August 10, 2020

Welcome fellow degenerates by Peter Fornatale

Churchill Downs twin spires secnic
Horsephotos.com/Rickelle Nelson

Brisnet Betting Guide Exclusive by Peter Thomas Fornatale
This column appears in this week’s edition of the Brisnet Betting Guide.
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These days I divide my time between analyzing races for the US audience, which I do through my work at the In the Money Players’ Podcast, and an international one, where I am an international correspondent for attheraces.com, the digital partner of Sky Sports Racing.

I love writing and talking about racing for both the USA-based audience and an international one, but it can be tricky and require some code switching because the vernacular is different in each place. English racing fans don’t know what a route race is and Americans aren’t sure if running a blinder is good or bad.

I try to write in a lingua franca for the most part, staying in a sweet spot of vocabulary that is similar enough that it can be intuitively understood in each jurisdiction. But I’m not sure that’s the case with one term in particular that I like to use globally: “degenerate” or its common shorthand, “DG.” I realize also that the word might also confuse fellow Americans who aren’t in-the-know, the ones at the track and in society we politely refer to as “civilians.”

Degenerate is a term horseplayers use to describe ourselves, to separate us from all the non-horseplayers, I’ll stop just short of calling them “squares,” out there in the world. Almost all of the time it is used with irony and thus great affection, a caricature of the way the world sees us.

There’s a great story told by Jim Mulvihill, the grand poobah of the Brisnet Betting Guide, about one of the old Daily Racing Form Las Vegas horseplayer symposiums. These were magical events, before the development of any real online culture related to racing, because they brought us together. They gave a chance for like-minded individuals to meet, get together, and discuss items of importance like what was the smartest way to construct a superfecta ticket (the best was new-ish in those days), and what were the best numbers to use when evaluating European runners in their first North American starts.

One year the keynote speaker was legendary author and columnist Steven Crist. He greeted the crowd with a simple, “Welcome fellow degenerates!”

The place went absolutely nuts. Another speaker at those old degenerate symposiums was professional horseplayer Mike Maloney, with whom I had the pleasure of collaborating on his book, Betting With An Edge. In it, he explained the societal stigma against gamblers in the United States perfectly.

“When you’re a professional horseplayer and you go to the neighborhood cocktail party, you’re likely to get seated next to the local drug dealer.”

Mike tells a great story about a show-and-tell day at school where all the kids have to get up and say what their parents do for a living. His son reported that his Dad made a living by betting on horses. He was given detention for lying. The next day Mike himself went in to class to explain that his boy was telling the truth. He was a professional horseplayer. The teacher didn’t believe him either, and would have given Mike detention if she could have.

You will occasionally hear one of us use the term closer to its unironic meaning, “That guy’s a real degenerate, don’t leave your wallet out around him,” or you might say, “That DG makes me look like a boy scout,” but for the most part if you’re a degenerate, it just means you’re in the club, this strange fraternity of horseplayers.

Whether our local track is Sacramento or Saratoga, Santa Anita or Santa Rosa, Belmont Park or Balmoral, horseplayers in our element will see people there from all walks of life and every economic stratum. From different parts of the world, with different ethnic backgrounds, different levels of education. Outlaws and lawmen, they all fit in. That’s because at the racetrack we can all bond over a simple question:

Who do you like in the Double?

And if that makes us degenerate horseplayers, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1 Comment on Welcome fellow degenerates by Peter Fornatale

  1. Well just count me in as a “DG”, for I love the mental gymnastics of handicapping horse races as well as the side stories and beauty of watching these equine athletes perform their jobs. For us DG’s there is nothing else that can truly fill the thrill of being right and cashing a big ticket. I just need to fell that more often !

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