2023 Kentucky Derby Recap: From Chaos Comes Clarity

Want to read a Kentucky Derby recap that has very little to do with the race? If so, I’ve got just the ticket.

(Editor’s note: Uh oh.)

(Writer’s retort: Come on. It’s me. You knew this was going to be weird.)

I did a ton of Kentucky Derby content leading up to Saturday. Catena Media allowed me to get my hands dirty on a bunch of sites within the company’s portfolio, and I’m grateful to them for that. I love my job, and I very much enjoy collaborating with some of the best co-workers (and friends) one can ask for.

I did a ton outside of my day job, too. You may have heard me on a few podcasts, and if you were in Ithaca or Albany (two of my former places of residence), you may have heard me on local sports radio affiliates, too. I woke up on Saturday morning bright and early, fully prepared to compile everything into one nice, neat package.

And then Forte scratched, and everything came crashing down.

Not literally, of course. Life goes on. However, with that scratch, almost every piece of content I conceived, produced, edited, and/or published the prior four or five days became irrelevant.

You may have seen a few social media posts from me in that vein that hinted I wasn’t in a great mood. As I told a few family members and close friends, I was absolutely devastated, and not because Forte wasn’t running.

There’s no worse feeling than seeing a lot of hard work fueled by passion go down the drain. I spent the entire week touting Forte enthusiastically, so everything that enthusiasm touched was instantly rendered obsolete.

(Quick note: If the vets determined Forte shouldn’t have run, then he shouldn’t have run. It’s truly as simple as that, so please don’t put words in my mouth.)

I audibled reasonably well the morning of the race. I put out a revised betting strategy, and if you acted on it, you came out ahead. Mage was my third choice, but a win bet at overlaid odds proved profitable. My exactas were toast, so I didn’t get rich, but I’ve had far, far worse Derbies.

After the race, a tweet of mine went around pretty quickly. I said Forte would have stomped that group, and I sincerely believe that. He’s beaten Mage twice already, and I don’t see a reason a healthy version of him couldn’t have done so again this weekend. I hope we’ll get a chance to see him sooner rather than later, ideally at an overlaid price.

The interactions that followed, though, gave me a lot of insight into my feelings and motivations. For as much bluster, pompousness, and ego my detractors (and there are many, for reasons passing understanding…) will claim I have, I genuinely enjoy going back and forth with about 90 to 95 percent of horse racing Twitter. I’ll talk shop in any setting anyone wants, and more often than not, I’ll genuinely enjoy it.

I was miserable most of Derby Day, and not because a horse I was excited to bet wasn’t going to run. It was because I put a lot of my spare energy into creating content for horseplayers to digest and enjoy, and I do it because there’s no better feeling than using my knowledge and insight to help someone else make money.

It’s why I keep doing all of this stuff on top of a day job I very much enjoy. I’m not getting rich off of these passion projects, and that’s not the point. The things I do in horse racing are because I want to do them, and because, over the years, there’s enough evidence to support the idea that I know what I’m talking about (you might have heard about Lord Miles…).

Saratoga’s in two months. I’ll be back in the pages of The Pink Sheet and online on this very site with full-card analysis, selections, and bankroll plays. Before that is the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton. I’ll be in Europe for the first week of that meet, but most weekends, I’ll be co-hosting handicapping seminars just outside the grandstand that preview each day of racing action at the Northern California fair track.

In the meantime, you can keep checking this site and my social media platforms. I’m an easy guy to find. If you’ve got any ideas for content, or just something you’d like to see, use the “contact” function. I see everything that comes through.

To those that enjoy what I do, thank you. You’re a large part of why I’m still able to do it.

Sounding The Alarm To Fix Major Horse Racing Issues

The inspiration for this article came from a conversation I had with a good friend who works in the horse racing business.

(Editor’s note: Wait, Andrew has friends? We’re as shocked as you are.)

(Writer’s retort: You’re a jerk.)

On the whole, I don’t share the “doom and gloom” outlook on horse racing possessed by some loud voices on horse racing Twitter. I don’t think horse racing is on its deathbed, or that the sport will cease to exist in a certain number of years. I love this game, and as anyone who follows me can attest, I pour a great amount of energy into it on a consistent basis.

The fact is, however, that competition for legal wagering dollars has never been greater. Sports betting is being legalized in a majority of states around the country. The latest state to approve the industry is Kentucky, whose governor signed a sports betting bill last week.

Sooner rather than later, residents of the Bluegrass State will be able to log on to DraftKings, FanDuel, or whatever platform they want. They’ll be able to lock in wagers on their favorite teams, at set odds, with an abundance of free information at their fingertips. The rules of these contests are iron-clad and laid out for all to see, high standards for competition and the settings of competitions are set, winners and losers are known when the clock shows all-zeroes, and, by and large, confusion is at a minimum.

Meanwhile, in horse racing, all of the following items on the list below are true.

  • Racetracks, on occasion, have major issues correctly timing races from start to finish.
  • Three major racetracks (Gulfstream Park, Churchill Downs, and Fair Grounds) have had significant problems growing and maintaining grass on their turf courses.
  • Late odds changes are commonplace across many prominent circuits.
  • The California breeding industry is facing immense obstacles, and a major source of Cal-breds, Ocean Breeze Farm, has been put up for sale by the Reddams.
  • One state’s racing circuit, which had been handling record numbers over the past few years, stopped sending its simulcast signal out of its state, resulting in millions of dollars in lost handle each month (and that’s being conservative).
  • At the time of this writing, nearly two years after the 2021 Kentucky Derby, we still don’t know the official winner of that race.
  • Nearly four years after the 2019 Kentucky Derby, we don’t have one uniform answer to the question, “what is a foul that merits disqualification?

With all of that in mind, why would any novice who doesn’t have the time to dig into specifics choose to bet on horse racing rather than sports? This is true even in Kentucky, a state that prides itself on being the heartbeat of the racing industry. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the history of horse racing matters too much to someone who’s been to the track once a year, has $100 to gamble with, and has a choice of a Pick Four or an NFL game he/she/they can research a thousand different ways without spending a dime.

Take all of the things we horseplayers bicker about on Twitter and throw all of them out the window for a moment. Instead, let’s ask ourselves this question: What are we, as a sport, doing to ensure we get things as right as possible, as quickly as possible, for the benefit of every stakeholder involved?

Optics matter, and not just for whatever part of racing’s multi-legged stool you happen to reinforce. There are no simple answers to the below questions, but they need to be asked.

  • What are we doing to educate new fans, make them more informed fans, and give them the confidence they need to put their money through the betting windows more than once or twice a year?
  • Why are we breeding fewer horses, and why are the ones we breed now running fewer times, needing more time after races, and becoming harder for the average fan to develop interests in than thoroughbreds of years past? More importantly, how do we reverse this trend to where we’re breeding to race instead of racing to breed (or, even worse, breeding to sell on a widespread basis)?
  • What are we doing to get new owners involved in the game when the economics to do so have never been more challenging for the non-gazillionaires out there?
  • How do we keep the mid-sized, 10-12% trainer in business when the 20-25% trainers seem to have all the top bloodstock, owners, and riders on lockdown?

I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m a bettor and a marketing/communications guy. I’m not a horseperson, or a veterinarian, or someone who’s intimately familiar with the challenges barns of all sizes face on a daily basis.

(Editor’s note: Wait a minute. He’s actually NOT a pompous know-it-all?)

(Writer’s retort: Shocking, right? Don’t tell anyone. Wouldn’t want to ruin a good shtick.)

I’m also not trying to insinuate the industry isn’t doing anything at all. A number of outlets are doing good work, and, in many cases, doing so while fighting numerous uphill battles. Acting as though they don’t exist, and/or minimizing their efforts, paints a biased picture.

(Also, say what you will about HISA, a well-meaning but imperfect piece of legislation clearly absent input from horsepeople before it was drafted and signed into law. However, it’s attempting to get everything under one roof with one set of rules. We can debate parts of the legislation all day long, but that particular goal is an admirable one.)

Still, there’s more that can be done across the board by everyone in racing’s ecosystem. Acting as though everything is fine and dandy when it isn’t is flat-out delusional, and it’s long past time for the industry to stop kicking the can down the road.

We don’t have to agree on everything in order for this to happen. If anyone knows about not being agreed with by some very vocal members of horse racing Twitter, it’s me (shoot, I got read the riot act once by someone angry I posted resources for victims of domestic violence). We can check our opinions about HISA, people in the game, and almost any other racing matter at the proverbial door.

The important thing we need to agree on is this: Things in horse racing are broken. If the industry is to survive (and maybe even thrive), a lot of things need to be fixed. The answers aren’t small tweaks. They’re huge, foundation-level adjustments that may require short-term sacrifices (a dirty word, I know, but go with it) to ensure the sport is still around for future generations.

The solution to these problems I’ve mentioned isn’t shooting the messenger. The problems are the problems themselves, not people talking about them (a lesson those quick to criticize the media would do well to learn). Whatever solutions are out there will take lots of thought from lots of smart people.

If we don’t find them soon, the consequences will be real and have longstanding effects for everyone. Let’s start the work now.

The Worst Horse Racing Opinion(s) I’ve Ever Seen

On Thursday, I read one of the most-pompous, least-informed “letters to the editor” in the history of journalism. It was published on the Thoroughbred Daily News website, and it contained a variety of wild accusations and untruths about horse racing journalists and media companies. Should you want to read it and subject yourself to the nonsense as we go along, here you go.

Before we go much further, I feel it prudent to point out my experience in the field. I worked with The Saratogian, HRTV, TVG, and The Daily Racing Form on a full-time basis. I’ve written for print and websites, I’ve run social media platforms, and I’ve geared content to a variety of different audiences. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve achieved significant growth in key metrics, and I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of good people doing various things to keep each business going.

I’m not in racing full-time anymore, but I’m fortunate to still do plenty. I host a show on the On The Wrong Lead podcast network, I freelance for The Paulick Report and The Pink Sheet, and this site you’re on right now got more than 30,000 hits during the 2022 Saratoga meet. It hit that total with zero in the way of paid promotion, and with its only hype being on my social media platforms and the occasional blurb in The Pink Sheet.

I’m not saying this to gloat, but to prove that any decent list of competent horse racing writers, editors, podcast/video people, etc., has me on it. That gives me the credentials to be taken seriously when I say that this letter to the editor is barely worth the microscopic amount of space it takes up on the TDN servers.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look. Firstly, let this sink in: The writer of the letter to the editor, who urged accountability and transparency, requested anonymity.

That’s not a typo or an untruth. Already, the letter starts from behind, as the writer fails to practice what they preach and doesn’t understand the absurdity of what they’ve produced. How is this writer any better than the, ahem, “journalists with an agenda” they complain about, when the letter-writer is content to lob grenades from behind a cloak of anonymity? If you want to show you care about writers being held accountable for what they write, be accountable yourself.

That brings me to the “most journalists have an agenda” comment. Trying to keep this part brief is hard, but in short: No. To paraphrase my good friend and Catena Media colleague Alicia Hughes, news is good, bad, and indifferent. It doesn’t care what you think a reporter should or shouldn’t be covering, and it’s a good reporter’s duty to cover everything, warts and all. Like every sport, racing has its share of warts, and trying to act like they don’t exist is borderline delusional.

Reporters are not publicists, no matter how much executives at many racing and breeding organizations that employ publicists want them to be. Stuff gets tricky, awkward, and messy sometimes. That’s the nature of the beast, and fair reporters get that reputation by covering newsworthy stories that come their way, not by cherry-picking and only writing the warm and fuzzy stuff.

(On a related note: Have you ever noticed the people who say reporters need to be writing happier stories are often the ones saying racing should be covered like a mainstream sport? Go watch ESPN’s coverage of the situation involving NBA star Ja Morant and tell me how good reporters would cover any mildly-controversial issue in racing. If you can’t stand the heat thrown by solid reporters NOW, imagine the scrutiny that would come with being covered “like a mainstream sport.”)

Moving on, we get to complaints about “dishonesty at each stage of the pipeline, from the sources through the writers to the readers.” This also included that sources of most stories “are agitators that pull the strings by contributing to online fearmongering publications.”

This is about when my anger turned into bewilderment. To recap: Most journalists have an agenda, everyone’s lying…and it’s the PUBLICATIONS, not the writer of this letter, that are, ahem, “fearmongering?” These are tactics straight out of low-rent sensationalist political talk shows that paint pictures of “us” versus “them.” They don’t stand up to any level of scrutiny, and it’s another example of why this attitude should never be taken seriously.

I don’t shy away from what I write, and neither do a lot of extremely talented writers I’m proud to call friends and colleagues. They’ve won Eclipse Awards for what they do. They wake up at dawn, take in workouts, go through days at the races and nights at the sales, write brilliantly about the things they see, and in some cases don’t get paid nearly enough for the quality of their work. They deserve better than flimsy, lazy attacks from someone who doesn’t have the courage to publicly identify themselves, and I’m about done staying quiet about it.

Stuff like we saw in the TDN Thursday isn’t okay, and I’m not alone in thinking it. Don Clippinger wrote a rebuttal to that letter that TDN, to their credit, published later in the day. I’ll quote some of his response here, because it puts things in perspective very well:

“The motivation of most all the journalists I’ve encountered in that time, which probably number in the thousands, was to get the story and get it right. That means telling both sides of the story. True, I have seen instances where the text may have been influenced by a losing bet, and industry members have at times tried unsuccessfully to throw their weight around in publications.

But those instances are exceedingly rare. To say that these journalists are ‘dishonest,’ to use the word of the anonymous coward, borders on libel.”

I’m big on accountability. My name is on everything I’ve ever written or produced at every outlet I’ve ever worked for, and as those who know me well can attest, I’ve taken my fair share of lumps for it. If anyone has a problem with anything my name is associated with, I’m a VERY easy guy to find.

With that in mind, there’s no dishonesty, clickbait, or sensationalism when I say this: The letter run by the TDN was a slap in the face to a LOT of good people. It was put into the world by someone who created the kind of negative story they wrote in to complain about, and the writer did so by lobbing wild, unjustified, and unsourced insults and accusations at folks who deserve much, much better.

Shame on them, shame on anyone who thinks this way, and shame on those who enable these people to continue acting as though good, hard-working writers are somehow the enemy of this industry.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Winners, ROI, And A Plan For Saratoga In 2023

As you know, I see the Saratoga all-media handicapping standings as a big deal. I was raised reading the likes of Russ Harris in the New York City papers, examining the pick boxes in every publication, and seeing who handicappers liked on a given day.

It’s why I’ve taken a more active role in tracking this stuff this summer. For the most part, the interest has been there, and that makes me happy.

I woke up Sunday morning, though, to a bunch of Twitter notifications, most of which included the same three letters: ROI.

This is where I need to pause for a few key reminders.

  • I have access to win totals for most of Saratoga’s print handicappers (save for a few in the Times Union, which puts its stuff behind a paywall).
  • The TU (which, again, is behind a paywall) has daily ROI totals for handicappers. The Pink Sheet posts totals each Wednesday (mine stinks).
  • The Daily Gazette and Saratoga Special do not post ROI totals, at all.

In general, I’m going off of data that’s readily available to me as I sit approximately 3,000 miles from Saratoga. What you see when I compile that and post it to Twitter is what I can get my hands on at that point.

I’m not saying ROI is not an important characteristic. It absolutely is, and it’s something every public handicapper should be keenly aware of. If your problem is that not enough handicappers post or publish their ROI totals, you have a valid gripe.

(Note: Saying so is not a knock on papers that don’t publish these totals, nor should it be interpreted as such. The people behind The Saratoga Special, for instance, barely sleep as it is.)

However, a few tweets I saw insinuated (and, in one case, outright said) that tabulating this should be something I do for every handicapper whose win totals I’ve tracked. In a word…no.

In many more words: My Saratoga content comes on top of a full-time job. This summer also included a move and a trip east for a conference. Honestly, it’s sort of a miracle the biggest problem I have this summer is winding up on too many favorites, and furthermore, a lack of data on the part of other handicappers does not constitute an emergency on mine.

What I propose for next summer is a compromise/collaboration of sorts. Public handicapper standings at Saratoga will always matter to me, and if I can do something that resonates with others in the ways public handicapping content resonated with me as a kid, I’m going to do it. It has to be within reason, though, and there are certain crosses I’m just not willing to bear.

I propose an open challenge, to every handicapper at every horse racing publication and/or media outlet that picks every race, every day, for 40 days at Saratoga. I want to provide a one-stop shop where people can evaluate data that matters to them. Some may want winners. Some may want top-three finishes. Some may want ROI. I want all of this included, too, provided it’s made available in ways that don’t require a crazy amount of additional legwork. In addition to being a sucker for things I grew up with, I’m hyper-competitive and love seeing where I stack up against some really sharp people.

Below is what I’m volunteering to do next July through next Labor Day, as well as things I refuse to do out of respect for what’s left of my sanity:

  • I will figure out a spreadsheet format that works and can be accessed by anyone who’s interested.
  • On my own, I will plug in data that’s easily accessible. This means daily Pink Sheet winners and weekly ROI numbers, and whatever numbers I can get from other publications (the Saratoga Special, Daily Gazette, and the Times Union, provided the TU works with me and gives me a workaround for the paywall).
  • I will gladly accept the assistance of volunteers that want to help make this better.
  • I will open this up not just to members of the local media, but to the racing industry at large. Participants must pick every race, every day, for 40 days, and do so in a way where top-pick winners, and top-pick winners only, are publicly tracked by either the handicapper or the handicapper’s outlet. If you want in, contact me and let me know the best way to find your content.
  • I will not pay for content. If your stuff is behind a paywall and you want it included, it must be sent to me independently.
  • I will not do initial tabulations for wins or ROI (though I will double-check if there’s something that merits it). That data has to be available and tracked.
  • Most importantly, other handicappers lacking data will not be my problem. If someone doesn’t want to track or publish their own ROI, in no way is that my fault.

I will gladly be the curator of such an exhibit. However, I cannot, and will not, do all of the work, all of the time, for everyone involved, for no pay, in a futile attempt to satisfy people on horse racing Twitter that would complain about a free lunch. If I’m met halfway, though, I think this could be a wonderful resource that makes all of us better and provides another way to enjoy what happens during the summer at Saratoga.

Speaking of that: Let’s enjoy what’s left of this one, shall we?

THE DARK DAY FILES: A Weary Traveler Heads To Saratoga

I’ve always really liked air travel, and I’ve spent the last few years trying to figure out why. Amidst the staffing challenges, the pandemic challenges, the inflation challenges, and the “today’s your lucky day to get jerked around by the transportation gods” challenges, it can be tough to love flying.

After an eventful day spent winging my way cross-country to attend the Racing and Gaming Conference, see my family, and watch horses turn left at Saratoga Race Course, I think I’ve figured it out.

I do some of my most active thinking on planes.

I try to avoid paying for the overpriced airplane wi-fi that cuts in and out. When you’re cut off from the technological luxuries we take for granted every day, you’re left with nothing but your thoughts, especially if you can’t sleep on planes (and I usually can’t).

My trip started at 3:30 am Pacific time Sunday, when I left my new apartment in Northern California’s East Bay with a suitcase in one hand, a carry-on bag in another, and about a dozen boxes left unpacked and stowed away in a spare bedroom so my cat can’t wreak havoc on what’s inside. It included arriving at San Francisco International Airport at 5 am and falling victim to a 7 am flight being delayed twice and, ultimately, cancelled.

Despite this, my dad insisted on waiting for me at Albany’s airport. He’d originally planned to pick me up at 6:40 pm. He did so at around midnight, despite an impassioned attempt on my part to let him off the hook so he didn’t have to drive from the Hudson Valley, to Albany, to Saratoga Springs, and back to the Hudson Valley in the dead of night. Say what you will about us Champagnes, but one thing’s for sure: We show up.

(Love you, Dad.)

In the meantime, I watched the first six races from Saratoga. Fire Sword made me look great, bringing home nice scores in both the wallet and The Pink Sheet’s bankroll section when he wired the field in the fourth. I gave horse racing Twitter something to do by rounding up a few dozen followers to guess how much my breakfast cost. I made conversation with a few people scrambling as best they could, just like me.

“Where are you headed?”


“You work there?”

“Sort of.”

I got re-routed to go through Chicago, my 6’5”, 235-pound frame stuffed between two poor souls by a customer service agent who seemed just a bit too happy when she said, “middle seats only.” My day didn’t get better when I pulled out the tray table to mark up Wednesday’s Saratoga past performances and lowered my head for a look at the same time the 5’4” person in front of me decided to recline her seat.

I got through most of Wednesday’s card. In the seventh, there’s a horse named Oh Donna. That’s my mom’s name. She’s planning to be with me at the track Wednesday, and I half-expected the person in front of me to recline the seat back into my head again for effect.

(I love you, Mom. See you Monday night. Table for two, that’s T-W-O, at Morrissey’s.)

I must’ve been scribbling pretty hard, because I got the attention of the Dutchman sitting near the window. We talked for maybe 15 minutes about what I was doing, how I did it, and the machinations behind it.

“Do you gamble, too?”


“Do you do well?”

“At Saratoga? Better than most.”

We exchanged contact information. He was headed to Chicago for a meeting before flying back to Amsterdam. Nice fellow, I thought as I plowed through an Italian beef sandwich at O’Hare Airport’s L terminal. It wasn’t particularly good, but there was a lot of it.

I sat down next to a family with two college-aged kids accompanying their parents. An older sister was taking great joy in teasing her younger brother.

“I think she knows she’s right,” I said while leaning over, “and she’s never going to let you forget it.”

My interjections vary in how they go over, which drives friends and loved ones insane, but on this occasion, the two targets began howling with laughter. I’ve got an older sister, too. She’s an equity partner at a major law firm, is the toughest act to follow in the history of mankind, and is raising three kids, two of whom will make their maiden voyage to Saratoga this week.

I passed some time reading a book called “Gods at Play.” It’s written by Tom Callahan, a longtime sportswriter who has spent time with pretty much every renowned athlete of the last 60 years, and there’s a section on Roberto Clemente that hit me like a ton of bricks.

Clemente was seen as an egotistical jerk by many. He was also arguably the best all-around player in the National League, with a sniper rifle for an arm and a body that seemed to creak itself into just the right positions to spray line drives around the ballpark.

“The ability was true,” Callahan writes. “The confidence was fairly true. It was the bravado that was false. As great as everyone knew him to be, he felt undervalued—and he was. As unlikely as it sounds, his principal feature was a kind of loneliness.”

As I write this, I’m tied for second in the all-media handicapping standings. I’m five wins back of John Shapazian from The Saratoga Special, who I topped last year with the best summer of my career in horse racing. This weekend was a really good one for me, one that saw me climb back into contention in a contest that has seemingly picked up a bit of interest on social media.

I love this game, I love Saratoga, and I love it when my opinions help people make money. There were things said and whispered about me following last year’s meet that I haven’t forgotten. Let me be clear: If you think for one second that I’m going away anytime soon, you’re sorely mistaken.

I’m in Saratoga all week. If you’re at the Racing and Gaming Conference Tuesday and Wednesday, or at the track Wednesday through Saturday, come say hi.