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Hitting finish line with much of horse racing story untold

Updated January 21, 2022 - 9:38 am

I’ve read many a retirement column over my more than four decades in the news business, but I’ve never written one until now.

Friday is my last day at the Review-Journal, a milestone that saddens, frightens and delights me at the same time.

I’m going to miss my colleagues, I know that much. And it’s bound to take a couple of months of sheer idleness to break free of the frenetic rhythms that have shaped my days at the Hayward Daily Review, the San Francisco Examiner, msnbc.com and the Review-Journal into a career.

But perhaps my biggest regret is that I’m stepping away from a story I care deeply about, long before it’s done.

Horse racing remains mired in an existential crisis of its own making for too many reasons to go into here. And as a fan since a college newspaper editor dispatched me to Golden Gate Fields in the mid-1970s to write a “feature about the ponies,” I relished the opportunity to present a more nuanced view of the sport than the haters would have liked.

Instead, we’ll find out together if the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act was worth the many pages of paper it was printed on, and whether Bob Baffert will be able to escape the dark cloud hanging over him from last year’s still undecided Kentucky Derby. Likewise, the outcome of the drug conspiracy case against Jason Servis, who for a moment was a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer.

I wish I could tell you where it’s all headed, but I frankly have no clue. The sport might hang on for another decade or two before following greyhound racing and many other animal sports into oblivion. Or it might see the revival I’ve been predicting for years, as a new generation discovers the pleasures of what to my mind is the most beautiful, exciting and captivating sport ever created.

Time will tell, and it won’t whisper a word until it’s good and ready. But when it does, I’ll certainly have my good ear cocked to hear the stretch call.

As for what’s next as far as the Review-Journal’s coverage of horse racing, that’s a work in progress. I’m told that senior editors are discussing what that will look like going forward, but that it likely will be focused more on big events such as the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup. There’s a possibility that I occasionally might be asked to dust off the mothballs and reappear in these pages to write about these clashes. Stay tuned.

But the weekly column is no more, not surprising because I wrote it on a voluntary basis after I finished my daily shifts on the metro desk, and there are few newsroom denizens these days with that sort of zeal for the sport.

I’ll always have great memories of my 4½ years as the RJ’s turf columnist, though, and want to use my final few inches of space to thank those of you who read, argued, phoned or played along in the handicapping contests that ran in this space, offering the grand prize of a pack of breath mints in the early days.

I’m talking to you Al, Bob, Charlie, Dean, Howie, Joe, Les, Mas, Tom, the Godfather, the Breeders’ Cup boys and so many others who helped make writing this column the highlight of my weeks. You know who you are.

Thanks also to the racebook managers, regulatory officials and other industry insiders who generously gave of their time to help the new kid get his bearings in the Silver State when I started out, shortly after moving here from Washington.

And with that, it’s time to saddle up one last time and ride off into the sunset. Hope we meet up sometime in the shade of the IRS window.

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified trainer Jason Servis.

Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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