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?”

“Albany.”

“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?”

“Sure.”

“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.

Saratoga Pre-Meet Musings Ahead of the 2022 Stand

We’re three days out from the start of the 2022 Saratoga meet. It’s an exciting time to be a horse racing fan, and, from my standpoint, it’s just as thrilling to be gearing up to deliver high-quality content for every race, every day.

Chances are you’re on this site because of my Saratoga stuff. This will act as a refresher for how things will work this summer, as well as a repository for several thoughts rushing through my head as a new summer meet beckons in upstate New York.

The content, and when it’s coming

I’m one of five featured handicappers in The Pink Sheet, a daily publication run by The Saratogian. It’s sold outside the track every day, and they’ve generously allowed me to post my stuff on my site as well.

Last summer, content on this little site, promoted solely on my social media and in a few published pieces, attracted more than 22,000 views. Of all the numbers and stats you’ll read in this piece, that’s the one that stuns me the most. To those that are preparing to come back for more this time around, thank you. You’re appreciated, you’re valued, and you’re the reason I still produce this content!

Unlike the other four Pink Sheet handicappers (worthy opponents, one and all), my content also features detailed analysis of each race, plus a bankroll blurb. I start each summer with $1,000, and you can track my fluctuations each day. One note here: All bankroll plays assume races carded for turf stay there. Surface changes void all plays, as do scratches.

Picks and analysis will generally be available about 36 hours before the races. For example, Thursday is opening day, and my content will be posted on Tuesday night. This is for several reasons, not the least of which is so editors in Saratoga aren’t waiting for me on deadline when I’m on the west coast and three hours behind. Bankroll plays will be available at the conclusion of the prior day’s action (if I could write that stuff in advance, I’d never lose!).

Last summer…was a really, REALLY good one. My 142 top-pick winners led all public handicappers at local media outlets. My ROI was $2.04, which meant you turned a profit by betting each of my top picks all summer long. My bankroll blurbs also proved profitable, as I grew a starting stake of $1,000 to $1,277.10.

I can’t promise I’ll replicate that success. It’s far and away the best Saratoga meet I’ve ever had as a public handicapper. In all honesty, it’s probably one of the best Saratoga performances by any every-race, every-day public handicapper in the media corps in recent memory. That isn’t ego or bluster. It’s grounded in numbers, made public for everyone to see every day.

There are a few things I can promise, though. The motivation for those promises comes from a strange place.

My approach

During and after the meet, there were a number of things that were said by several people that I noticed, and I took a few of them personally. It would appear my existence (and, in this case, my success) rubbed some people the wrong way.

Here are some facts: I love this game, I love the puzzles that are presented on a daily basis, and I love pari-mutuel wagering. It’s my money against your money and the money of anyone else who wants to put it down. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but either way, there’s another puzzle to solve in 30 minutes. Want to talk horses? Grab your form, pull up a chair, and let’s do it.

You have to love those things, because this game is HARD, especially at the highest level. Public handicappers don’t have the option to skip races (as an aside, many who bash analysts on network broadcasts would be very wise to remember this). We grind, and we grind, and we grind some more, and after 40 days, we see where we stand when the dust settles.

When good things happen, I’m going to celebrate. It might put a target on my back, but if you’re not proud of hard work leading to tangible success, why do the work?

I respect everyone else who does this, at Saratoga and for any track, anywhere in the world. If someone beats me and claims either the all-media title or the Pink Sheet title, I’ll shake his or her hand, look him or her in the eye, say “good game,” and mean it. If anyone wants to believe otherwise, that’s his or her right. And it’s my right to say he or she is full of it.

After last summer, though, something I said in the heat of the meet rings true. Twitter egomaniacs can pound their chests about who the best handicapper on horse racing Twitter is. 10 months out of the year, I genuinely don’t care who’s mentioned.

However, from mid-July through Labor Day at one of horse racing’s last remaining cathedrals, if that conversation doesn’t include me, it’s a bad one.

When it comes to Saratoga, I won’t be outworked. When you come onto my website or buy a Pink Sheet at the track, you’re getting the product of someone who enjoys getting his hands dirty in the name of both competition and helping people make money.

I can’t promise a meet like last summer, or a day like the last Friday of the meet. I went 8-for-10, picked six straight winners in the middle of the card, publicly gave out a late Pick Four that paid nearly $400, and drove my former podcast co-host crazy.

What I can promise is the kind of process you, the reader, have hopefully come to expect from me. If that leads to results that tick a few people off, so be it.

Odds and ends

There are two significant renovations at Saratoga that will be front and center this summer. I’m not crazy about either of them.

The first is the Wilson chute. It runs parallel to Nelson Avenue and allows Saratoga to card one-mile dirt races. On the surface, this seems fine. More options aren’t a bad thing, and if there are enough dirt milers on the grounds to fill races, so be it.

However, two-turn dirt races are growing more and more sparse. The American horse racing industry is breeding for “brilliance” and one-furlong times at 2-year-old sales, not for horses to have long careers or run longer distances.

Consider this: The first two Saratoga cards are out, and they feature a total of two two-turn dirt races. They’re both mid-level claiming races, the types that may not have existed in Saratoga condition books a few decades ago.

If the Wilson chute provides another wrinkle in the condition book and contributes to a fun product, great. Still, I don’t like the direction this is going. If we’re stretching out seven-furlong races, cool. If two-turn races that are already too rare happen less, I think that’s a loss for horse racing.

The other renovation comes in the form of a new story on top of the paddock bar. It’s become a new premium seating option, available to groups for a few thousand bucks per day. I tweeted about this, and I’d like to further express myself in an environment that doesn’t have a character limit.

I grew up going to Saratoga with my dad. We’d get there early and get a picnic table in the backyard. I’d politely pester jockeys for autographs before the race, on the walk from the jockey’s room to the paddock.

The changes that have been made are chipping away at the types of experiences that got me hooked on this game, and for what? Nobody asked for a section of picnic tables by the Big Red Spring to be roped off and available for a fee. Nobody asked for access to jockeys to be limited before races. Nobody asked for Teresa Giudice to be trotted out as a “celebrity guest,” or for Chris Kay’s thankfully-aborted brainchild, a jockey house in the Saratoga paddock that would’ve eliminated what little jockey access still exists.

In the past, NYRA has handled premium seating with aplomb. The 1863 Club opened to rave reviews a few years ago, and The Stretch seems to be well-received, too.

However, I can’t shake one thought: Nobody asked for the massive structure that now exists by the paddock. It comes across as wildly exclusionary, and consider this: What happens if a 2-year-old, or any horse for that matter, gets spooked by noises coming from up above? Was this a thought NYRA had when constructing the building, or did the pursuit of the almighty dollar render that concept meaningless?

Also: Sorry to say it, but the building just seems ugly and soulless.

I don’t have a particular axe to grind (sorry to disappoint you conspiracy-minded folks out there, but most turf writers don’t). I give NYRA credit where it’s due, especially on their excellent TV programming. These two ideas, though, seem like misses, and I’d be delighted to be proven wrong on that.

Updates on life, the Kentucky Derby, and one of horse racing’s biggest issues

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written something here. There are a bunch of reasons for that, and a bunch of reasons why I’m putting this together.

My “new” job

As you probably know, I’m back in the gambling industry on a full-time basis. A bit more than three years after The Daily Racing Form saw me as surplus to requirements, I’ve latched on at Catena Media as a Content Manager. They’re an affiliate marketing company in the space, and I’m having a blast wearing many hats.

Since coming on board in January, I’ve assumed a leadership role with several sites in the company’s “play” network. Each state gets a site, and the ones in my bucket are California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ohio. I’m managing a fantastic team and working with people who are insanely passionate and spectacular at what they do. It’s been a fun few months, and it feels good to be back.

In addition to managing those sites, I’ve also started producing plenty of horse racing content for Playfecta, the company’s resident racing page. This includes betting strategies and looks at Kentucky Derby prep races.

Catena’s also been wonderful about allowing me to freelance for non-competitors. You may have seen my Derby Bubble column for the fine folks at The Paulick Report, and, predictably, the one thing I insisted on prior to coming aboard was an ability to continue my role with The Pink Sheet each summer for as long as they’ll have me. They were fantastic about this, so my summer Saratoga coverage remains unchanged.

If I may be allowed a quick detour into “wrestling promo” mode: This means that your reigning, defending, undisputed Saratoga all-media handicapping champion will be back this July to defend his title. If you don’t like it, play along for 40 days, publish your picks, and beat me. Contrary to what some may like to believe, if you do that, I’ll be the first in line to shake your hand, say “good game,” and mean it.

All of my Kentucky Derby stuff

I figured it would be handy to have a one-stop shop with links to all of my content focused on Kentucky Derby Week. The below list includes written articles, podcasts, and videos, and if you’re curious about how I see things over the next few days at Churchill Downs, these are what you’ll want to dive into.

FRIDAY

SATURDAY

Horse racing has a problem

Earlier this week, the plight of a young woman in racing got my attention. Mary Cage chronicled what went into an excruciating decision to leave the game she loved. Her explanation was raw and honest, and what some interpreted as “millennial softness” was, in actuality, a much-needed dose of humanity.

I related to this right away. When I feel something, I feel it more intensely than most. That’s a quality horse racing doesn’t have much use for. My career almost ended before it really got started due to a situation where that came into play (we’re getting closer to when I can feel comfortable telling that story publicly, but we’re not there yet). It played a role in why I left TVG, despite 99.9% of people I worked with/for being outstanding professionals and people (I spent most of an afternoon with several of them last weekend at Golden Gate Fields!).

When Mary talked about the issues she faced, it hit home. My challenges were different, but rooted in a lot of the same concepts. I bent over backwards to help a variety of companies and people. I wore many hats, I worked long hours, and I was ultimately deemed expendable by a machine that seems to take pride in chewing up and spitting out those who care about maintaining it.

Predictably, while Mary got plenty of support from some of the industry’s best people, she was dragged by some of the worst. Not everyone is going to agree on everything, and that’s fine. Some of the attacks got personal, though, with insinuations made that she lacked a proper work ethic or other qualities commenters deemed necessary for success in racing.

At the same time this was going on, a company came out with the first of several “explosive videos” designed to lobby for causes and people in racing. Predictably, the name “Bob Baffert” was dropped four seconds into the video, which aimed to pit Baffert’s camp of loyalists against Churchill Downs and its backers.

This is going to sound harsh, and perhaps the firm has better ideas up its sleeve moving forward. Having said that, after seeing the nonsense Mary had to deal with (as well as stories of other young people in racing being forced to question the longevity of their careers)…I really don’t care about what happens to Bob Baffert anymore.

Racing is the only billion-dollar industry I’ve discovered where passion to make things better, and ideas that require short-term sacrifice for long-term gains across the board, are frequently frowned upon. People like Mary shouldn’t be chased out of the industry. They want to work, and they want to make things better. Instead of deciding they’re expendable, give them all the work they want, and get out of the way while they do it.

We can go on and on about things like Baffert, trainers, breeding, and any number of issues. Contrary to the belief of some of the trolls out there, I welcome respectful disagreement on all topics (it’s the “respectful” part that’s often a bridge too far, I’ve found).

Here’s a much more important thought to ponder, though: If we’re turning away people who actively want to have long, sustained careers in racing, what chance do we have to attract those who are indifferent about the sport? Furthermore, what chance do we have to change the minds of those who have decided they don’t like it?

Look up at the amount of content I’ve produced for two days of racing, on top of my normal, 40-hour job. In addition, I’m writing this at almost 11 pm Pacific time on Thursday, May 5. Tomorrow is Kentucky Oaks Day, with a 7:30 am first post. I’ll be up for all 13 races, from maiden claimers to the main event, and I’ll be ready to do it again for 14 more races Saturday, including the sport’s biggest one.

All of this is my contribution to the game. I’m a handicapper and content creator. I write and produce things for people to enjoy, with the hopes that some of it helps people make money. It’s why I enjoyed last year’s Kentucky Derby so much. My show (which included a special appearance from my father) gave out $30 in tickets that returned more than $1,000. As hokey as it sounds, buying him and my girlfriend a nice dinner after the races is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. If my analysis and insight helped give someone else a moment like that, even better.

I love horse racing.

There are times I wish horse racing loved itself.

Medina Spirit, One Handicapper’s Peaks and Valleys, and Horse Racing’s Next Steps

It was 8:38 am when I got the text message.

I had just gotten out of bed and was getting ready for work. My phone vibrated with news that Medina Spirit had died following a five-furlong drill at Santa Anita.

I almost went back to bed.

I’m not a vet, I’m not an expert on the structure of the American thoroughbred, and I’m not here to bash certain people within the game just because it’s the fun, trendy thing to do. I’m a fan, handicapper, and content producer that’s had, simultaneously, the best and most chaotic year of my life betting on and talking about horses.

Medina Spirit is a big reason for that. Sent away at 13-1 in the Kentucky Derby, he was left alone on the lead when Rock Your World didn’t break. Mandaloun, Hot Rod Charlie, and Essential Quality came up to challenge him, but Medina Spirit refused to yield, got home, and triggered a celebration in my Northern California apartment that was probably audible up and down the West Coast.

We know the rest of the story. He tested positive for a banned substance, and a lengthy legal battle has outlived its subject. After his death, we still don’t know if we can call Medina Spirit the official Kentucky Derby winner. He won a few races, was ridden for second behind Knicks Go in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and may very well win Champion 3-Year-Old Male honors at the Eclipse Awards.

On its own, Medina Spirit’s death would be bad enough. A high-profile Bob Baffert trainee dying of an apparent heart attack after a workout, while the subject of a lengthy drug investigation, is reason enough to cringe. However, it’s the latest blow to a sport that’s been crippled lately by one public relations disaster after another over the past few years.

Santa Anita was put through the ringer in 2019, when a series of breakdowns caused an avalanche of bad press (including an astoundingly tone-deaf one-liner on the ABC show “Black-ish”) and forced significant changes to the racing product. I worked at Santa Anita for a year and a half. It’s a cathedral with fantastic people steering the ship and making the engine go. They’re back racing down the hill, and the surface is far safer than it was nearly three years ago.

Good luck, however, telling that to people whose exposure to Santa Anita comes in the form of blurbs on the ESPN “Bottom Line” talking about breakdowns and deaths rather than consuming the product on a regular basis.

Medina Spirit’s win in the Kentucky Derby triggered legal activity from all corners of the racing world. After news of the positive test made national headlines, some handicappers felt cheated enough to file a lawsuit against Churchill Downs, demanding that bettors who were beaten by a drugged horse be properly reimbursed.

Speaking of bettors, there’s no other way to explain what happened on the first day of the 2021 Breeders’ Cup than three simple words: They got hosed. Modern Games was let through a starting gate prior to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. In a sea of confusion, he was scratched, then un-scratched, then announced as running for purse money only. The talented Charles Appleby runner won as much the best, because of course he did, and the reaction from the Del Mar grandstand was a thunderous chorus of boos, one that I’ve never heard at a track before and don’t plan on ever hearing again.

As a sport, where are we on controlling the narrative that reaches novices and those who have never been to the track before? Where are we on a response that reassures the racing fanbase that the racetrack is still a fun place to go, and that one’s gambling dollar is more respected there than at a blackjack table, a slot machine, or a daily fantasy sports provider? How is it possible that a sport with many incredibly wealthy, smart people at the top level can be playing defense this much?

– – – – –

I can’t address those questions without a look at where I’m at. I don’t work in horse racing full-time anymore. I’ve been out of the business for three years, ever since I was a casualty of budget cuts at The Daily Racing Form. To some, that’s a very good thing, and to others, I’m no different from other ignorant washouts who like to toot their own horn.

Those people don’t know me. By and large, they know the silly guy who posts professional wrestling memes and fires up Ric Flair’s promo from the 1992 Royal Rumble when he wins. News flash: If any of you, and I mean ANY OF YOU, take that stuff seriously and think that’s a true indication of how much I think I matter, re-evaluate your life choices and check your rear end for a stick.

If you took this seriously…really???

What people other than my family and closest friends don’t see is the time I spend, on top of a full-time job, creating written and video content with the intensity of someone who still does it on a full-time basis. I’m probably the only guy left who attacks the Saratoga all-media handicapping race the way writers and horseplayers did 20 years ago, and I make no apologies for that. When kids my age were reading Roald Dahl, I was reading Russ Harris. Putting out a quality product matters to me, and that’s not going to change for as long as I do it.

My main rush, though, comes from helping the once-a-year track-goers cash tickets and enjoy themselves at the track. I had a friend tell me once that I cared more about people knowing I was right than actually being right. Heck yes, I do, and it’s because if people know I was right and they bet what I liked, they made money! What rush is better than that?

I said all of that, and went on what seemed like a few meandering tangents, to bring it back to one point: If racing continues to shoot itself in the foot with no plans to convince people it’s fun to come to the track, there may not be once-a-year track-goers anymore.

– – – – –

I still love this game. I love writing about it, I love going on-camera to talk about it, I love reading the form to find an edge, I love betting that edge, and I love being right. I’ll answer questions from people about the sport all day long, if I can, and any sort of ambassadorship I can provide pales in comparison to what horse racing has given me.

That said, I’ve never been confrontational when I meet people who don’t like (or, in some cases, actively hate) horse racing. It’s not going to be everyone’s thing, and that’s okay. Where we find trouble is when we ask ourselves this dangerous, two-part question: How many people have been turned off by issues in racing the past few years, and what can we do to bring them back?

Remember what I said about how much I think I matter? If you think I’m an egotistical maniac, strap in for this one: For all of my flaws (and there are people who will gladly take the time to list all of them), I’m REMARKABLY self-aware. If I took my annual handle (it’s none of your business, but it’s not totally insignificant) and put that money and my content creation efforts into any other relevant field, I know I wouldn’t be missed by racing at large. That isn’t a knock on myself. It’s just a fact.

The same can be said for people I know who have bet considerably more than me and vowed that they’re done with the sport. On their own, one’s individual handle going elsewhere isn’t going to break the game or send shockwaves through the industry. However, if the whales leave, and the medium-sized fish leave, and the small fish leave without laying eggs (in this hypothetical, the eggs represent people introduced to the game and given reasons to be excited about it), what’s left? In that instance, horse racing suddenly turns into yacht racing, where rich people compete for each other’s money and nobody in any other tax bracket cares.

Any changes made are going to take time to implement. Expecting an overnight revolution when the status quo hasn’t been seriously threatened on a national level for decades is irrational, and anyone taking the opportunity to demand such a movement should know that. However, those in the game who think everything is fine and that the sport can police itself are also misguided (not to add yet another tangent, but if the sport could police itself, why did it take the FBI to run Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis out of the industry?).

There need to be constructive, inclusive conversations about how to fix the issues in our game. Women, minorities, and those that haven’t traditionally had prominent seats at that table need to be involved. Bettors and owners need to be respected in equal measure, because the sport doesn’t work without both revenue streams. The words, “but that’s the way we’ve always done it,” should be cause for a public flogging, and anyone with conflicts of interest should be required to leave the room when a close-to-home topic is being discussed.

I don’t know how we get fans back who say they’re done with the game and mean it. We don’t know the official Kentucky Derby winner. We don’t know for sure which trainers are dirty and which ones are clean. We don’t have a concrete plan in place that ensures a Modern Games fiasco doesn’t happen again. Shoot, going back to the 2019 Kentucky Derby, we still don’t have one uniform answer to the question, “what is a foul that merits disqualification?”

What I do know is that doing nothing won’t work.

I’m not asking racing to solve all of those problems instantly. However, here’s a simple prayer from someone who gives a damn about the sport surviving and thriving at all levels: Can’t we at least get the car out of “neutral?”