The Outside Rail

Our first website was supposed to be a steeplechase portal, before anybody knew what a portal was. We called it horsesjump.com or some such thing. It was awful.

Then we went to steeplechasetimes.com. Wasn’t much better. There was a saratogaspecial.com after that. It was OK, but gave us two websites to deal with when we weren’t sure what to do with one. Then came st-publishing.com, which at least put everything under one virtual roof as long as people could remember to put the dash in the address. Otherwise, they got a skinhead book website (we should really change the company name). Finally, we came up with thisishorseracing.com. Easy to say, hard to type, and a home for everything we do –Saratoga, flat racing, jump racing, calendar sales, a few other ventures positive and negative in a company history that began in 1994 – before the Internet, or at least the Internet as we know it.

Tuesday, we took the tarp off the latest version of thisishorseracing.com. It’s cleaner, faster, more flexible, hopefully simple to use and fun to visit. We’ll need to ramp up our content to keep up with the new platform – designed skillfully by Sue Haldeman at Fairview Design. She takes what we say we want, then figures out if we can have it without making us all crazy. It took a month or more of back and forth, copying and pasting, switching from new database to old database and back again while keeping the old version of the site afloat.

Everything went relatively smoothly, other than news breaking at various points and making us wonder what that might look like on the new site while still maintaining the old site. Then came Tuesday. We were going to go live in the morning – anchored by a news story we didn’t want (Rawnaq getting hurt) and a slideshow we wanted (California Chrome at Gulfstream Park) – until the site got blasted by Russian hackers. Really. That’s not fake news or an alternative fact, though I did utter a few alternative words. Sue called it a BT Crawler Bot and it brought our site to a standstill by pushing some traffic indicator from 1.5 to 80 or some such thing. Sue’s the expert and it made sense when she explained it to me. The mess also cost us several hours of downtime (you may have seen a “website unavailable” message) and let everybody scoop us on Rawnaq. Oh well, it was never about the scoop. With us, it is always about the horse, who will live to fight another day just not in March at the Cheltenham Festival with $500,000 on the line.

We were back up and ready to go by late afternoon, when I was supposed to have written this but oh well. Sue turned on the faucet and the new TIHR went live and all is well – so far. Let’s just keep the BT crawlers away.

We have what looks to be a great new launching pad of stories, photos, ideas, PDFs, advertisements (hint, hint) and other promotion. Here’s a quick tour of the home page, a logical starting point:

• Main Menu Bar: The white area with This Is Horse Racing in the upper left and links across the right side. You can navigate to pretty much any spot on the site from here. We’ve streamlined our article categories to News, Features and Opinions from a list that went in all directions (jump racing, flat racing, breeding, Here and There, blah, blah, blah). You can also get directly to slideshows, the store and other areas. Keep an eye out for expansions here, especially with our archives.

• Top News. It’s the bigger spot up at the top (upper left/center). We can put anything we want there – timely/breaking news, something cool from our collection, the latest Horse Who Changed Everything, a slideshow from new Eclipse Award winner Tod Marks, whatever. If it’s there, it matters or it’s supposed to anyway.

• Latest Opinions. The skinny column on the right. That’s where links to the four most recent columns (by Sean, Tom or yours truly) go. You’ll get some humor, some feeling, maybe a rant or two. All of us vow to write more often than we’ve been writing.

• Latest News. Just what it says, the latest news. This is where anything news goes and you’ll get a window with the latest articles – five at a time – here.  Click on what you like, read, come back and start all over again.

• Latest Features. We lumped the off-the-beaten-path things like Horse Who Changed Everything, Flying Changes, Here & There, Stable Tours and everything else that’s not really “news” under the new Features category. The menus is in photo format so hover your cursor over something you like and you’ll get a headline and some introductory text. Click and go.

• In The News. We like this, and we hope you will too. It’s a way to customize the site for specific stories. Right now, it’s steeplechase champion Rawnaq. Later, it could be something else. In the dark, hidden “secret sauce” part of the website Sue deals with, we tell this area to search for articles containing a specific word or phrase and they show up here. Presto.

• Across the bottom. Left to right, we’ve got a main panel about us and all the various sections of the site; a Multi Media panel with a Photo of the Day (more or less), a current slideshow and a link to our Print section where PDF copies of The Saratoga Special, Steeplechase Times and other publications live; and a What’s Hot panel for our most popular articles by category.

And that’s that. We’ll post, update, change, tweak and improve as we go. Let us know what you think via social media or an email form under Contact Us. Thanks for reading, and for not sending crawler bots.