Goodbye to Horse Racing

This will be my last horse racing column (at least for the foreseeable future) — and it has proven to be one of the most difficult I have ever written.

I went to the racetrack for the first time when I was in junior high, about five years before my mom was diagnosed with cancer for the first time and when my stepdad, Dennis, still had a killer jump shot, which he would demonstrate — often — in family games on our half-dirt, half-weeds backyard “basketball court”.

Longacres Racecourse was located just a few miles from our house in Renton, Washington and, one day, my parents suggested we check it out.

“Why would we want to spend a whole day watching horses run around in a circle?” I asked, drawing nods of agreement from my twin brother and younger sister.

Cheery optimists we were not.

“It’ll be fun,” my mom assured us.

So, with all the enthusiasm of the condemned on their way to the gallows, my siblings and I piled into the family car for our trip to the track.

Little did I know then that I was embarking on the journey of a lifetime.

During my junior and senior years in high school, I spent more time reading the Daily Racing Form (the horseplayer’s Wall Street Journal) than I did my schoolbooks — a reality that my grades clearly reflected.

And I didn’t abandon my childhood love when I became an adult either. If anything, my bond with the Sport of Kings grew stronger with each passing year, particularly since my work career often resembled Ryan Leaf’s stint in the NFL — filled with disappointment and anger, but minus an $11.25 million signing bonus.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the game consumed me, as I began spending more and more of my time learning how to “handicap,” which is sports gambling jargon for the art/science of selecting winners. While many of my friends were doing normal things, like talking quietly in libraries and walking carefully with scissors (I never said my friends were exciting), I was reading books by Andrew Beyer, James Quinn and William L. Scott (not his real name, incidentally, making the inclusion of a middle initial very perplexing).

I even had my first serious relationship hit the skids when, one morning, my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend accused me of caring more about the first race at Aqueduct than I did about her.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said in astonishment. “I care just as much about the second race. There’s a daily double, you know!”

It was even difficult to distinguish what subject my college notebooks pertained to, as they were often filled with scribbling like this:

Scribbling

But I just knew that one day I would have a career in horse racing; though, as the years went quickly by, I suspect even Anthony Robbins would’ve told me, “Hey, look man, it’s not going to happen. Give it up!”

Eventually, I found success (take that, Robbins!). I started my own horse racing website, hosted a racing podcast and, eventually, got the attention of major players in the industry.

After persistent hounding on my part, I was hired by Youbet — probably to stop me from writing the company letters every week — and, with the help of a great marketing director, I quickly became the most popular writer on the site.

As a result, my contract was picked up by TwinSpires.com when Churchill Downs, Inc. acquired Youbet a few years later and, after it expired, I went to work for US Racing.

Overall, my time as the editorial director of USR has been a lot of fun. The site has experienced tremendous growth and I’m very proud of what my colleagues and I have accomplished. But on June 9, 2018, everything changed for me.

For it was on that day that Justify became the 13th winner of the Triple Crown — consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes — and I felt… nothing. As my fellow racing fans gushed and cried, extolling the virtues of this wonderful horse, I watched without passion, without joy, without any feeling at all. It was just another horse, at just another track, on just another day.

Now, I won’t bore you with what happened next. Suffice it to say that I blamed nearly everything in my life for what is blatantly obvious to me now. It is never easy letting go of a first love, especially one that has endured for the better part of your life, but that is the reality I have come to accept.

I spent over 30 years of my life passionate about watching horses run around in a circle all day. I cherish the memories of Chinook Pass, Belle of Rainier, Gary Henson, Jody Davidson, Frank Best, Gary Stevens (who was twice the leading rider at Longacres before finding greater fame in Southern California), the Baze family, and Clint and Tom Roberts.

If I close my eyes and concentrate hard enough I can still remember being among the infield throng gathered on a beautiful Seattle day to watch local hero Trooper Seven win his second consecutive Longacres Mile.

I can recall taking my mom to the track on a particularly soggy Mother’s Day and how my repeated reminder that it was “Mudder’s Day” soon lost its charm. (In retrospect, I don’t think she wanted to be there, rain or shine, but she went for me.)

I can also remember my many trips to the track with Dennis. Once, we lightly hit a car in front of us in our haste to make first post and Dennis apologized to the other driver by explaining that we had a “hot pick in the first race at Longacres.”

The guy didn’t seem particularly impressed, but, since there was no real damage done, he let us resume our journey without calling the police… oh, it probably goes without saying that the hot pick lost.

Look, I realize that everyone experiences the loss of love at some point. It is as much a part of living as breathing. In many ways, I consider myself lucky to have felt it so profoundly only this once. Sure, I’ve had relationships end, but racing occupied a place in my heart that was special and unique. It was my Field of Dreams — initially, a connection to my stepdad and, later, to my past.

Racing Pull Quote

And, if I’m honest, I think it is for this reason I stayed in the industry as long as I did. I yearn to go back to that poor excuse for a basketball court and play one more game with Dennis; I ache to see my mom again — my real mom, not the one who was sick and in pain for so long. I desperately want my kids to know the people who raised me, so they have someone to blame.

But they are both long gone. And it is clear to me now that not even my memories of racing can bring them back anymore. Too much time has passed.

So, like one of T.S. Eliot’s hollow men, I leave the industry as I entered it: not with a bang, but with a whimper. I am profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to accomplish my greatest life goal (up to this point) and I hope that, someday, I can find my passion for horse racing again.

Featured photo of Dennis and I watching the races.

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow… but Today Sucked

“I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day.”
—Rosa Parks

One of the toughest things about doing a blog like this is that I can’t always be completely upfront about everything that happens in my life — at least not as it is happening. (Obviously, discussing certain things requires diplomacy.)

That said, the whole intent of this project is, as I wrote at the outset, “… to document my life’s journey over the next year, as I attempt to redefine my life goals.”

This entails that I be as forthcoming as possible, that I share the good, the bad and the ugly. My biggest complaint about so many self-help/motivational books, blogs and videos is that the daily, weekly and even monthly struggles are typically glossed over — not because the authors are disingenuous, necessarily, but because they are relating their stories after the fact.

I don’t want to do that.

So, let’s just say that I received some very bad news this morning — news relating to the article I did on excuses. There are also some things in my personal life that are weighing on me today, making it what I call a “grind day”.

What is that, you ask (and if you didn’t, please just play along)? It’s one of those days that you just do what you need to do to achieve your long-term objectives — you grind, you persevere, you “man up”.

Yeah, today was a bust, but Annie assures me that the sun will come out tomorrow.

I hope that annoying little shit is right.

 

Featured photo by Rob Bates on Unsplash.

Excuses and the Road Less Traveled By

“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.”
―Edward R. Murrow

It’s been a very eventful past couple of days. And, during those 48 hours, I was reminded why so many self-help books miss the mark. We’re always told that there are “no excuses” for not getting fit, finding love or making oodles of money… yet, there are.

A friend of mine, who is studying to be a doctor, recently told me that he’s had trouble making it to the gym on a regular basis, and it bothered him. Well, yeah, that’s the reality of going to medical school — time is limited.

Even “fit mom” Maria Kang, who drew the ire of many for her “What’s Your Excuse” mantra after giving birth to her third child in 2013, subsequently realized that the playing field is not always even — sometimes there are valid reasons why people fall short of their goals.

mariaking2_facebook

After separating from her husband (not sure where that stands now guys, so, by all means, barrage her with e-mails and pictures of you shirtless in the gym) and dealing with depression, Kang took to Instagram to express her remorse.

… I am 10lbs [sic] up since I shot that ‘What’s Your Excuse’ photo! So here I am,” she wrote, in part. “This is a raw photo with absolutely no retouching, no preparation and no shame. I’m finding my beauty again, I’m discovering my strength again and I’m relearning what it means to be brave, bold and unapologetic about where I am in my life’s journey.

Suffice it to say, the photo, which has since been deleted, was hardly the stuff of nightmares, but folks seemed to appreciate Kang’s softened tone.

In my own case, I know my career has been hurt by the fact that I can’t easily relocate from my home in Colorado. If it was just me I could live in my car — which is one of those tiny Smart cars, built for Hobbits — down by the river, but I have a family to think of. As a result, I’ve had to turn down a lot of potential opportunities. Some days, the “what ifs” haunt me like Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart”.

Today is one of those days.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that one should throw in the towel or use excuses — even legitimate ones — to justify failure. Ultimately, I believe, as Michael Jordan does, that “obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

I will do just that. But, today, I will ponder why I took the road less traveled by and how different my life might be if I’d taken a surer path.

Featured photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash.