Should They Run at Saratoga? A Unique Answer

I swore to myself I wouldn’t write an article on the likelihood of racing in Saratoga unless I could promise it would be different from anything else that’s out there. In a roundabout way, I got to that point Tuesday, when multiple Saratoga discussions populated my social media timelines and got my brain going.

Right off the bat, I’ll start with a disclaimer: This is not an impassioned article to go full-speed ahead, torpedoes be damned, and run at Saratoga. That may surprise you given my background, but I urge you to move forward with an open mind. On the other hand, this is also not something admonishing NYRA for still considering the possibility of a Saratoga meet.

Instead, this column focused on the most underused phrase on social media, and one I feel is as valuable as any in the English language. It’s a simple, three-word, three-syllable phrase that doesn’t reflect nearly as much weakness as it implies, and one a lot of people should have tattooed on a forearm as a reminder of what to say during tricky situations.

In a convenient plot twist, I’m also alluding to my specific feelings on the Saratoga conundrum. All of this can be summarized with this very sentence: I don’t know.

Let those words resonate for a moment, and let me tell you how hard it was to arrive at that conclusion. You may find people who love Saratoga as much as I do, but the list of people who love it more is very, very short. I’m an Upstate New York native who spent parts of every summer in the backyard picnic area and frequently travels back east from California to spend a few days there with my family and remaining friends within the industry.

I’m also not without a financial interest in this debate. As you’ve heard me shout from the mountaintops every summer, I’m the featured handicapper in The Pink Sheet, which is sold outside the track and distributed around Saratoga. I’ve also profiled Saratoga races for freelance gigs at entities such as The Daily Racing Form, The Saratoga Special, Oddschecker US, and Horse Racing Nation. Simply put, you’re not going to find many people in racing’s media contingent whose reputations are so tied to one particular high-profile track, and if races scheduled for Saratoga are not run at Saratoga, chances are I’m out a significant chunk of change.

On the other hand, there’s no playbook to fight back against what has happened over the past few months. When the coronavirus hit, it sent societies everywhere into panicked frenzies, and justifiably so. Even now, as some states prepare to cautiously roll out plans designed to achieve some version of normality, there’s a lot we don’t know, as evidenced by the healthy social distancing regulations in place even in states eager to “reopen.” Major sports leagues, for instance have already seemed to accept a reality where fans are not in attendance, which would’ve been a blasphemous thought just three months ago.

How does horse racing properly weigh all of this? I don’t know.

I’m friends with people who want tracks to reopen yesterday with protocols in place similar to the ones at Oaklawn, Gulfstream, and other locales currently open for business. They feel this way out of legitimate concern for both the industry and the people whose livelihoods depend on it. On the contrary, I also know people who wonder how we can justify racing at all, anywhere, for any amount of money, during the current pandemic. These reasons are understandable, too. They don’t want people possibly exposing themselves to a deadly virus when millions of people are following orders to shelter in place.

If we’re solely using those two standpoints, I’m going to lean to the side advocating for the reopening of tracks, provided systems are in place that protect all stakeholders involved. I can’t support denying people the right to make an honest living, especially when unemployment numbers are rising every day. If the protocol that has been rolled out by several tracks has been proven effective, let’s use it and, at a minimum, get an industry that employs a lot of people on the road to recovery.

Having said that, there are other factors in play when Saratoga is involved. Boutique meets at tracks like Saratoga, Del Mar, and Keeneland rely heavily on community support and on horses and their handlers shipping in from out of town. Even if New York wasn’t one of the areas hit hardest by the coronavirus, it’s almost impossible to see a pre-pandemic scene at Saratoga materializing anytime soon. Add in the dizzying numbers that have been coming out of the Empire State, specifically New York City, and things get even murkier.

What should they do? I don’t know.

None of the alternatives are attractive. No sane person wants a situation where New York’s horse racing circuit is done through the summer. The idea of running Saratoga’s races at Belmont during its designated time of year has been floated, but with all due respect to Belmont, that would feel like a cheapening of the product. One could also foresee a scenario where Saratoga runs its dates later in the year in hopes of attracting crowds after the public threat of the coronavirus subsides, but it gets cold early (anything after mid-October would be risky), weekday crowds would be non-existent since kids would be back at school, and for all we know, the virus may still be around at that point.

There’s no outcome that’s going to please everyone, and the stakes are high. If racing returns to Saratoga too early, one of the most beloved tracks in the country could take a substantial hit. If it doesn’t return at all, NYRA’s business gets clipped in the knees, and horsemen and horsewomen struggle to make payroll. Like everyone else in the world, racing executives in New York are at the mercy of a virus that doesn’t have a designated end date, and tough decisions are going to have to be made.

When I was thinking about writing this article, a close friend told me that my stance wouldn’t win any arguments, which seems like the real currency right now. I find it hard to disagree with him, especially in the culture that’s been created by experts in the “shout loudly and mobilize fellow loud people” field. Still, I’ve heard a lot of opinions by a lot of smart folks of late, and I’m left wanting a solution that almost certainly doesn’t exist.

How does New York make what seems like an impossible decision, one that has far-reaching effects on horsemen, horsewomen, the city of Saratoga Springs, and, by extension, the United States racing circuit at large?

I don’t know.

And I don’t know when, how, or why it became a bad thing to say that.

Andrew’s Play of the Day: 1/30/20

RECORD: 20-9

Larry Collmus is out as the head announcer at the New York Racing Association. The change was made after Collmus served five years in that post after replacing Tom Durkin and, for my money, did as good a job as anyone on the planet could have in that capacity.

I’m not here to speculate on what happened. However, a lot of people on social media were quick to do just that, and many of those posts did something that I take plenty of exception to. If you made a post along the lines of, “I think Larry should wind up at (insert track that already has an announcer here),” pay close attention: You were wrong.

If Larry Collmus (or any other announcer, for that matter) gets a job somewhere where someone else is currently employed, it means the second person lost it and has to find an opening on a carousel that seems to have fewer and fewer spots each time it turns. Rooting for that to happen, at a time when a lot of people in racing have lost their jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with talent, stinks to high heaven. It’s one thing to wish for Larry (an excellent announcer and a really good guy) to land on his feet, but this behavior was several steps too far.

WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS: We split yesterday’s action after a too-busy Tuesday kept me off the grid. Seton Hall and DePaul went under, but Navy covered an 11-point spread against Holy Cross to salvage the day.

THURSDAY’S PLAY: I’m headed to the Big 10 for a clash in Champaign. The Illinois Fighting Illini host the Golden Gophers of Minnesota, and the spread here puzzles me. Illinois is red-hot, has home-court advantage, and yet is only a five-point favorite over a team that’s shot better than 38.3% from the floor just once over its last four games. Give me the Illini in this spot, as I think they cover pretty easily.

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.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Short Fields in Big Races, and How to Stop Them

Sunday’s Shuvee at Saratoga made handicappers from all walks of life wince. The race named for a mare that won back-to-back renewals of the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971 (back when that race was the biggest race for older horses on the east coast), one that boasted Grade 3 status and a healthy $200,000 purse…drew just a three-horse field.

This is a recurring theme this year, and it’s a growing concern around the country. The Beholder Mile, a Grade 1 race for older fillies and mares at Santa Anita, saw another three-horse field. Sharp Azteca demolished just three others in Sunday’s Monmouth Cup. Saturday’s Jim Dandy, the main local prep race for the Travers Stakes, had a five-horse field, as did the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch at Del Mar a day later.

What’s going on here? These races are the ones fans care about, and, allegedly, they’re the ones big-money owners get in the game to compete in. If that’s the case, why are top horses continually avoiding these spots, leaving the track, fans, and gamblers to suffer and grouse?

As I mentioned in Sunday’s edition of The Pink Sheet, there’s no easy answer to this problem. What we’re seeing here is a combination of factors, ones I hope to shed a bit of light on in this edition of “The Dark Day Files.” Got something to add? Think I nailed it? Think I’m full of…something? Send in your questions and comments. I promise, I read every one.

The first thing to consider is the declining foal crop. When you start off with less possible horses and have the same number of races, average field size is going to decrease. This, unfortunately, is a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon, nor is there anything resembling an easy solution. Thankfully, there are other factors the industry can influence that may lend a hand in solving the short field conundrum.

I’ve talked at length in past columns at many previous stops about the breeding industry and how the tail wags the dog in many instances. In prior decades, horses were bred to run and did just that for many years. It wasn’t uncommon to see top horses run 10-15 times per year for multiple years. Now, though, if you’ve got an exceptional 3-year-old male, stallion rights are often purchased very early, and the priority often becomes getting them to their second careers unscathed.

From the financial standpoint of owners and breeders, this is logical. A male horse can only earn so much money in a career, and will earn exponentially more at stud. Take, for instance, American Pharoah, who commanded $200,000 for his breeding services in 2016 and had dates with more than 200 mares. On paper, that results in a cool $40 million, and we won’t even know if his offspring can run until 2019! That we didn’t get to see him race against California Chrome and Arrogate as a 4-year-old is unfortunate, but given these financial figures, we should be extremely grateful we got to see him run three times after he made Belmont Park’s grandstand shake.

I have nothing against breeding operations, many of which double as some of horse racing’s top owners and do great things for the sport. They’re taking advantage of a proven business model, as they have every right to do in such a competitive industry. With that said, here’s the most important question that we need a definitive answer to: Are we still breeding to race, or are we racing to breed?

If we’re breeding to race, let’s breed for stamina and soundness instead of pure speed and, ahem, “brilliance.” Let’s make sure the horses that rise to the top of the game are given the chance to stay there and can run more than once every two or three months, and let’s give fans chances to see them do their thing at racetracks around the country. If we’re racing to breed…well, then that opens up a can of worms this column can’t address.

Meanwhile, there’s also plenty that tracks can do to solve the problems short fields bring. They’re hurt by those in many ways, from the negative publicity they result in to the lack of handle they generate. NYRA, in fact, buried the Shuvee as the first race on Sunday’s card, so as to keep it out of the Pick Six and Pick Four sequences.

The most obvious answer is to reward the horses and connections that run multiple times at the highest level. Give them additional reasons to show up, perhaps bonuses for horses who sweep certain races or finish best in a certain series. Forever Unbridled skipped the Shuvee, a race she would’ve almost certainly been favored in, to await the Personal Ensign on Travers Day. Would that decision have been made if, say, $250,000 was to be awarded to connections of horses who win multiple graded stakes races at the same Saratoga meet? I don’t know, but I bet that carrot being dangled would have at least gotten the connections thinking about it. Furthermore, that could’ve easily brought a mare or two from Monmouth’s Molly Pitcher (which somehow drew eight horses for half the purse) up north earlier than anticipated. To go further still, imagine what such a bonus program would do for 2-year-old races at Saratoga, which are already considered some of the most competitive in the world.

Del Mar has gotten rave reviews for their “Ship and Win” program, one that helps ensure fields are full and brings in connections that don’t normally frequent California meets. Install a similar program at Saratoga, one that provides travel reimbursement and purse incentives, and you’ll likely see an increase in field sizes, especially for big races. NYRA can certainly find the money to make all of this happen, and for the sake of the product and to avoid future embarrassment in graded stakes races on big stages, they should do just that.

There are other, smaller things that can be done, of course. Let’s get a neutral study on the effects of certain race-day medications (like Lasix) on a horse’s long-term soundness and strength. Let’s forgive horses that lose (looking at you, Arrogate bashers), or horses that win, but not the way we want them to (looking at you, Songbird bashers). Let’s appreciate the horses that stick around for a while and make us remember why we fell in love with the game, rather than attempt to nitpick their resumes for what they didn’t do (looking at you, Wise Dan bashers who couldn’t stand that he raced mostly on turf).

I’m a handicapper, a gambler, a social media producer, and a writer. Above all, though, I’m a fan of this great game, one where you can be closer to the athletes than anywhere else and legally make money if your opinion is correct. I sincerely hope that this trend of short fields goes down as an unfortunate fad akin to the pet rock, the Macarena, and male rompers. If it doesn’t, top-tier racing, with the exception of a few big days, could be in for a world of hurt.

The First Ever Fantasy Horse Racing Simulcast Team Draft

A short brainstorm between myself and DRF compadre Joe Nevills resulted in what we felt was a genius idea: Take four degenerates working in horse racing, put them together, and have them draft their dream simulcast TV crew. Yes, we’re weird.

Having said that, we got two of our friends in on the game: Gulfstream Park track announcer Pete Aiello and TwinSpires/Brisnet grid connoisseur Ed DeRosa. Our basic ground rules were pretty simple. This would be contested in a “snake draft” format, where whoever picks first in odd-numbered rounds picks last in even-numbered rounds, and vice versa. Each roster consists of the following positions: Announcer, host, analyst, handicapper, field/paddock reporter, flex, and one bench spot. Finally, those drafting could not draft themselves, and were limited to drafting one current co-worker.

With that in mind, let’s get to the draft!


Yeah, I picked someone else in the league. Maybe I’ll put him in a costume, hand him some flyers, and make him the highest-drafted mascot in league history. Do something about it.

Beyond those simple trolling pleasures, Pete is the kind of personality and multi-tool player you can build a program around. No announcer’s star has risen faster over the past half-decade, and he’s proven to be a versatile on-air talent, both in announcing and pre/between-race talking head segments. Plus, he has experience running myriad behind-the-scenes positions at the racetrack away from the camera, so his value only increases.

A relentless handicapper, Pete knows what he’s talking about when it comes to identifying horses to watch, and he more than has the ability to keep viewers hooked whether he’s picking a horse to win or calling it down the stretch. Plus, his sense of humor and quick thinking will ensure he gets a race call to go viral every so often, which raises the profile of my fictional racetrack, Son of Mount Pleasant Meadows. I want my track to be fun, and he’ll make sure of it.

Perhaps the biggest draw for drafting Pete in the #1 slot is that he’s still a high-upside prospect. He’s among the younger announcers calling at a major track, meaning you’re going to have him for a long time compared to some of the more experienced names out there, and he’s only going to keep improving with time. He’s a long-term pick that’s already perfectly suited for a “win-now” franchise, and I’m happy to have him on-board. Now, get in the damn bear suit and pass out those Lyft vouchers!!!

PA: I have to write ALL THAT?!

AC: “…and there we go with the antics.”

I’m not at all surprised with that pick. I figured Pete would go fairly early, and in fact he was one of the top guys on my Big Board That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness (BBTTROA for short). However, I’ve got a different strategy in mind, one that involves a big name, an even better guy…and, for my money, the best hair in the game.


My background isn’t just in social media. I’ve been on both sides of the camera and behind a microphone, and I know that the toughest on-air job there is falls on the shoulders of the host. Hosts are traffic cops, weaving instructions from producers and directors (that are sometimes yelled quickly and filled with four-letter words) seamlessly with external obligations and the other pitfalls of live television. It takes someone with a ton of talent to do this in such a way that the show stays afloat.

Laffit’s one of the best in the world of horse racing at doing this. He’s composed, he knows both the subject matter and the world of television, and he’ll ensure that the long-suffering wives of those watching my simulcast feed don’t force their husbands to change the channel (thus ensuring we meet our handle goals). As long as we can afford the elixir that ensures Laffit’s hair stays perfect at all times, I think things will work swimmingly.

PA: What’s the metric here? “Getting over” with the racing public? Creating “must see TV?”

AC: It’s whatever you want it to be. Now get back in Joe’s bear suit that he may or may not have washed.


AC: Most important question: Bow tie on or off?

ED: Bow tie off. He’s more than just a pretty face. He also asks Perry Martin the tough questions.


Matt is a speed handicapper and a company line handicapper like me. He’s young enough to get some good longevity out of and is well known by the audience. He’s also a polarizing figure like myself, so I gravitate to that.

Travis is a pure value play. He can run any department at the track, do it well and could be selected in various capacities in this exercise. Age is an added bonus, and there’s zero downside here.


There’s a heavy international emphasis on Team DeRosa so far, and why not given we’re in this thing to make money? US fans have showed a willingness to bet more on international racing at all hours.

AC: I am beyond ecstatic that my next pick is still available.


Nobody is better than Caton at eying horses in the paddock and figuring out when certain horses will outrun their odds. She’s also tremendous at interviewing trainers, especially those who don’t usually open up to the general public. If you’ve never seen Caton interview Mike Maker, you’ve never seen art. Some may think it’s a bit early in the draft to address this position, but I wanted to make sure I got the best in the business.

JN: First off, solid pick by Ed with Nick Luck. He’s a dynamite addition to any team in this group, and his stock is through the roof on both sides of the pond after the excellent Royal Ascot coverage.


If this were strictly a draft of TVG talent, Christina would be my first one off the board without a second thought. She’s got background in both the equine and handicapping sides of the business, and does a great job delivering useful information to the audience while playing air traffic control with the rest of her crew. My team needs to be smart, loose, and conversational with a good sense of humor – more NFL on FOX than CNN – and Christina has shown over the years that she can hang with any variety of co-anchors. I need a talented jack of all trades in this spot, and Christina brings high stats into just about every area.

Also, she’s another pick on the younger end of the spectrum. This not only makes her one I’d hope to have on my team for a long time, but a team of younger people should help convince folks in their age bracket that the track’s not full of just middle-aged and old white guys.

Gary West is probably a reach in this spot, but ever since I first heard Gary during my first visit to Kentucky Downs, I’ve never been able to imagine a dream simulcast team without him on it. He just seems to look at the horses with a different skew from the typical paddock analyst, and is able to process that into something especially palatable and useful for handicappers. The guy not only knows what he’s talking about, but presents it in a way that you’re doing yourself a disservice not to listen to it.

Part of Gary’s appeal at Kentucky Downs is his back and forth with announcer John Lies, but I think Pete and Christina are more than capable replacements to get the best out of each other. I like my team with these three as key cogs.

AC: It’s time to fill the chair(s) next to Laffit, and my next pick is racing’s hottest free agent right now.


Richard Migliore is a flat-out steal in the third round. He was a very good rider who fit in instantly on whatever TV broadcast he worked, and any list of racing’s greatest ambassadors has him on it. He provides audiences with handicapping acumen and a unique perspective that not many people have, and I desperately need him on my team.


Horse racing is meant to be fun, and Rachel brings minor league baseball fun to the Indiana Grand signal with promos for the live audience while also being able to discuss handicapping with the rest of the team for those watching in Simo-land. She can help promote all parts of the racing game.


In a surprise move, I’ll take another announcer, a veteran, a great guy, one of the best in the business, a guy with a great sense of humor, and a good friend. I’ll also take Gabby Gaudet, who takes her job very seriously. I need someone who does that.


This is the type of guy that, when he makes a pick, people pay attention. He’s also a great writer both about the game and life in general. We share a lack of filter. He once wrote about his soapy sock. He’ll stir the pot, he’ll stew in it. He’ll do what it takes to make a buck.

AC: As I try to recover from the image caused by Ed’s comments about a soapy sock, one name sticks out, and it’s one I need to draft.


Much of this is about business. Millie is smart, experienced, talented, and fills many roles with her versatility (even if we need someone out there on horseback). However, I’ll always hold Millie in an even higher regard as a person for something I saw first-hand. I was at Santa Anita in one of my first weeks at HRTV when Points Offthebench, who was trained by Millie’s husband (Tim Yakteen), broke down during a routine workout ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. The horse was euthanized, and it would’ve been understandable if Millie had taken the morning off. However, she stayed at the track and did her shift, even though people watching could tell it had been a terrible morning. That takes a LOT of toughness, which is a quality I want on my staff.

PA: We’ve got an HRTV mark here!


You can put Donna anywhere on the track, from the desk, to the paddock, to the back of a horse, to the top of the danged Churchill Downs big board and she’ll be an asset. She literally wrote the book on teaching new fans about the sport, but she has enough cred with the racing lifers that she can speak to them in their language and offer an experienced voice regarding the on-track product as a former jockey. A Swiss Army talent with a broad audience appeal? You’ve got a spot on my team any day.

I was thinking about making Donna my straight-up analyst until Andrew brought up the horseback element, and I realized she was capable of so much more.

I really struggled with finding the right person for the analyst spot. I wanted my analyst to fill a color commentator position on the desk, and I wanted someone who has been in the trenches. Someone who could comment on what goes on during a race with the experience of having a hand in the race, while also being a charismatic, likable figure. I wanted a Terry Bradshaw, or at least a Troy Aikman. In retrospect, I wish I would have picked Migliore when he was on the board and assumed my fandom for Gary West would have kept quiet until I could come back and grab him here. Mig is kind of the ideal guy for that spot in my eyes, and I’ve been told I can’t take Gary Stevens because he’s still an active rider. Drat.

AC: Sorry.

JN: Anyway, who better to be the voice of experience than the guy who founded an entire school to teach people about horse racing? McCarron has on-camera experience with ESPN and TVG, and anyone that’s had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with him knows he’s a character who is never lacking for words. He’s ridden, and won, at the highest levels, has a personality and presence that demands your attention, has experience instructing others (which an analyst should always be doing to some degree even if it’s not talking to beginners), and has worked with the technical aspects of both film and television. Put him in a spot where he’s just talking to you and the hosts about the game, and he’s my sleeper pick of this whole thing. He’s probably not the most polished guy I could have picked in this spot, but I don’t necessarily want polished. I want people who are intelligent, engaging, and entertaining. Chris has that in spades.

AC: My team is polished, but it needs a jolt of youth and enthusiasm.


Gino’s got the work ethic and knowledge I want in my handicapper’s chair, along with the added benefit of having tons of passion for aspects of the game that go beyond what you see in the program. He’s not a “hot take” machine, but he’s never afraid to passionately defend a controversial point, and having someone who can go back and forth with the Mig from time to time is a major plus. Between his insight and the fit he figures to be alongside the rest of my crew, Gino’s a guy I need to have at this point in the draft.


My first three picks bring professionalism and gravitas. Salvatore and now Beem bring irreverence to take down ivory towers. Jason calls a clean race, has fun doing it, and interacts with the racing community.


With delight in my voice and lead in my pencil, I proudly select Britney Eurton as whatever you want to put her as.

AC: You need a field/paddock reporter, so I’m putting her there.

PA: You boys have allowed me to draft a dream team. Hopefully the league doesn’t institute salary caps though.

With that in mind, I will take Mark Patterson as my handicapper. He will likely work cheaper than many others, is goofier than a cat on helium, can work with anyone, and knows his stuff.


When it comes to getting people to make action plays, nothing is more actionable than what’s seen in the paddock, and it’s really the last frontier of prices.

With an international flavor to my team, there’s also value to someone who can evaluate horseflesh on the fly. Yeah, NYRA is her strength, but what she does can be done in other paddocks as well.

AC: Maggie’s a good pick, and if I didn’t already have Caton, she’d have been high on my list. However, also high on my list is the most visible announcer in horse racing, one I’m surprised is still available.


With the retirement of Tom Durkin and the semi-retirement of Trevor Denman, racing needs a voice to carry it forward, and of the announcers left on the board, Collmus is the most logical candidate. He’s the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup voice, and he figures to be in that position for a long time.

JN: Curses, I was hoping Maggie might fall to me for one of my last picks. I’m floored she made it this far down the board.

Okay, time to round out my team. I’ve still got a handicapper and a bench player to draft. Here we go…


I honestly thought about taking Mike Battaglia here. His announcing style is an easy target, but I’ve got a lot of respect for his ability to handicap a race, and he’s another name that brings instant gravitas to a crew and is comfortable in front of a camera. That said, he looks to be easing his way out of the spotlight, so I might find myself seeking a replacement before long.

Joe Kristufek is the kind of person you’d want to hang out with and break down a card, and that’s what I want in my on-air team. He’s been the handicapping face of racetracks big and small, so he’s got a broad range of experience. He skews younger, but he’s been around and done enough that the simulblast lifers shouldn’t scoff too heavily at the kid on the screen who thinks he’s something making all these picks like it’s his job or something. On-air handicapper is a spot where mouth-breathers are going to open fire no matter what you do, but I think Joe’s strong enough to handle the assault, and does plenty to ensure the haters don’t have a leg to stand on. Plus, he’s another one that’s just a walking “Good PR Machine” for your track. Put him on the desk with Christina Blacker and Chris McCarron and you’ve got a dynamic and diverse booth heading up your broadcast.

Meanwhile, I have no idea how I’d fit Horowitz into the overall team. All I know is he gives a significant damn about what he does, and he’s a one-man wrecking crew when it comes to broadcasting, reporting, and generally doing anything within his abilities to make you care about Arapahoe Park. Oh, and he also calls the races. I need that guy on my roster. We’ll figure out the details later.

AC: I’ve got a bench spot available, and for me, versatility is extremely important. I ping-ponged between three people for this spot, but ultimately went with…


He works at a smaller track (Delta Downs), but this is a guy who can literally do ANYTHING I’d need him to do. He’s a strong announcer, of course, but he also serves as Delta Downs’s one-man simulcast show AND does all of their media relations work. I can plug Don Stevens in anywhere on this team, and he’d not only do the job, he’d do it exceptionally well. I couldn’t ask for a better “utility player.”

Honorable mentions for my last spot go to both Darin Zoccali and Dave Weaver, who both bring similar versatility to the table. Ultimately, I figured Larry Collmus would be on call for major events every now and then, and I wanted someone with more of an announcing background. That said, it was a very tough call.


She keeps with the international theme, and I like the degenerate vibe. Now that she has a TVG gig, the hours don’t seem as odd, but back in the day, she was picking races 20 hours a day and using the other four to complain about how bad the Tigers are.

JN: Alright, all we need now is the Mr./Ms./Mrs. Irrelevant. Pete, it’s your time to shine!


They helped give me so many opportunities in the business and it would be pleasure to give some of those same opportunities to someone else. Along those lines, by using the person as the resident “utility player”, they will broaden their skill set…a vital component to success in this industry in my view.

AC: I KNEW you were a softie at heart, Pete!



Announcer: Pete Aiello
Host: Christina Blacker
Analyst: Chris McCarron
Handicapper: Joe Kristufek
Field/Paddock Reporter: Gary West
Flex: Donna Barton-Brothers
Bench: Jonathan Horowitz


Announcer: Larry Collmus
Host: Laffit Pincay III
Analyst: Richard Migliore
Handicapper: Gino Buccola
Field/Paddock Reporter: Caton Bredar
Flex: Millie Ball
Bench: Don Stevens


Announcer: Jason Beem
Host: Scott Hazelton
Analyst: Nick Luck
Handicapper: Doug Salvatore
Field/Paddock Reporter: Maggie Wolfendale
Flex: Rachel McLaughlin
Bench: Candice Hare


Announcer: Travis Stone
Host: Gabby Gaudet
Analyst: Matt Carothers
Handicapper: Mark Patterson
Field/Paddock Reporter: Britney Eurton
Flex: Dave Rodman
Bench: Passionate rookie from Arizona RTIP