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.”


“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?”


“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?”


“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).

INTERLUDE: You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Many times, what I write on my website is solely about horse racing, or something that’s happened to me in my professional travels. To those of you who are expecting something like that now…my sincere apologies, because this is going to get weird.

If you read my “letter to my younger self” piece, you know that I have inherited my family’s hex on ever doing anything quietly. Whereas others have a certain grace, and an ability to slide under the radar, I coast through life with the subtlety of an angry bull rampaging down the streets of Pamplona. What happened Wednesday night in the friendly skies between New Jersey and California is just another example of that phenomenon, which, by the way, appears to be completely beyond my control (say what you will about me having a “strong personality,” but this stuff follows me, and there’s not a lot I can do about it, as you’ll see!).

I flew back to Los Angeles from Newark International Airport (whose slogan should almost definitely be, “Newark: At least we’re not JFK”) following a stop home for the holidays. While my stop home was filled with happiness and, in some cases, unnecessary adventures, my trip back to the Golden State was sorely lacking in the “fun” department. The plane was delayed two hours, the terminal got crowded, and many unhappy people were packed in like sardines.

Finally, the aircraft arrived, and I could tell the plane was cursed in some way, shape, or form. A man got off the plane and was muttering a question to himself that many visitors to Newark have uttered in the past: “Where the hell am I, and how the hell do I get out of here?”

Odd, certainly, but I chose to count my blessings. The plane arrived, its occupants filed in one by grouchy one, and after several stops and starts, we got airborne. Early on, the flight was pleasant. I sat next to a wonderful older woman whose son is in the sports broadcasting/digital media realm (to her son: if you’re somehow reading this, buzz me!).

Eventually, conversation ceased, and we all retired to our mini-entertainment centers. Roughly an hour into the flight, though, I noticed a cat darting through the aisles, and it briefly rested behind a man’s legs.

I didn’t know this man, but I poked him and said something to the effect of, “Sir, just so you know, you’ve got a cat at your feet.” My intentions were solely to warn him so he would not be startled.

Alas, it had the opposite effect. Because most cats are jerks with terrific comedic timing (I should know, I own one), our feline friend had scampered off. The man was understandably perturbed, muttering how there was no cat and rolling his eyes before getting back to the “Barber Shop” movie he was watching.

For the next few minutes, I wondered if I was seeing things, and if I should seek professional help. Thankfully, I was vindicated. A man seated near the front of the aircraft walked back, with a very confused small animal in his arms, and asked, “Is anyone missing a cat?”

Our friend across the aisle proceeded to move his eyebrows halfway up his forehead. I smirked, but rather than receiving an admission that I’d been correct, he went on a several-minutes-long rant about how he had thought I was a lunatic (that’s a direct quote, and one that may not be without merit in certain situations) and how pets and service animals of any kind should not be allowed on flights. His mood was not aided by a flight attendant coming on the PA system and trying to stifle laughter by asking, “Attention: Is anyone missing a cat?” Incidentally, this flight attendant was much more successful than the passengers listening to her, as we all howled like hyenas as our buddy seethed in anger.

To prevent antagonizing this man any further, I put my earbuds in, listened to the college football games being broadcast, and opted to write this, with the hope that my audience would laugh and enjoy it. If the cat was to escape again and opt to hide at his feet, I decided that he would remain angrily unaware.

The comedy never ends, folks.

INTERLUDE: A Letter to My Younger Self

Hey, kid! Yeah, you. I’m you, 15 years down the line. Scary, isn’t it? The thought that the future version of you is in any position to write a letter to his younger self? Trust me, I didn’t expect this, either.

Like with pretty much everything else, you can blame this on professional wrestling (yep, you’ll still be watching). One of the guys you grew up watching, Diamond Dallas Page, wrote one of these, and he did it so well that it brought up things I’d forgotten. One of those things is that you just came back from your ninth-grade orientation at Kingston High School, and in that folder you’re carrying was a copy of the next day’s Daily Racing Form past performances for Saratoga.

Here’s the kicker, kid. What if I told you that, by the time you’re 29, you’ll be working for them and doing a lot of the things you’ve always wanted to do? Cool, right? It is. There’s just one thing you need to know.

That family curse your dad talks about, the one where a Champagne can’t ever do things quietly? You’ve got it, and you’ve got it bad.

Because of this, your trip to where I’m at now will be a long, strange one, complete with many twists, turns, and crazy moments that you’ll swear can only happen to you. Just bear with me on this one, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.

– – – – –

You know that audio-visual club you joined, KHS-TV? That’ll be one of the best things that’s ever happened to you. Your advisors, John Moriarty and Andrew Sheber, will learn a lot about you over the next few years, and they’ll be instrumental in forging the person you want to be.

It seems daunting as a nervous, pudgy high school freshman, but over the next few years, you’ll wind up being the main sports reporter for the club. Your junior and senior years will consist of traveling with teams, going in extra early the next day to cut highlights, picking up PA announcing work on the side, and ultimately becoming one of the most visible people at the school.

Your senior year, you’ll also write for the newspaper. Your attitude won’t sit well with some people. In fact, at the end of the year, the award you’ll win from advisor Sean O’Brien (one of the good guys) is entitled, “I used to be conceited, but now I’m perfect.” That won’t bother you, and it won’t bother you for a defined reason: Nobody can ever accuse you of not putting in the necessary work. Hell, there will be one newspaper where your grade for the journalism class that puts out the newspaper is something in the 210’s out of 100, simply because your name is on five or six different stories.

Opinions of you will vary widely. Some teachers (including your English and science fiction teacher, Mr. Stein, who you’ll co-host a game show with) will love you, and so will some students, including Ted King-Smith, your best friend since kindergarten (want to feel old? You’ll be in his wedding in 2018). As a senior, you’ll even mentor a kid named Ron Miles who reminds you a lot of yourself. Get ready for this: He’ll go into football coaching, win a national championship as a graduate assistant with Ohio State, and work for an NFL team. Others (namely some fellow students and an athletic director at a rival high school you almost get in a fistfight with) won’t care for your shtick. Some student-athletes will have other problems with you, namely the music you play at certain sporting events. If you’re disturbed by how much I remember, know that I am as well. At this point, there isn’t much I can do about my mind being Sicilian in nature. I apologize in advance, because this won’t get better.

When it comes time to go to college, you’ll get lucky. You’ll have two top choices, Ithaca College and Syracuse University. Syracuse will make your decision really simple, because they’ll reject you. Don’t sweat this, because you’ll wind up going EXACTLY where you’re supposed to go.

– – – – –

Be very thankful that you have two good parents. You’ve always been close to your dad, and he’s the one that took you to the track as a kid and to high school sporting events when he worked for a small local paper. You don’t share a lot of interests with your mother, and even today, she gets angry when you get frustrated about not picking a winning horse. That said, she’s always enabled you to do what you want to do, even when your desired career path isn’t glamorous.

All of that plays a large part in getting you to Ithaca College, specifically the TV/Radio program at the world-renowned Park School of Communications. The reason you pick Ithaca is the ability to do what you want to do right away, and you were right to do it. Immediately, you become the primary PA announcer for Ithaca College athletics thanks to associate athletic director Mike Lindberg and his staff, and you also pick up TV and radio work, too.

As good as Mike Lindberg, Ernie McClatchie, and his team are, though, there’s one negative constant, and it’s your first exposure to someone with actual power not liking you. The head sports information director will be a thorn in your side for the better part of four years, including once berating you in front of the entire press box for having the nerve to go to the men’s room during a delay in a football game. He’ll even go after your father when he shows up for a few games, solely because he thinks he can do whatever he wants without any repercussions (he can’t, but more on that later).

That one person, though, doesn’t cancel out all of the good things you’ll do and all of the people you meet. As a senior, you’ll become one of the voices of Ithaca College football on WICB, and you’d better bring it, because the people you’ll work with are GOOD. Your partner is Josh Getzoff, who’ll wind up calling games for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Your sports director is Nate March, who, in addition to becoming one of the top minor league baseball broadcasters in the country in his mid-20’s, will become one of your best friends (you’ll be in his wedding, too). You’ll call a game with Josh Canu, who’ll work for NBC Sports, and you’ll have a story for years to come when his car breaks down 40 miles from campus. Someone a few years younger than you, Gavin Cote, will work at ESPN and name-drop your beloved 1994 Chrysler LeBaron in a speech at Nate’s wedding (somehow, by the way, that car will get you through college). The sports radio and TV staffs become one big family, complete with irrational blowups at one another and wars about everything from women to the intramural flag football team (spoiler alert: your team stinks), but you’ll meet some of the best friends you’ll ever have by doing that.

You’ll also make real connections with some of your professors. You’ll play golf with a guy named Stephen Mosher, who’s pretty much Robin Williams’s character from “Good Will Hunting” come to life. You’ll talk horses with Jack Powers, whose credits include consultations on a hit TV show called “Modern Family.” You’ll love Peter Johanns, especially since he won’t kill you for counting the number of times he says the phrase, “something along those lines,” during his Advanced Studio Production class.

Even better, you’ll get the experience of a lifetime in 2010. Crazy as it sounds, NBC uses student interns from Ithaca and Syracuse during the Olympics. You’ll intern at the Winter Games in Vancouver as part of the Highlights Factory. You’ll meet Lester Holt, Mary Carillo, Al Michaels, and Bob Costas. You’ll go to the women’s curling semifinals with Nick Karski, who will spend most of his time wondering why he went to a curling match with a guy who never shuts up (don’t worry, part of that is why you two get along splendidly). You’ll work side-by-side with high-level guys like Brian Gilmore, Eric Hamilton, and Gary Quinn, all of whom are tremendous at their jobs, but even better people. Furthermore, it turns out you’ve got distant family in Vancouver who will show you around, even taking you in for a home-cooked meal when they have no obligation to do so.

Those six weeks will be some of the best weeks of your life. You’d better enjoy them, though, because when you get home, it’s going to be tough.

– – – – –

For all of the shtick you put forth sometimes, you’re also pretty conscientious about planning things. You major in TV/Radio at Ithaca while somehow pulling off a double-minor in Sport Studies and Speech Communication and somehow do it in 3 1/2 years, allowing you to get a three-month head start on a job hunt once you fly back from Vancouver. Having said that, I need to warn you: These next few months won’t go well.

You’ll send your resume to every single college athletic department, TV station, radio station, and newspaper you can think of. You’ll get varying responses, including some very nice rejections and a few mean ones (one of which you’ll still have in a separate email folder in 2017 because it stuck with you). Finally, in October, you’ll get a call from Siena College, and you’ll go to work…pretty much doing everything in the one department you swore you’d never work for at Ithaca: Sports information.

(By the way, remember how I said there’d be more on the Ithaca SID? Yeah, he’ll get fired a few years after you leave, and by the accounts of some people you trust, nobody will stand up for him as his fate is decided.)

You’ll work there for two years, and you’ll bust your butt before getting a full-time offer from The Saratogian. That puts you back at the racetrack, and in the stands at high school and college games in the area. You’ll love going to games, and you’ll love the people you work with (some of whom you’ll be close to years after you leave that paper). People loving you, though? That’s going to be dicey sometimes. You’ll get yelled at by a few people for impersonating “The West Wing” communications director Toby Ziegler’s ball-throwing tendency when thinking, and one of your co-workers will act in an unforgivable way at the track in the summer of 2013. Still, nobody can ever logically accuse you of not putting in the work, and that’s what gets you through that summer.

The day after Labor Day, you’ll take a train to New York City. You’ll head into a lounge at a hotel and meet a man named Phil Kubel, who’s hiring for the digital media arm of HRTV. It’s based at Santa Anita, and after meeting you, he’ll fly you out to California. You’ll sit in on meetings with execs like Amy Zimmerman and Michael Canale, and ultimately, you’ll move west the next month, in need of a fresh start that the job provides.

You’ll get it, and then some. You’ll love what you do, you’ll love being at the track every day, and, six weeks after you move, you’ll meet someone you’ll fall head over heels for. Trust me, kid. As bad as things seem directly before your move, you’ll know instantly that you’ve made the right decision to move when you meet her. She’s infinitely better-looking than you are, she’s actually got a desire to do the dirty work 99% of Americans will never want to do, and even though she doesn’t know it when you meet her, she’s destined to be the best third-grade teacher anyone could ever ask for.

You’ll get sent to Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup races, some of the most well-known broadcasters will take a liking to you (namely Caton Bredar, Jeff Siegel, and Aaron Vercruysse), and even after a brief hiccup in the summer of 2014 that you’ll save the full story about for your memoirs (to be written once certain people retire or die), things will seem to be going incredibly well…and then you’ll get a monkey wrench thrown into everything.

You see, the TV station you work for will be sold to its main competitor, TVG, in early-2015. There’ll be a few weeks of uncertainty with regard to future employment, and you won’t know where money will come from. Thankfully, two men, Bhavesh Patel and Stephen Kennelly, will bring you into the fold, and, even better, they know how to manage you. You’re going to stun Bhavesh into silence at a meeting when you display your expertise, and rather than micromanage you, he and Stephen will simply recognize that you know how to do your job and leave you to it.

You won’t just handle digital media for them. You’ll handicap for them, and bluntly, you’ll be surprisingly good at it. In an age where people will look for any reason to complain about public handicappers (if you think it’s bad now, kid, just wait a few years until something called Twitter comes along), you’ll post a $500 profit on Pick Four tickets in 2015 and pick winners at a 27% clip in 2016. You’ll also host online broadcasts for them and be in charge of getting eyeballs on online content. You’ll gladly go the extra mile for what you do, especially since you’re paid hourly. What’s more, they’ll let you handicap for The Saratogian, where you’ve ascended to the role of featured handicapper following the retirement of Nick Kling (one of the best to ever pick horses on a daily basis).

Better still, you’ll meet people like you. There’ll be a guy in marketing who you work next to, and you won’t know a thing about him when you start. However, on a random walk to the other side of the office in your first week at TVG, you’ll notice Danny Kovoloff is reading the same wrestling blog you read. You’ll exclaim, “YOU’RE A SCOTT KEITH GUY!!!,” and giggle like a schoolgirl, and that’s how you’ll know you’re going to be okay.

You’ll meet two different Italian versions of yourself. One of them is headed out the door of TVG as soon as you arrive, it seems, but you wind up getting so close after he leaves that you get a standing invitation to Gino Buccola’s family’s annual Fourth of July extravaganza. Two side notes: One, his family may consist of the nicest people on the planet. Two, the greatest play of your athletic career will come at a softball game hosted near his house. Pro tip: At some point between now and Fourth of July in 2017, learn how to slide into third base.

The other Italian version of yourself is a track announcer that knows every small track like the back of his hand, it seems, and one who you’ll become close with in a bizarre way. You see, he’ll call a race at Gulfstream Park featuring a horse named Fallen Leaf, who appears to be on her way to victory. He’ll say, “No antics of any kind…,” only for the horse to prop near the wire and throw the jockey. He’ll deadpan, “…and there we go with the antics,” and your crazy mind will deduce that this must take off as a Twitter phenomenon. By Pete Aiello’s own admission, the era of the Aiellobomb will be a very strange time, but the two of you will begin bantering back and forth, and you’ll be better off for it.

You’ll also meet another guy to whom you’ll owe a debt you can’t repay. See, in 2017, your job at TVG will change drastically, to the point that you realize it’s time to look around (this is another story for the memoirs that can’t be written until certain people retire or die). This guy, who has never met you and barely knows who you are, will listen as you look for someone, ANYONE, to talk to about your situation. You’ll ramble, all while trying to sound somewhat coherent, and, bless his kind, Midwestern heart, he’ll give you an email address for Jody Swavy, the editor-in-chief at the Daily Racing Form. Within two months of the change in status at TVG, you’ll be on a plane to New York City to train for a job in digital media at the publication you just spent your high school orientation reading, and you’ll have Joe Nevills (and, by extension, fellow DRF Breeding colleague/former Saratogian sports editor Nicole Russo) to thank for a large portion of it.

Some of these people probably won’t like being name-dropped. The fact is, though, you won’t get anywhere without them. You’ll put in the work, but life’s about the people you meet and the relationships you forge. You don’t do Christmas cards, because you find them too time-consuming and boring, so you naturally choose to write 3,000 words (exactly 3,000, per Microsoft Word) to express your gratitude to those who deserve it, from your friends and family to a girlfriend that you’ve been with for four years and love very much. Like pretty much everything else you do, what some people think of as ego or a strong personality is really just trying to do the best you can at all times.

I don’t have a lot of other tips for you, because as I write this, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. It doesn’t matter that the journey followed a circuitous route. I’m happy.

Do what makes you happy. Everything else will take care of itself.


P.S.: Avoid the organic ice cream at the casino you visit in Aruba your senior year of high school. Just trust me.

INTERLUDE: Standing Up for the Younger Crowd

…we were SO close.

I’m a pretty easygoing guy. Maybe it’s my California residence, maybe it’s that I have what I consider to be a dream job, or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve had a darned good year at the betting windows, but it takes a lot to tick me off, and for the first 35 days of the racing meet at Saratoga, that didn’t happen.

That was before Wednesday night, though, when I saw a post in a popular Facebook group called “Thoroughbred Racing in New York” that sent me over the edge. Full disclosure: I like and/or respect most of the group’s 2,600-plus members. I’ve met many of them on multiple occasions in various settings, and I consider the group’s chief moderator, Ernie Munick, a great ambassador for the sport and an even better person.

Here’s the full story. NYRA analyst Anthony Stabile, who I don’t know and have never met, went on TV after Arrogate’s second-place finish in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He remarked that he was a member of the “younger generation,” and that not only did he consider Arrogate to be one of the best horses he’d ever seen, but that he also considered the big grey to be one of the best horses of all-time.

As comrade and Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello would say, “…and there we go with the antics.”

Outcry from some racing veterans against Stabile’s comments got pretty harsh. Before we go any further, here’s the crux of my column: I’m not here to argue for or against Stabile’s opinion. What I’m crusading against is the belief of some in the game that the opinions of those younger than them don’t carry weight, simply because of when the people carrying those views were born.

Nowhere was that more evident than in a comment I saw from a few days ago. The comment said, and I’m quoting here, “Stabile is just like so many younger fans who are blind to the past.”

I was fine before reading that. Every other comment, I could shrug off and move on from without a second thought. For some reason, that one hit me hard. It’s probably because I’m a nerd who has devoured most of the books on racing history that have been published in the last 20 years, but that comment reeked of such ignorance and snobbery that I could not possibly let it go unchecked.

I’ve always been a believer that most aspects of horse racing revolve around one central mission: Use what’s happened in the past to your advantage as you work forward. Gamblers do it every day reading the Daily Racing Form. Trainers do it in their barns when making split-second decisions on how to train their horses and where to run them. Owners and breeders analyze pedigrees and running lines on a constant basis when looking to breed or purchase horses. Marketing and business-types analyze handle numbers from every conceivable angle using data that would make your head spin (I worked for an ADW/television network for more than two years; trust me, I’d know). Heck, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, an organization for which I’m proud to cast an annual ballot, is BUILT on that very concept.

Put simply, any claims that younger people in the industry don’t know their history are wrong. If we didn’t know our history, we wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, let alone thrived. I’m 28 years old, and I have no memory of seeing any great horse before the days of Cigar. Does that make me any less fit to express my opinion? Of course not.

I’ve won awards for my work in the business. I work for the leading authority on horse racing news in this country, and my resume includes stops at both HRTV and TVG. I’ve also been fortunate enough to continue my work for The Saratogian as that paper’s main handicapper, and I’m simply stating a fact when I tell you that any credible list of top public handicappers at that track (based there or anywhere else) has me on it. That isn’t arrogance, or bluster, or ego, or a strong personality talking. That’s a conclusion grounded in statistics and facts from the past several years.

So yeah. Forgive me if I took those comments just a wee bit personally.

I’m not alone in having a certain amount of gravitas in this business at a young age. The aforementioned Pete Aiello isn’t even halfway to social security, and he’s emerged as one of the top race-callers in the business. Joe Nevills, Nicole Russo, Matt Bernier, and David Aragona are similar-aged colleagues at the Daily Racing Form and TimeformUS, and I’d put their skills in their respective lines of work up against those of anyone else in the business. They’re that good, and they’re going to BE that good for a long, long time.

I’ve worked with Gino Buccola, Caleb Keller, Joaquin Jaime, Tom Cassidy, and Britney Eurton at TVG, along with a large number of people behind the scenes whose names you don’t know but who the operation would not work without. HRTV was much the same way. Once again, please let me stress that this is not a matter of if I agreed with those people all of the time. The point I’m trying to make is different, and it’s simple: You don’t get to bash the source of those comments simply because that source is younger than you’d like him/her to be.

I’ve heard this stuff before, and I’m tired of it. I’ve gotten hate mail from a Kentucky Derby-winning owner. I’ve been told by people that I’m not good at what I do, and in fact, being told that there were certain things I wasn’t good enough to do sparked the very existence of this site. Those who know me well will tell you that the best way to motivate me is to tell me I can’t do something. That flips a switch, and my priority instantly becomes to prove people wrong. Dislike me as much as you want, and I probably won’t care. Disrespect me, or try to discredit me, and I’m going to pull out all the stops to prove you wrong.

If it seems like I’ve got a chip on my shoulder sometimes, that’s probably accurate. The stuff about ego and bluster, though, is a bit overblown, and if you think my personality is that strong, understand that you’re seeing my competitive nature and a freakish desire to be the best at what I do, all the time. I know that doesn’t sit well with some people, and I’ve paid for that (for stories on that topic, check back in 30 years when I write my memoirs to pay for Pick Four tickets). I’ve come to terms with being labeled as “the motor-mouthed kid that doesn’t shut up,” but what I refuse to tolerate is the notion that anyone under the age of 35 or so shouldn’t be taken seriously solely because we’re younger than most of our contemporaries.

What was said struck a chord with me in all the wrong ways. I won’t speak for some of the people that I’ve mentioned in this column, but I will say that I refuse to be disregarded simply because I’m younger than most of the people in my field. I’ve done too much and worked too hard to be treated that way, and I know I’m not alone in putting in the time and effort.

To those who come here and value my input and thoughts: Thank you. You’re a large part of the reason I write this stuff. If you’re one of the people who thinks those younger than you are somehow inferior simply because of their age, think again. I won’t accept it, and I’ll be happy to tell you, and show you, that you’re wrong.