"We have to hire her."
That was my response to Tom Law, after we talked about Annise Montplaisir in May. Montplaisir, 19, found us somewhere and emailed us, looking for a spot at The Special this summer. She sent her resume, which included the lines, "official clocker, North Dakota Horse Park 2014 race meet," and "journalism intern at Canterbury Park."
See why we had to hire her?
For the record, she found us via a listing we keep on the American Horse Publications website, but we did not discuss her application for long. If we had a stamp (and a Human Resources Department), we would have stamped "APPROVED" and sent her application to Human Resources. First of all, she's from Fargo, N.D., we've never had anybody from Fargo work at The Saratoga Special. Actually, we've never met anybody from Fargo. Ever. Secondly, she wrote a quality email - precise, accurate, direct and no grammatical or spelling mistakes (you'd be surprised). Thirdly, she finished a writing assignment we gave her in a matter of days, could have been hours.
OK, maybe they were in reverse order, either way, we had to hire her.
We would need to find her a place to live and she would need to leave early to go back for her junior year at North Dakota State University (where she has a 3.944 GPA, by the way).
A place to live usually shakes out, this year we traded advertising for room and board. No problem. As for leaving early, that didn't seem to be a problem either. In May, leaving early in August doesn't register, it's on the other side of the mountain. Now, it registers. We say goodbye to Annise "Fargo" Montplaisir today. Nicknamed Fargo early in this journey, she became an integral cog in this crazy wheel we drive, writing features, previews, recaps and conducting herself in the style of The Special.
She worked hard, making rounds in the morning, delivering papers around the sales grounds, covering the races in the afternoon. She wrote accurately, quickly and sometimes eloquently. She laughed at herself when necessary, learned to take a joke and when there was a choice, she smiled. Oh, our kingdom for a smile.
Over the years, we have been thanked for being good mentors. We've had mothers cry and fathers grip our hands like we brought their sons home from war. It is the most rewarding part of writing this crazy newspaper.
Over the years, I have mastered my answer when thanked for being a good mentor. "I don't mentor everybody, only those who deserve it." We try to give everybody a chance, if they deserve one. I know we're not curing cancer or building rockets here, but, when a young person wants to work in our game, it's our duty to give them a chance. Open the door, show them around the place, guide them, just be nice to them. It's a daunting game, especially for people who don't have a legacy to follow and don't have a bankroll to help open doors.
We've had plenty of interns blow the first turn and never come back - one went to the library and was never heard from again. We've also had ones who have changed the game.
Travis Stone picked up The Special in the picnic area, went home and emailed us for advice on how to become a racetrack announcer. He came to work, wrote recaps and announced races into a tape recorder. Ten years later he announced the Kentucky Derby.
Stone isn't alone, as the long line of graduates include Quint Kessenich, John Panagot, Gabby Gaudet, Jim Mulvihill, Pete Fornatale, Joanie Morris, Liz Ronk, Brian Nadeau, Katie Bo Williams, Ryan Jones and many others. Google them, you'll see what they've accomplished. This year's cast of Billy Blake, Brandon Valvo, Kaitlyn Vishneowski and Montplaisir have already made us proud. And, here's a shout out to Law, who mentors the "cubs" like a father and a boss, a brother and a teacher.
Every year, we give the same pep talk. "Look, you can make the most of this or the least of this. It won't change us or our business or our lives, but it might change yours. If you want advice, if you want help, we're here. We demand diligence, interest and pride. Don't get arrested, don't drink and drive, don't fall in love. We don't expect you to know how to write, but we expect you to care how you write. Leave here with an opportunity. Take that opportunity and run with it."
The Darley Flying Start Program takes two years to complete. The Special Flying Start is over in 45 days.
Back to Montplaisir, here's your parting advice.
Love the game, but look around, it's a big world. Keep your positive attitude, your spunk, your spark, it's endearing at the right balance, you have the right balance. Take every job like it's the only thing you'll be judged on, take pride in it, learn everything you can. Meet everybody, but concentrate on a few people who will change your life. Don't forget us when you're famous.