Giles Anderson for allowing me the opportunity to work for them, as well as my bosses at Granite Media (Eric Ortiz, Michael Howerton, and Tony Mamone). With that in mind, I’m going to point out that just because I’m employed outside of the racing industry doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing and producing racing/sports-centric content. I enjoy what I’m fortunate enough to do, and I’m not just going to disappear (quite the opposite, actually, as a steady income means I’ll be able to play the races more!).

I dealt with a lot of recruiters and prospective employers during this process. I applied for almost 600 jobs in a 2 1/2-month stretch (if you don’t believe me, I have a running Excel spreadsheet that helped me keep track of everything), and in doing that, I met a lot of people. Naturally, with that kind of sample size, I’ve got some great stories and some really bad ones (including what will go down as the worst interview of my life with someone who couldn’t quite understand the concept of organic social media). To the recruiters that took time out of their schedules to help me in some way, and to the hiring managers who treated me with respect and honesty (and called/emailed when they SAID they were going to call/email), thank you.

Finally, there’s a long list of friends and professional acquaintances I need to mention that provided valuable support, whether they knew it or not. That list, which I hope is complete and reserve the right to edit at any point, goes as follows: Danny Kovoloff, Gino Buccola, Pete Aiello, Jason Beem (yes, the five of us and Joe Nevills talk; somewhere, there’s an emergency meeting being called by a terrified racing executive!), Ted King-Smith (and the entire King-Smith family, which put on one impressive wedding last month!), Jack Powers, Nate March, Nick Karski, Natalie Nevills, Nicole Russo, Barbara Livingston, Craig Milkowski, Craig Gorbunoff, Dan Illman, David Aragona, Mike Dubose, Nick Kling, Nick Hines, Rich Perloff, Mike Joyce, Scott Hazelton, Ed DeRosa, Matt Dinerman, Jeremy Balan, Alicia Wincze Hughes, Tom LaMarra, John Gaburick, and Norm Macdonald (yes, THAT Norm Macdonald). I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of a close-knit group of people, and in that regard, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the guy who sometimes has a VERY hard time shutting up may have just gotten a bit more of a license to be vocal!

On a serious note, the last few months have been a pretty trying time. To those who knew, thanks for being there for me. To those who didn’t, thanks for keeping the faith (even though you probably didn’t know you were doing it). I hope to be around a lot more moving forward, and I REALLY hope I can use that time to give out some winners!

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.

INTERLUDE: Normal Andrew Meets Gimmick Andrew

NOTE: The below conversation happened early Thursday morning in an otherwise-empty bathroom in Los Angeles International Airport. Turf writer/handicapper/digital media guy/rocker in the free world Andrew Champagne washed up and looked into the mirror, only to see a warped version of his reflection. For the sake of clarity, what Normal Andrew (the real-life person) said is in italics.

– – – – –

“Wait, who are you?”

“I’m Gimmick Andrew. I’m the guy that comes out to play when times call for getting mad at something or doing some sort of self-promotional bit.”

“Ah, okay. You know, a lot of people don’t think there’s a difference between Normal Andrew and Gimmick Andrew.”

“Well, that’s why we’re here.”

“Why couldn’t you have just done this on a podcast?”

“I know a few podcast hosts. One of them wants no part of me because I lobby for fake yet extremely prestigious awards in a way he doesn’t find amusing. Another won’t interview me because I don’t know jack about Arabians and his co-host will strangle him if we go back and forth with professional wrestling impressions. So you’ll have to do.”

“Oh, joy.”

“Dude, don’t act like you’re above this. You covered Little League in Saratoga.”

“That’s…not incorrect.”

“Anyway, desperate times call for desperate measures, and since you’re about the 11th or 12th-best writer I know and the only one on that list who’ll talk to me…”

“Yeah, I get it. You come across like a jerk, you know.”

“Only in character.”

“Which is how often, exactly?”

“As Loki said in, ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ it varies from moment to moment.”

“What even started all of this?”

“Remember that meeting a little more than a year ago? You got told you had a very strong personality by someone who despised you solely for existing and not being his/her idea.”

“I remember it vividly. There were other things that happened that day, too. Thanks for reminding me.”

“Hey, just being honest. When you make the connection that people will make the decision to not like you solely because you’re not their idea, rather than what the truth of the matter is, it becomes very easy to decide what I decided.”

“Which was?”

“That if people were going to make their own judgments about me, I was going to have as much fun with it as I possibly could. Think of it as a professional wrestler being told to work a crowd without a script. That’s me.”

“You couldn’t have just sat down and shut up?”

“You’ve known me for almost 30 years. When the hell has that EVER been something we’ve been able to do?”

“…okay, you have a point.”

“And that’s why what happened last summer was about the single worst thing a lot of people could’ve hoped for.”

“Saratoga.”

“128 winners in a single meet. Led all public handicappers across the media.”

“I know. EVERYONE knows. You tend to bash people over the head with that like Owen Hart did with his Slammy trophy.”

“That’s precisely my inspiration! It’s almost like you know me inside and out.”

“Well, this interview IS taking place in my subconscious.”

“Fair enough.”

“So you’re telling me that having that type of chip on your shoulder makes you better at what you do?”

“Unquestionably! When someone tells you they don’t find you capable of doing something, and you go out and not just do it, but do it as well as anyone ever has, it’s intoxicating.”

“Credit where it’s due, you busted your butt.”

“And it’s all because I had something to prove to a lot of people, self included.”

“Do you honestly think you’re as much of a commodity as you portray?”

“You mean, am I as cocky as I come off?”

“Sure.”

“HELL no! Do you have any idea how hard it is to sustain yourself in horse racing?”

“We’re kind of the same person, so…”

“It’s ridiculous! Like baseball, this is a game where, if you fail seven out of ten times, you’re one of the best in the country. Russ Harris was the leading handicapper across all media for approximately 879 years, and last year, I was the guy who did it. We know people who knew Russ Harris, and they’ll be VERY quick to tell us that we are NO Russ Harris.”

“That’s rarified air.”

“It’s good to have goals. We’ve got time to get there.”

“It seems like you feel a sense of disrespect. Is that accurate?”

“Not among the people whose opinions I care about. My family loves me. My girlfriend loves me. I’ve got a job that I love with co-workers and supervisors who are among the best in the world at what they do. I’m also fortunate enough to have somehow made friends with some of the best people in the business, and oddly enough, they caught on to what I was doing with this gimmick RIGHT AWAY.”

“Well, not all of them.”

“No, but that’s why we’re doing this.”

“So who DO you feel disrespected by?”

“Mainly the people who don’t want to admit that a 28-year-old a few influential people wish wasn’t around kicked everyone else’s butt last summer at one of the toughest meets in the country.”

“So the people who say millennials are killing horse racing?”

“They’re on the list. It gets really annoying when people say the younger generation has no idea what it’s doing. There are some bad apples, sure, but a few of us can pick winners.”

“Not being respected seems to tick you off.”

“Oh, you’ve noticed! Look, I can deal with being disliked. My personality doesn’t mesh well with some people…”

“I’ve seen that.”

“…and that’s completely fine. Not everyone in the world’s going to like me, and that’s okay. But would you agree there’s a difference between being disliked and being disrespected?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“That’s my breaking point. People can say I come off as pompous, arrogant, and have an ego problem…”

“Are you pompous and arrogant? Do you genuinely have an ego problem?”

(after a measured pause) “No. 99% of the time, I’m you. I’m a quiet guy who works at home and makes his living handling digital media and watching horses turn left. But here’s the thing: Being successful while people THINK you’re all of those things REALLY bothers the folks whose frustration I take delight in causing.”

“You paused there.”

“It was important for me to choose the right words. If people are going to make the decision to not like me, I’d prefer it to be for reasons based in reality.”

“You mentioned the effects of being successful. What happens if you fall flat on your face?”

“I’ll take that chance. I’ve done it before. A Kentucky Derby-winning owner wrote a pretty scathing email when I so much as insinuated the 2012 Breeders’ Cup lineup wasn’t inspiring. Quick: Who was the European we were all supposed to be excited about coming over?”

“Excelebration.”

“Better known as, ‘the European miler that wasn’t Frankel.’ Better question: What 3-year-old was the only remotely high-level horse of his crop to contest that year’s Classic?”

“Let’s see…I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister retired. Paynter fell ill. Take Charge Indy and Gemologist both retired…”

“Alpha. GOD, you’re slow.”

“Sounds like your opinion held up. You gonna rub that in everyone’s face, too?”

“Only if they tick me off.”

“There was another comment about that piece that still grinds your gears.”

“The words used were ‘pessimistic rubbish.’ I’m over that, actually. At least that was a good line.”

“There are some other stories we can’t really tell, at least not yet.”

“Nope. In about 30 years, once some people retire or die, we’ll write one hell of a memoir.”

“Count on it. Think people’ll read it?”

“They’re reading this, aren’t they?”

INTERLUDE: The 2018 Horse Racing Media and Friends Royal Rumble

Sunday may not seem like a landmark day, but on that night, the 2018 Royal Rumble will take place. Yep, this is a wrestling/horse racing cross-post. Hide the children.

Anyway, because I’m constantly looking for cutting-edge ideas that will revolutionize the business/humor my colleagues and I, I have assembled a 30-man field for the first-ever Horse Racing Media and Friends Royal Rumble. This field is comprised of friends (and, in one case, family) in the business who fulfill one of the following criteria.

1) Is a wrestling fan.

2) Is a friend of mine.

3) Can take a joke.

This article acts as a cheat sheet to get to know the entrants a bit better, complete with reasons on why each of them will inevitably be thrown over the top rope and eliminated from the match. The list of entrants is largely randomized, with one or two exceptions you’ll understand when you read it.

1) Andrew Champagne
Credentials: Web producer for DRF, handicapper for The Saratogian, 128 winners at a single Saratoga meeting
Most likely to be eliminated when: Someone refuses to be impressed by his “best handicapper never to win a Beemie Award” gimmick.

2) Pete Aiello
Credentials: Gulfstream Park track announcer, antics expert
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s unable to accommodate an event that doesn’t have an eight-minute post drag and misses his scheduled entry point.

3) John DaSilva
Credentials: Former New York Post racing writer
Most likely to be eliminated when: A Champagne hurls him over the top rope due to the $70 debt he owes for a Kentucky Derby future bet.

4) Jay Privman
Credentials: DRF writer
Most likely to be eliminated when: He gets distracted by a whiff of King Umberto’s pizza someone snuck into the arena.

5) Todd Schrupp
Credentials: TVG host
Most likely to be eliminated when: WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler returns to finish what he started.

6) Frank Mirahmadi
Credentials: NYRA/Monmouth Park track announcer
Most likely to be eliminated when: The next entrant takes advantage of decades of pent-up anger due to Frank’s impressions.

7) D. Wayne Lukas
Credentials: Hall of Fame trainer, and we need a surprise entrant somewhere (this IS the Rumble, after all)
Most likely to be eliminated when: A sheik calls and gives him $10 million for a sale happening RIGHT NOW.

8) Nick Hines
Credentials: Horse racing jack-of-all-trades (owner, former trainer, TVG host)
Most likely to be eliminated when: His further attempts to channel Hulk Hogan go horribly wrong.

9) Dan Illman
Credentials: DRF writer, DRFTV host/producer
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s rendered immobile by accidentally swallowing the Great Muta mist he snuck into the ring.

10) Ed DeRosa
Credentials: Churchill Downs/TwinSpires writer/handicapper
Most likely to be eliminated when: He fails to realize grids are not effective weapons in this setting.

11) Matt Carothers
Credentials: TVG host/analyst
Most likely to be eliminated when: Someone messes up his hair and drains his competitive mojo. (NOTE: Ren Carothers would be far more fearsome in this setting, but she’s currently in foal.)

12) Danny Kovoloff
Credentials: TVG marketing guru
Most likely to be eliminated when: Someone is not impressed by the photos of his nine hundred cats.

13) Bradley Weisbord
Credentials: Owner/bloodstock agent
Most likely to be eliminated when: Everyone in the Rumble (including the people that have not come out yet) teams up to toss him out for being the first person to publicly suggest a Breeders’ Cup Derby in 2014.

14) Joe Nevills
Credentials: DRF breeding writer, fellow wrestling degenerate, friend-enabler
Most likely to be eliminated when: Depression sets in upon realizing that the Rumble is taking place on the site of Mount Pleasant Meadows.

15) Sam Hollingsworth
Credentials: The Saratogian handicapper
Most likely to be eliminated when: Fatigue sets in, given that he’s been chasing around a baby for a year.

16) Tony Podlaski
Credentials: Saratoga press box empresario/sergeant-at-arms
Most likely to be eliminated when: Pedro the Press Box Masterchef shows up with hot dogs.

17) Darin Zoccali
Credentials: TVG key accounts manager/handicapper
Most likely to be eliminated when: Someone yanks on his hair, revealing he’s been wearing a wig all this time.

18) @shamiamnot
Credentials: Twitter barbarian, Beemie Awards contributor
Most likely to be eliminated when: A hit squad hired by Jeff Ruby and/or the “Bring Chrome Home” loonies takes him out on his way to the ring.

19) Norm Casse
Credentials: Trainer
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s compromised by a temper tantrum spurred by TVG’s latest “man crush” list not including him.

20) Andy Serling
Credentials: NYRA host/handicapper
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s thrown into a gold rail at ringside (which causes him to bet against himself in next year’s edition).

21) Justin Horowitz
Credentials: TVG key accounts manager/handicapper
Most likely to be eliminated when: He realizes he can bet against himself on the exchange.

22) Dave Champagne
Credentials: Father of the scribe
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s overcome by an attack of sheer indifference to this endeavor.

23) Mike Joyce
Credentials: TVG host/analyst
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s turned away from the ring on the grounds of looking nothing like his Twitter avatar.

24) Tom Quigley
Credentials: Santa Anita simulcast host/VIP liaison
Most likely to be eliminated when: He’s ganged up on by the East Coast-based competitors for his “West is best” belief.

25) Jose Contreras
Credentials: TVG host/analyst
Most likely to be eliminated when: Trauma sets in upon realizing he’s on the wrong side of the cheese/no cheese debate.

26) Caleb Keller
Credentials: TVG host/analyst
Most likely to be eliminated when: Someone yanks on one of his skinny ties and uses it to hurl him into the third row.

27) Jason Beem
Credentials: BARN host, Beemie Awards creator
Most likely to be eliminated when: Someone outdoes him in a “salad dance” dance-off.

28) Gino Buccola
Credentials: World-class handicapper/podcast host
Most likely to be eliminated when: He realizes the Dodgers, Lakers, or USC Trojans are on.

29) Dave Weaver
Credentials: TVG host/analyst, creator of the Ice Cold Exacta
Most likely to be eliminated when: Todd Schrupp sticks around and heckles him throughout the match, allowing someone else to sneak up from behind and throw him out.

30) Andy Asaro
Credentials: Horseplayer advocate
Most likely to be eliminated when: He throws himself out in protest upon realizing the takeout of the event is incredibly high (hey, we have to make money on this somehow).