My Best Day at the Races

Well since yesterday I wrote about my worst day at the races, it seemed only fitting to also write about my best day.  I actually thought about a few different options for what I would label my BEST day at the races.  There was hogging the Pick 4 on a monday night in October of 2005.  There was hitting the Longacres Mile trifecta in August of 2005 with a 60/1 shot on top.  There was all those days with my dad at old Longacres.  There was calling races at River Downs, or Louisiana Downs.  But instead I chose a day from Portland Meadows.  My last day at Portland Meadows to be exact.  December 28, 2014.

There weren’t any big races that day or really anything memorable on the track or in my calls for that matter.  But I remember it being an emotionally fulfilling day for a lot of reasons.  The first live racecall I ever made was in that booth at Portland Meadows back on January 8, 2006.  A Colt Named Sue won that race and I remember almost everything about that first race call, including how awful it was.  Portland Meadows gave me a chance to call some races early on and it allowed me to make a demo tape and get hired by River Downs in March of 2006.  Midway through that first summer at River Downs I was told that Mike O’Brien, the regular announcer at PM, was not going to be coming back cause the schedule was shifting more to weekday racing and Mike had a regular 9-5 job.   When I was offered the job I remember being so thrilled.  I was 5 months into being a racecaller and I now had two great jobs that ran perfectly opposite to one another.  I was a full-time racecaller.

I did two seasons at Portland Meadows as just the announcer and a few months after I left River Downs in 2008 (you read about that yesterday) they offered me a year round position as guest services manager/media contact and announcer.  It was great, I had health insurance for the first time in my racing career (also the last time lol) and learned a ton about management from my boss Will who now is a big wig with NYRA and one of the smartest people I know.

I eventually gave up the full time job cause I went to grad school starting in 2012, but they let me stick around and be just the announcer.   From 2010 to 2013 I struggled with many of those same anxiety/depression issues I’ve written about.  It was a lot of peaks and valleys as far as my mood, but overall I did ok.  But for some reason when our 2014 season started I was doing well and feeling well.  And something strange happened.  I really started to like racecalling again.  My passion for calling was at an all-time high and I was really feeding off those feelings.  Studying and prepping harder, warming up better, memorizing better, just really doing my best.   I was feeling so good about racecalling that when the job at Louisiana Downs came up and was offered to me, I took it.

Portland Meadows had cut from 76 days down to 39 and it just seemed like the next logical step.  It was more days, more money, better racing, more exposure, etc, etc, etc.   So I gave my boss about a months notice and told him my last day would be December 28th.  I’ll admit it was kind of fun being a lame duck announcer.  I made a few YOLO calls, some impressions, just was having fun with it all.  I remember one day Frank Stronach showed up with his whole crew of corporate guys.  They stopped by the booth while getting a tour from Will and Mr. Stronach, who I’d never seen there in the nine years I worked there, said to me “I hear you are leaving us?”  I nodded yes and said it was nice to meet you and thank you for employing me for nine years.  I sincerely meant it too.  He always got a lot of flack from some of the horseman and fans at PM, but I always felt like that group supported our little track.  But for me the date cuts just meant not enough income to survive.  lad1

So to the track for my Best Day, December 28, 2014.  I got there and the office crew had a cake made for me.  The tote guys got me a real nice card (see right).  Even just walking up to the booth that day I had bettors pull me aside and wish me luck and say some really nice things that meant a lot.  I had always taken a lot of pride being the announcer at Portland Meadows.  So it was cool to get that appreciative feedback for the work I’d done.

All of that was great, but the real reason this was my best day at the races was because I made such an effort to be present and in the moment.  Anxiety is generally fear of what will happen, not what is happening.  I knew in my heart I wanted to savor this day cause I was never going to get to do this job at this place ever again.  So each race I made sure to enjoy the feeling of talking over the PA system.  Enjoy the excitement of the people out front cheering as the horses came down the lane.  Enjoy getting to use a talent I had worked a decade on improving.  Enjoy getting to say the names of these jockeys and trainers one last time.  I really made such a point to soak it all in throughout the day.  I was so thankful and when we got to the last race, I really got emotional.  This was the ending of a nine year chunk of my life.  This was leaving a city I liked and the few friends I had.  And when they crossed the line and the last race went official, I just said thank you very much for letting me call these races.   Then clicked the mic and headed downstairs.

I cried a little hugging our Assistant General Manager Jerry cause I love Jerry.  And I cried a little saying goodbye to Will cause I love Will.  But I got in my car and drove out of the parking lot and hit the road that same night to Louisiana.  Two days later I was at Santa Anita park.  Two more after that I was in El Paso.  Two more after that I was in Shreveport.   But to this day I can still remember that feeling of calling those last races.  It taught me such a great lesson in savoring moments that you know might be important.  I”m glad I still have memories of my best day at the track.

My Worst Day at the Races

I remember once in a writing class our fearless leader told me to write 5 to 7 pages on a day that changed my life.  I found the exercise to be very rewarding and that prompt actually helped me to develop an essay I wrote that was published in Perceptions Magazine (you can read that HERE ).

I’ve been trying to write recently and have kind of been coming up empty.  I mean, I’m writing, it’s just nothing worth keeping.  But that same teacher always told me the best cure for not being able to write is to write.  So the other day when I heard a friend at Emerald Downs say “this was my worst day ever at the races” I thought it could be an interesting prompt.

Now I’ve had some brutal days at the races.  Both while working and while firing away at the windows.  I’ve had a couple minus two grand days back in my heyday of betting, but while those days might make it into my top five worst days at the races, number one is a different kind of bad.

It was May 3, 2008.  Kentucky Derby Day.  But let me start a year or so before that.  I’ve written on here before about my struggles with anxiety, in fact I’m sure some of you are thinking “please not another anxiety blog!”  Well, this one isn’t that.  Nope, this is a depression blog!

My first year at River Downs in 2006 was amazing.  I just loved everything about being a racecaller and living in Cincinnati and meeting new people and traveling.  It was such an amazing year for me.  When I came back in 2007 for year two I was struggling a little bit.   My anxiety was high and I had ended a somewhat short relationship but I was still bummed about it.  I had also lost a friend in a motorcycle accident and I bought a condo that Spring, so I’m sure stress played a role in all of that.

Somewhere in the middle of that Summer of 2007 I remember standing in line at a Chipotle restaurant up on Beechmont Avenue.  I was standing there feeling weirdly numb and then I just started crying.  Right in the middle of the line.  I didn’t know why, but I couldn’t stop.  The crying continued for about two or three weeks.  I had what I realize now were many of the classic depression symptoms.  Struggling to get out of bed, super lethargic, no appetite, and just no excitement about anything.  With the help of a new counselor I seemed to “work” myself out of this “funk” and thought I cleared a hurdle.  I went back to Portland Meadows that winter and everything was going well and came back to River Downs hoping for a great third season there.

A week or so into being back into Cincinnati I felt those same depressive thoughts and feelings starting to come back.  Within a few days I was really having a tough time.  I remember climbing the stairs up to my announcers booth suddenly started to become a huge task.  Standing up to call the races seemed exhausting.  I remember around the last week of April I bought an air mattress and put it up in the booth.  I would lay down between races cause all I wanted to do was lay down.  This was the first time thoughts of suicide ever came into my head.  I remember really wishing I would die although I never had a specific plan.

So that brings me to May 3, 2008.  My worst day at the races.  I remember calling my mom before the races that day in tears.  I had hid the depression episode from her and most other family and friends the year before.  But this was another level.  I was terrified.  I gave my anxiety and depression so much power over me.  My mom reassured me that if I did my exercise and ate well and got back with my counselor that I’d work through it.

I got to the races and went and hid up in my booth.  I remember calling the first race and just losing it afterwards.   I was so done with it all.  My pattern for that day was to call a race, lay down on my air mattress, cry for 20 minutes, then get up and do it again.  Finally the 7th race, start of the late double came.  This time I couldn’t stop crying and the horses were coming up to the gate.  I got myself together as best I could.  The race went off and I was going along ok but mid-race I started to lose my composure a bit.  My voice cracked a little.  I paused and took a deep breath, then went back to it.  A horse named Outta Tune hit the line in front (he eventually became a really good horse for Maggi Moss).  I turned off my mic and collapsed to the floor and broke down.  I had thought I was at least functioning for work, but I wasn’t at all.

I picked up the phone and called my friend Vince downstairs.  Vince was my backup announcer but luckily I had never missed a race so he never had to call one, which I know he did not want to have to do.  But i needed him that day.  I just couldn’t compose myself to even talk anymore.  I was shaking.  Vince came up and walked me downstairs to the main desk where a nice lady who worked up there named Nancy sat with me and asked if I needed to go to the hospital.  I was so embarrassed and shaking and just nodded no, but within a minute of that, she told me that I needed to go.

We pulled out of the lot and as we did I could hear Vinny announcing the post parade for the 8th and final race.  I felt so bad for putting him in that spot.  He’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.  Not just in racing, but in life.  I love him like a brother, even though I haven’t seen him in over a decade now.

I got to the hospital and as I sat there I started to calm down a bit.  The doctor came in right about 6:25, which as it happened, was post time for the Derby.  The doc talked to me and I told him was announcing at the track and couldn’t keep myself together.  So he sat at the foot of my bed and we watched Big Brown break from the 20 hole and draw off to win.  I called my mom and told her “I think I need to come home.”   She was on the first flight out the next day and helped me pack up.  I went back to the track to give Mr. Hannessian my formal resignation.  We parked at the 1/16th pole and I remember I couldn’t even watch the horses come down the lane.  It made me sick to my stomach and just brought me back to Derby Day.   Mr. Hannessian told me he understood and that he wished me the best and wanted me to get better.  I left River Downs and never went back.

There’s been 3 times when I thought my career in racing was done.  That was the first time.  The second was in spring of 2012, and the third was after I left Louisiana Downs in 2015.   For some reason I’ve stayed and for some even stranger reason they’ve let me stay.   My relationship to the sport is a lot healthier than it ever was when I was a racecaller.  And once in a while, for some reason or another, I might have a lousy day at the races.  But I can’t imagine any day being as bad as that one in 2008.

Some words, Between Me and You

I was on my morning walk today and on my playlist came up a song by Brandon Flowers called “Between Me and You.”   Brandon is the lead singer for the band The Killers, who have been one of my favorite bands the last ten or fifteen years.  But this song was off one of his solo albums, 2015’s The Desired Effect.   It came out in the Spring of 2015 and it got me thinking about that time, April of 2015.  It was just a few weeks before American Pharoah would start his run through the Triple Crown.  A few weeks before my 35th birthday.  And a few weeks after I called my last race as an announcer.

When I left Louisiana Downs in early April that year I drove back to Seattle, interviewed at Emerald Downs for that announcer job, and didn’t get it.  I was heartbroken and angry and figured my time in racing was done.  I deleted my twitter account, went off the map a little, and started driving Uber.  While driving people all around the Seattle area I would usually just put a CD in and play it at a low volume.  Well in mid May when Brandon’s album The Desired Effect came out, I bought it, and played it on a loop for weeks.  It was poppy, cheery, and wonderful.  But every time it got to Track 5, I’d turn it up just a little.  And when nobody was in the car, I’d turn it up a lot.   The song is called Between Me and You and there were some lines it that just punched me square in the gut.  I’ve always gravitated towards music that makes me sad as opposed to that makes me happy.  And this song made me so sad, but in the best way.

“All my life.  I’ve been told.  Follow your dreams.  But the trail went cold.”  

I was 35 and felt I’d come to the end of the line on my dream.  Every time I heard that lyric in the song I thought “That’s me.  The trail has gone cold.  What the hell am I gonna do?”   For the next six months the answer was I was gonna drive people around Seattle.  I’ve said before on here driving that six months actually made me really appreciate the blessings I had to call races for nine years.  I had an incredibly fun job for 9 years and got paid to do it.  How fortunate I was.  But at the time, I sure felt like a total failure.  And as I applied for other announcing jobs, Turf Paradise, Lone Star, Zia, and others, I kept getting the “thanks so much for applying, we got many terrific applicants and we’re going with NOT YOU” emails.   I just kept feeling worse about myself and my future.  I applied for all sorts of jobs in so many other industries.  It became clear that racing and announcing were probably over.  Then I’d go back to that song again.

“I was just too proud to know.  There’s a power in letting go.  I never thought that it’d be so hard.” 

There was a power in letting go.  I think sometimes in my life I’ve held on to things just because they’re familiar.  Racecalling became an identity and if I didn’t have that identity then I was a loser.  People wouldn’t like me or care about me.  The things we make up in our heads.  Truth is anybody who liked me before would still like me.  And those who didn’t, still wouldn’t.  Regardless if I was an announcer or an uber driver or a bum.

“And I feel like I got nothing to show for this life that I’ve been wondering “What am I supposed to do?   But I’m doing my best” 

Three years later and when this song comes on I still relate to the lyrics, even though the circumstances are different.  They aren’t job specific as much as trying to let go of other things in life that I’m maybe holding on to.   Accepting what is and what still can be.  Trying to find purpose at a different stage of life.   Letting go of the idea of certain things that I grew up always assuming would happen and maybe won’t.   Which is ok.  There is a power in letting go.

I remember reading an interview with Brandon where he said he never likes to say exactly what his songs are about, because he wants people to make them about what they want.  And I think that’s what I’ve done with this song.  It’s meant different things to me at different times.  And I’m sure next year and the year after that it’ll mean something totally different than it does now.   I’ve always felt music

 

Vlog of trip to Sequim, WA

One of my favorite things I’ve learned in the past year is video editing, and I love to do small Vlogs (video diary kinda things) of my various day trips.  Here’s one I did of my New Year’s Eve travels to Sequim, Washington.  While you’re there please subscribe to my Youtube Channel.   There’s lots of vlogs and other fun little things on there.  One of my goals in 2018 is to do more video stuff, just cause I really find it creatively fulfilling.

Beemie Award for Best Fight goes to @goofonroof and @racetrackandy

The final award!  Andy Asaro has proven to have what it takes to win multiple Beemies.  Namely, picking fights.  We all have to have our talents and when it comes to fights on racing twitter, Andy is king!

This one happened way back in the spring/summer time I believe and it started when Andy posted something about a controversial dead heat.  Andy commented on the situation and Vic questioned it.  And we’re off…VicAndy

Ok, so just a disagreement at this point, nothing too crazy.  Cue Andy…

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(Yeah it was Saturday afternoon and I was waiting for an Uber).

But Dipshit gets us started.  Really any good twitter fight always needs to cross into swearing before it really gets going.  Vic tries and takes the high road and Andy…..well…

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Oh my.  Now we’re getting personal.  Now we’re rolling.

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Vic’s keeping it calm, but his passive aggressive jabs are just stoking the fire that burns in Asaro!

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Poor Ray Paulick being dragged into this affair.  Now Andy goes to the mystery files from Jack Liebau at Hollywood card!

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Now Andy goes after Vic’s current employer.  Getting ugly now folks.  By the way, 100% chance that DM i have in the above picture is someone telling me about this Vic/Andy fight.

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So then Vic finally brings out the Blocked card!

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And Andy comes right back with a “I blocked you first” which is key.  He who lands the first block has the last word!

All in all it was a good fight and while there were some great fights throughout the year, between the swearing, the anger, the allegations, and the blocks….this one is this year’s winner.  Thanks everyone for watching the Beemie Awards!

 

Beemie Award for Favorite Follow goes to @looochracing

2017 really was the year of the Loooch.  Ron Paolucci was everywhere.  Winning races all over the country, buying and selling horses, even guested on my podcast (listen here) .

But nowhere did Loooch shine more than on twitter.  Whether it was taking on the Blue Bloods of the Breeders’ Cup

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or hobnobbing with celebrities

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or being a good human being

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or my favorite, posting inspirational photos to his haters

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Loooch was the best thing on twitter this year, so that’s why he wins the Beemie Award for Favorite Follow!  Congrats Loooch!

Mike Joyce Award for Handicapping Bravery and Excellence goes to @downthestretch7

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This prestigious award is usually voted on by you, the racing fans.  But the Russians hacked the election process so I was forced to award this on my own.  But really, there was only one option.  For years, twitter has known @downthestretch7 as #BetWithKevin, the top clocker in horse racing.  Well his handicapping in recent months has been on a heater like few have seen.  His clients have all been raving about his picks.  He gave out Always Dreaming as his A++ work horse pre-Derby.  It’s just been the year of Bet With Kevin.  So now, he’s rightfully won the award named after a great handicapping hero to many in racing, the Mike Joyce Award for Handicapping Bravery and Excellence.  If this doesn’t jinx his current hot streak nothing will.

These photos are all from just the last couple of weeks.