The text came at 9:32 a.m., Sunday morning.
"You ready to talk?"
I didn't hear it right away and another came at 10:44.
"No comment? Come on, man. We should talk when you're ready, maybe we can work together."
"It's Sean, by the way."
Finally I responded, around noon the same day, explaining that the phone he was texting was one owned by a company in California and probably in the process of being shut off since the day before the news came down that my former employer was bankrupt and out of business.
Most know the story of how it went down, the news delivered to 27 full-time employees of Thoroughbred Times in the form of a letter delivered by FedEx at the same time to each of those people, the last of a group left standing after budget cuts, layoffs, downsizing, lots of long hours and even more frustration. But that's a story left for dead because for so many the results of those series of events far outweigh the feelings they had opening that FedEx letter and feeling their world implode reading phrases like "thanks for your hard work and service."
Those events, and others through the years as I forged a friendship with someone I respected and enjoyed reading, put me in Saratoga. Back in Saratoga, where I was born and raised and where I got my start in journalism, trying to pick winners and writing stories for The Saratogian and The Pink Sheet.
The Sean from the texts is of course Sean Clancy, owner of ST Publishing with his brother Joe and the leaders of The Saratoga Special. We talked on the phone about a week later, again while I was hanging out at the soccer fields in between coaching my own team and before watching my wife-to-be playing in a match of her own.
"We could do great things, you, Joe, and I," Sean said, and I bought in.
Long story short, after a few more conversations a trip to Fair Hill to meet with Joe-who I'd never met personally but felt like I'd known for years as a reader and someone who I exchanged emails with as president of the National Turf Writers And Broadcasaters over various issues-a plan was hatched. I'd leave Lexington, set up shop in Saratoga, put boots on the ground year-round and get The Special a local presence in the community.
Along the way we'd work on projects, books, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, the launch of a website, and of course, The Saratoga Special. Sean used to joke with me, and did so about five days before all the bankruptcy mess went down, that if Thoroughbred Times ever went out of business or if I wanted to do something else that I might have a spot waiting at The Special. I took the offer seriously, out of respect for the publication and respect for the work of two men I know had earned from the owners, trainers, jockeys, breeders, grooms, hotwalkers, racetrack executives, fans and just about anyone else associated with racing.
So here we are, halfway through the Saratoga meeting and more than halfway through my first season as a member of The Special team. It's very much a team to me, and I try to treat it that way.
Being part of a team teaches people things they'll never learn going forward alone. You learn about relying on others, working with others, helping others, guiding others, getting inspiration from others, and enjoying the moment with others.
The first half of the Saratoga meeting and the first half of my stint with The Special has been that and so much more. It's helped me reconnect with old friends and connect with new friends. It's helped me write about the game that's fascinated me since I watched the 1982 Travers Stakes and saw the Triple Crown winners defeated by a longshot everyone counted out. It's allowed me to dig into copy, polished and raw, rushed and written in haste. And it's allowed me to work with the young and eager and the experienced and talented.
Most of all it's helped rejuvenate the passion that we hopefully all share at the core, the love of the horse. The most pure and beautiful creature created by man, bred for our enjoyment and pleasure, always willing, always giving and always true.