THE OUTSIDE RAIL | by Joe Clancy

Horse Whisper

Posted by on in The Outside Rail

OK, breathe. 

As usual, I spent the first two days of the meet hassling through any number of issues including – but by no means limited to – computer networks, the Internet, advertisements, articles, photography, housing, office space, bicycles, paper racks, paper boxes, a new printer. 

Then came distributiongate and what now seem like days (but merely hours I guess) of telephone calls and discussions and wonder and angst. In the end, it all worked out. The computers communicated with everything. The ads showed up. We finished the first paper, we weathered a storm. 

We were also awed by the support, the kind words, the push for The Special. In a word, thanks. Really. To name everybody would be absurd, but we heard from owners, trainers, jockeys, valets, exercise riders, advertisers, Kentuckians, New Yorkers, Marylanders, Virginians, a retired baker in Sweden, Englishmen and Englishwomen, Irishmen and Irishwomen, agents, relatives, journalists, children, grandparents, friends, peers, random readers who find us every year and pretty much any class of human connected to this odd mix that is Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Springs.

Mostly, we’re glad it’s over. 

Midway through Thursday morning, back when none of this looked so good, I wandered toward the back of the main-track stable area. I fist-bumped a trainer, shook hands with another, nodded to a third, talked to a guy about a truck and kept walking. I stopped, read a text, thought about it all and then wandered into Barclay Tagg’s shedrow. 

I didn’t really need anything, other than a minute with a horse.

Tagg’s assistant Robbin Smullen looked up from her computer and said, “I know why you’re here.” She didn’t know the half of it, but she knew who I needed to see and walked a few stalls down the path to a chestnut filly I met two summers ago. Back then, she was unraced, well-bred, a little gangly, learning and no doubt a work in progress. Tagg made me look at her. Made me walk over to her side. Made me listen when he talked about her. 

Named Caroline Thomas, after owner/breeder Bonner Young’s granddaughter, the filly turned out OK. She won a Grade 2 (by disqualification) here last summer, placed in a Grade 1 last fall at Keeneland. She’s earned $356,000 with four wins in 16 starts. She’s a big price, but I swear a player, against the big names in today’s Diana. 

None of that mattered to me Thursday. 

I just needed to see a horse and to forget – for a minute – about everything swirling, waiting, roiling, crashing around us and this crazy newspaper.

Caroline Thomas walked over to her webbing, looked at Smullen and then turned her big white face to me. I had no mint, no carrot, no apple, not even a bit of hay. She leaned in, put her nose in my chest and let me scratch her left ear while Smullen talked about jockeys, racing luck, near-misses and how much fun the daughter of Giant’s Causeway is to ride. Caroline Thomas pretty much waits for riders to tell her what to do, which is why she’s usually last at some point in most of her races and why she lopes around in her gallops. 

I’ll never ride her, but I could tell. Caroline Thomas, who never really moved her head while we talked, is pretty cool. She’s calm, placid, happy. I got the feeling she would have followed me down the shedrow if I took down the webbing and went for a walk. Just as Tagg felt two years ago, she’s OK – better than OK – on the racetrack. If Thursday was any indication, she might be even better off it.

For a moment, while I stood there scratching Caroline Thomas’ ear and listening to Smullen talk about a work and her filly’s agreeable attitude, the stress melted, the weird feeling left my brow. There was no newspaper, no five-hour drive home, no texts, no emails, no voice mails, no bills, no Time Warner modem to sort out. There was calm and peace and grace. 

A horse did that, like somebody told her she was supposed to. 



Joe Clancy started his journalism career at the University of Delaware in 1986 or so, with a first byline about the presidential bid of Pete du Pont (the campaign obviously did not go well). Since then, he's covered high school sports, college sports, semi-pro baseball, the lifeguard Olympics, a pumpkin chunking competition, the odd Phillies and Orioles games and any number of topics involving Thoroughbred racing – for The Saratoga Special, Steeplechase Times, Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, Daily Racing Form, The Irish Field and others. He's been published in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun. He won the Eclipse Award and the David F. Woods Award for his coverage of the 2014 Preakness Stakes and is a multiple recipient of American Horse Publications awards for excellence. He is a writer, editor, publisher and owner of ST Publishing, Inc., parent company of the Internet site. He lives in Fair Hill, Md. with his wife Sam, sons Ryan, Jack and Nolan, but can be found wherever horses run.


  • Diane Crabtree Saturday, 19 July 2014

    Another appearance by 'therapy horse.' They do that, don't they? Nice blog, and I always root for Mr. Tagg. Now I can feel a little closer to Caroline Thomas, who I always root for but didn't know a thing about.

  • JES Saturday, 19 July 2014


  • Headley Saturday, 19 July 2014

    The genuiness of this family is a key factor why we all love this paper.

  • Deb Carlino Saturday, 19 July 2014

    It is all about the horse and the grace they give you! Thanks for taking time to let us experience your peace!! And good luck to Caroline Thomas, safe trip!!!

  • Sherry Saturday, 19 July 2014

    "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man" (or woman, may I add).

  • Rebecca Tinsman Saturday, 19 July 2014

    Joe, You just said it all! Thanks. Rebecca

Leave your comment

Guest Tuesday, 24 January 2017