Why We Love This Game
Written by Andrew Calvano
November 3, 2015
Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated with horses. The memories of early morning walks around my family’s stables at Monmouth Park will forever stay with me. The smells, the sounds, the sights, even feeding one of our handful of Thoroughbreds a carrot meant so much to me because it wasn’t something that everyone got to do. None of my friends growing up owned racehorses, nor had most of them ever been to a racetrack. Heck, to this day my friends back home still think my obsession with this sport is a little crazy.
I remember playing travel baseball in New Jersey when I was 10 years old and we specifically played in a division where the majority of our games would be played within a 15 mile radius of Monmouth Park, rather than in a division closer to home (Princeton, NJ). This would allow my family to shoot right over to the stable area after the weekend games to check up on our horses, or watch them on race days.
In 2013, I went off to St. John’s University in Queens, New York, to study Business Administration and Sports Management. I made some great friends, made some lifelong connections and joined an amazing fraternity, but the thing that troubled me while away at school was the fact that no one cared for horse racing whatsoever. In my freshman year, I used to plan little trips in between my morning and evening classes to just run over to Belmont Park (15 minute drive from campus) and catch two races. When I would ask some of the guys if they wanted to take a ride with me, they would generally laugh before I finished asking them. It was at that point where I knew I would be following horse racing alone at school.
Freshman year flew by and, overall, I had a great first year away at college that went much better than expected. I came back for Fall 2014, my first semester being a college sophomore. I looked into some internships around the NYC area, and was taken aback when I found a position for the New York Racing Association as a marketing intern. I jumped on this opportunity immediately. I spent countless hours enhancing my resume, cover letter and even reached out to people who might have had an “in” with NYRA. Soon enough, after a few interviews here and there, I got the job and started working for NYRA on the weekends assisting with all marketing department events – a position I still hold today. Finally, I found my niche.
Fast forward to Mid-April of 2015, spring semester of my sophomore year. Belmont Park and NYRA were hosting a “College Day” event on Kentucky Derby Day, an event that usually attracts hundreds of St. John’s students. I finally saw this as an opportunity to promote the sport of horse racing to a dying demographic, a demographic I live with and interact with each day. So, I sat down in my Monday night 7pm – 10pm lecture class in the back of the room, took out my laptop, zoned out from History for the evening, (Don’t tell my mother) and thought of strategic opportunities to connect with people on campus and simply talk horse racing. Knowing the crazy impact social media has on college campuses, especially on Twitter, I decided to create the @SJHorseReport. I began following the people I knew who would be attending the event on the first Saturday of May, just hoping that the “SJ” for St. John’s would attract them to follow back.
At the end of that week, I had 25 followers; the majority of them were my fraternity brothers who I demanded to follow the “SJ Horse Report” account. I didn’t expect this whole Twitter thing to really pop off in six days anyway, so I began to follow people who followed big names in the horseracing world. I posted my picks for Belmont that day, as well as the whole Churchill card, and came out with some money and some followers.
I began writing my picks every weekend at Belmont and other tracks featuring some solid stakes races, in hopes that some good moves would get attention. Every day, every week, I would gain more and more followers, and was able to truly connect with people who have even more of a passion for this sport than me. Things really took off when I reached out to Dan, a simple reply to his tweet saying he needed coverage for a Belmont card on DanonymousRacing.com. Just by writing for his website, my follower count increased by nearly 25%. I would continue to write for this website for some Belmont card’s here and there after Belmont Stakes weekend, and was honored when Dan offered me to write every Friday during the Saratoga meet. Who would have thought two months ago that I’d be in this position?
The Saratoga meet came around and I started hot. A decent amount of my famous Pick 4’s and value plays were hitting left and right, but what made my Saratoga summer even cooler was hearing amazing feedback from people on Twitter each day. I was also getting advice from guys who have been around the game before I was born, connecting with people that I can use as references for jobs in the future, and making some great friendships. That is what really what meant a lot to me, (but oh, an extra couple thousand at the end of the meet was cool too). I’ll never forget the day I was one Chad Brown and Castellano horse away for a $110,000 Pick 5 at Saratoga and was beat by the other Chad Brown horse with Irad Ortiz up. Though I missed out on the biggest score throughout my time handicapping horses, the amount of feedback and support that came flooding into my Twitter that day was beyond cool. It was by far the happiest, craziest, disappointing, nerve-racking day of my life. Funny to think that would have only paid for half of my college tuition.
I’ve had some great moments handicapping and I’ve had some bad. I have had weeks where I can’t lose and I have had weeks where I hit 3 of 4 in every Pick4 I play. At the end of it all, its just fun to interact with new people each day. Now that the SJ Horse Report has really taken off, all my friends are on top of me constantly asking me the next time I’m handicapping, the next time I’m going to the OTB or the Racetrack, or any other simple questions. The thing I find most funny about explaining how to handicap to a beginner is how they look at a past performance chart like its written in an ancient language. Just explaining how many lengths a horse won by is like teaching a four-year-old multiplication, and I’m sure anyone who has brought a friend who knows nothing about horse racing to the track can attest. I took a few of my buddies from the fraternity to watch my uncle’s horse Here Comes Rosie run at Belmont a few weeks ago, and the expressions they had on their faces when down in the paddock and in the winner’s circle after Rosie won by five lengths after the race was amazing. They always bust my chops on campus by repeating my stretch call, “switch her to the outside Javier! Now, get in to her! Dig in, Rosie! Dig in!”
I’ve connected with so many people through the SJ Horse Report including trainers, jockeys, writers, broadcasters, politicians, students, announcers, St. John’s alumni, etc. Each individual who has reached out to me, offering great insight for my Twitter as well as advice for the future, I want to say “thank you,” it means a lot. I’m just trying to prove that kids in their twenties can pick the ponies too, not just the older generation. The game is in good hands everybody, don’t worry.
I feel honored to have so many people come to me for handicapping advice, tips, picks, and questions about racing. And now, with near 600 followers, I look back at the reason why I made this Twitter in the first place, and truly think this whole twitter thing was successful. Some people stop me on campus, whether its students or sometimes faculty, and ask me “how was the horse report’s weekend?” I start off every reply with a chuckle, and say my usual catch phrase. ”I hope you were with me!”
We thank Andrew for sharing his story on DanonymousRacing.com. He’s a regular contributor with picks and analysis on this site. You can also follow him on Twitter at @SJHorseReport.