It was a mad undertaking. Two brothers, an outof-work college roommate, a couple of future racetrack degenerates, a gaggle of Skidmore English Lit majors, an empty yoga studio and a vision of a daily newspaper at Saratoga. Daily, as in six days a week. We were going after The Pink Sheet. Competing with the Daily Racing Form. Making our mark.
We published the first Saratoga Special July 25, 2001. Tabloid-size, 16 pages, eight pages of color, a Barbara Livingston photo of horses breaking from the gate on the Mellon turf graced the cover. Joe wrote the front-page story. He interviewed NYRA racing secretary Mike Lakow and trainer Neil Howard, hyped the possibility of seeing Point Given, Congaree, Albert The Great and Unshaded and welcomed new Saratoga powerhouses Steve Asmussen and Dale Capuano. Inside, we previewed 2-year-old champion Macho Uno making his 3-year-old debut (he lost), Maryland shipper Touch Love in the Schuylerville (she won). There was a cartoon from Muck and Terry Smith on page 9. I wrote my first Cup of Coffee, titled, “Writing’s a dream in Saratoga.” Blech. We would have fired the headline writer if we had one. The headline on the front page was better, declaring, “Ready, Set, Go.”
We were far from ready, never got set and have been going ever since.
The advertiser list in the first issue reached 15. Cooper Horse Vanning, Trackmen Golf Club, Beresford Gallery, The Lodge, Lyrical Ballad, Hoffberger Insurance, Celtic Treasures, Point Given Collectibles, Doug Fout, The Parting Glass, Triple Crown Custom Blankets, Cromwell Insurance, Fasig-Tipton, Grayson Jockey Club and Cosequin (most paid, some are still in business).
Those Neil Armstrongs were joined by another 71 before that maddening season came to a close. Jill and Rich from Boston, J. David Richardson and Hiram Polk, Leo O’Brien Stable and Richard Hutchinson wished us luck. Mendocino Brewery traded four cases of beer for weekend ads. Eaton Sales advertised a daughter of Seattle Slew, she fetched $700,000 (see, advertising works) and only ran twice. American Turf Monthly offered its results hotline, 1-900- 268-5454, dial 784 for Saratoga, 776 for Sportsman’s Park, 256 for Balmoral. Borders Books touted a book signing with Cot Campbell. SPAC hyped its Bill Cosby show. Teresa and Mattie Maher contributed a McSorley’s ad. Northview Stallion Station advertised Polish Numbers and Two Punch. Chime Bell Farm stepped up. Claiborne, Kirkwood, Shadwell, Pin Oak, Brook Ledge came in and never left. Sam Slater pulled us out of the sea, a generous, kind gesture that made all the difference.
The Internet was just getting started, it still made noise. We had never heard of Google, used AOL addresses, received ads by FedEx and had cell phones that could have anchored boats. The first Saratoga Special website was one page, no PDF of the paper, nothing more than a flier stapled to a pole, you had to be in Saratoga to read. We drove the paper to the printer on disks, two trips a day, one early, one late, like really late. Paul Wasserman (out of work college roommate) would wait for it to print, lug it back in bundles to Saratoga, kick me awake and we would deliver it around the track and around town. The recycle bin was our biggest customer.
Nobody knew we were here, we ran a list of subscribers/supporters in the paper every day. Mom, Dad, Aunt Joan, Ryan, Jack, Nolan, Sam, Barkley (Joe’s dog), it grew organically and comically. I’ll never forget Toadie, Mark Hennig, Charlie Boden, Ron Anderson, Don Dean, Bill Person, Mike and Iris Freeman and all our loyal readers who kept the faith. By Issue 35, the last one of the season, Came Home winning the Hopeful on the cover, the list was packed with everybody from Bobby Frankel to Bettina Jenney, Edgar Prado to Denny McCabe, Michael Blowen to Chuck Simon. Each one helped, contributed, kept our lights on. We would not have made it without you. Beyond our families, The Special is here because of our friends, our team of all-star interns, our advertisers who got in early and stayed late and our loyal readers who have made every word worth it.
We charged a dollar, until we didn’t. We published Mondays, until we didn’t. We nearly quit, until we didn’t. And we still haven’t.
Joe’s boys grew up. My boy arrived and is growing up. Tom Law came on board and changed everything. Over 20 years, we’ve written about horses and horsemen, stakes and stars, the ones who have awed us, the ones who have floored us and the ones who have flummoxed us. It’s been the ride of our lives.
A few years back, Joe and I were stressed out as another deadline came and wouldn’t go. I couldn’t find the words to a column, Joe couldn’t placate an advertiser. I walked outside, around the block, took a deep breath and thought about it all. And, yeah, that line came back. “These are the good old days.” I don’t think I had the nerve to say it that night, perhaps, it was Sunday night with that week’s deadlines behind us and the next week’s too far away to care, but I said to my brother, my friend, my partner.
“Joe, when it’s all said and done, we’ll look back and laugh about that crazy daily newspaper we wrote in Saratoga. We really should enjoy it.”
And we have, before that pep talk and after that pep talk. And, sure, there is nothing like a pandemic to make you appreciate the good old days.
We were going to blow it out this year with eight weeks of celebrations. A Sunday run on the 5-mile trail at the park, happy hours at Henry Street and Walt & Whitman, a Special brew at Racing City (they did that), a trophy presentation for The Saratoga Special (the race), an afternoon picnic by the Big Red Spring, free coffee at the Morning Line Kitchen, a Best of The Special book…
Keep the champagne chilled, we’ll celebrate our 21st year next season.