LOS ANGELES, CA, January 27, 2014— Even before we could recover from renowned handicapping theorist and practitioner Cary Fotias’s untimely departure, Paul Moran’s recent passing at 66 reminded many of us eligible for Medicare how short early retirement can be.

News reports indicated that the gifted turf writer left with the dignity of awareness, and in the presence of some who shared significant moments of his life and appreciated his worth. That’s crossing the finish line as a winner, in my book.

By definition, to muse is to “say something in a thoughtful and questioning way.”

The thoroughbred racing musings of Paul Moran often differed from those of his contemporaries in both tone and detail. He frequently appeared independent of the authority others seemed subservient to.

Perhaps some of those still surviving wonder whether that was achieved through abundant will power or the absence of concern for consequences.

I’ll remember Mr. Moran as a professional who was very kind to an anonymous amateur whom he had unknowingly inspired. His words weren’t just enlightening and entertaining, they were enriching like art. Some musicians are gifted with perfect pitch ... Paul Moran produced perfect prose.

Until I began reading his work a little more than a decade ago, I’d never felt the urge to write creatively. The Internet enabled access here on the West Coast to those Newsday articles from the East Coast, and eventually facilitated contact as well.

Indeed, one of the more compelling aspects of the switch from the print medium to cyberspace has been the ability of readers to interact with authors.
While some bloggers appear to embrace communication with their audience, it seemed to me that Mr. Moran had little enthusiasm for it. His public responses were an exercise in economy of expression. Even private responses I received were succinct and to the point.

In 2008, I submitted several opinion pieces for his blog’s Weekend Guest feature. After initially requesting a bio, he published them all after very brief acknowledgements. He became only slightly more expansive when I later thanked him for giving me credibility with other bloggers.

Some of his own pieces that he posted on his blog were published here at HRI, where he was featured along with other talented turf writers including Bill Christine, John Pricci, and Vic Zast. Moran previewed the comments on his own site, but the freedom of speech at this one too often rewarded him with petty abuse. He stayed above it all, publicly, and ignored his detractors.

Having since learned how it feels when they “shoot the messenger,” it was with great satisfaction that I saw my personal admiration for his work so widely mirrored in the myriad of comments throughout cyberspace in the month following his passing.

What I felt was missing from early accolades, however, was appreciation for his fearlessness in expressing disdain for circumstances and individuals that detracted from the game’s integrity and stability. Without writers like Moran to help hold the line, racing’s propensity for self-inflicted damage might have reached critical mass even sooner.

Eventually I encountered a piece by Michael Veitch who wrote the following while noting Moran’s death in the Saratogian: “A veteran of the war in Vietnam, he loved New York racing and always saw the big picture, while never hesitating to criticize those whom he felt were not working in its best interests.”

In his book “Six Weeks in Saratoga,” HRI blogger Brendan O’Meara’s description of a news conference held by then CEO Charles Hayward included this reference to Moran:

‘The closer to New York, the grouchier the racing press gets. Hayward thought that award–winning columnist Paul Moran, formerly of Newsday, used to puncture him. Moran sliced into NYRA after the 2005 Belmont Stakes that NYRA “almost gleefully picks the pockets of those who remain interested in actually attending the races on days when they sense a demand.”

Hayward said, “We are always reluctant to raise our prices.” To which Moran continued, “Can NYRA completely mess up Saratoga too? Tough assignment, but not out of the realm of possibility.”’

I can only imagine Moran’s response to new NYRA CEO Chris Kay’s recent announcement of planned admission price increases at Saratoga and Belmont. The photographs of Moran were not always flattering but I‘m far more likely to remember the pictures he painted with his words. I hope he was a Don McLean fan, and allow me this:

As drug-free racing horsemen forsake
While states impose excessive take
A player couldn’t get a fair shake
The day the musings died

So I’ll be singin’ bye-bye, All-American Guy
With the lighting in your writing
One could read the truth by
The glimpses you gave of those sitting on high
Proved that changing the status quo we must try

Even more musings: Discussion here can become addictive, the real danger being the possibility of deluding oneself that horseplayers can be motivated to join together in sufficient numbers to effect changes in racing’s status quo to their common benefit.

It would seem that old horseplayer advocates don’t fade away, they have to be carried out; especially since we have more to say as age advances. After several years of regular and sometimes adversarial interaction with featured bloggers and fellow readers in the comments section here, I submitted an opinion piece to HRI’s Executive Editor, Mr. Pricci. Fortunately for me he not only has extended me the same kindness that his friend and colleague had but his own friendship as well.

I wanted to find out if support could be mustered at HRI to influence long-needed change to Kentucky Derby eligibility rules. The project evolved into a weekly comparison of proposed points-based eligibility rankings with the existing one based on earnings as the qualifying process proceeded along the road to the 2012 Triple Crown.

Our efforts ultimately were rewarded when Churchill Downs decided to replace its earnings-based eligibility system with a points-based system of their own design.

Of course, we can only speculate as to the extent we actually influenced this action but hopefully it will encourage others to step forward here and keep the recreational player’s perspective in front of racing’s leadership.

This forum needs continually fresh ideas, and those with the topics, tools, and training should take the opportunity to do so. I believe devoted, recreational fans can make a difference.

In a game that depends upon diversity of opinion, shouldn’t there be more horseplayers seeking a debate than a rebate?