Guest Column: Slice of Saratoga

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It’s about 11 p.m. the Friday before Travers Day and The Saratoga Special crew is still in the office.

Joe Clancy’s at his desk correcting mistakes found by the proofreaders, who also happen to be the writers. I’m standing in the doorway to his office proofing the night’s final piece, a Travers preview introduction Tom Law wrote moments earlier. Sean Clancy is sitting on the floor leaning against Linzay Marks’ desk and Annise Montplaisir is lying flat on the floor between Sean and me. Linzay is working at her computer and Tom stands facing Sean. Ben Gowans is sitting as his desk.

“The Derby field frequently consists of 20 horses, an average of 19.4 horses the last 10 years in fact, while the average Travers field over the same period is just over half that, 9.3 starters since 2006,” I read in Tom’s intro. That doesn’t make sense, I thought, as I crossed out “over” with my red pen and scribbled in “under.” The rest was clean. I dropped it on top of the pile on Joe’s desk.

Annise remarks that she’s going out quietly this year, her reasoning (or excuse) for not writing a farewell column this time around. Joe laughs hysterically. Going quietly? Come on…

Shayna Tiller walks back in. “I could hear you laughing from across the building,” she says.

The paper is close. We produced a record 72 pages of content over the last day or so, gathering quotes and writing comments for all 69 Travers Day stakes entrants spread across seven races. Whether 1-5 or 50-1, they all got a feature in The Special.

I left around 11:20 p.m., earlier than I thought I’d be out. As usual, our office is the only one in the building with the lights on that late and our cars are the only ones left in the parking lot. I often think if people could see how this all works, they wouldn’t believe we actually get a paper out every day.

This wraps up my second summer writing for The Saratoga Special. I applied last year after I saw a posting for the job on Twitter. I interviewed with Tom at Uncommon Grounds in Saratoga with certainty that I wouldn’t get the position. When I applied last year, I didn’t think they would take a 21-year-old who’s main experience came from writing about trotters and pacers and who goes to school for accounting. I was wrong.

Even after I got the position, I didn’t feel very confident about my early contributions. For a few weeks, I really wasn’t sure if I was doing a good job, even though they frequently told me I was. As more papers went out, the edits to my stories grew fewer and I gained confidence.

Toward the end of the meet last year, I had one moment that made me feel like I finally got it. It was the morning after Travers Day, the morning after I wrote about Runhappy’s freakish performance in the King’s Bishop, the morning after another late night at the office.

I got ready to go the track and checked my phone. An email from Sean sat on the home screen. Sean had never emailed me before. We hadn’t even talked that much around the office or at the races at that point. The subject read simply, “King’s Bishop.” The message’s preview read, “Brandon, I just sat down and read your recap of the King’s Bishop …”

I got nervous. I thought, if he’s emailing me, if this can’t wait until later, I must have really screwed something up. I swiped my finger across the screen and pulled up the full message.

Brandon,
I just sat down and read your recap of the King’s Bishop, wow, you did a great job. I appreciate your effort and ability. Thanks for being part of The Special this summer.
Sean.

Relief. Happiness. Pride. The rest of the meet came a lot easier.

Shortly after the season, Tom asked me to come back this year. It was an easy yes. The second year has been even better than the first. I felt better about my writing and my interviewing, I already knew so many people whereas last year everyone I met was a new face and the whole process came easier.

The last week of the meet I listened to security guards, gaming commission officials, whitecaps and everyone else say they can’t wait for the meet to end. They can’t wait to get home, sleep in their own bed, mow the grass that’s consumed their houses over the last two months. For me, this is home. The end is bittersweet.

Everyone asks me where I go after the meet and they’re almost always surprised. I go back to Siena College to finish my Masters in Accounting degree. Yes, accounting. Not writing, journalism or anything like that. Racing is more of a hobby for me and I’m happy to keep it that way. Saratoga is my home track and it’s a great meet, but I don’t think I could do this year round. I tried that with harness racing and became jaded and fed up with the sport. That won’t happen with Saratoga. Now, I’ll finish the CPA exam (I passed two sections just before the meet and have two to go) and start looking for internships for the winter. And of course, I follow the sport daily, but as a fan.

I’m not sure what next summer holds yet. Will I be in a full-time position? Probably. Will I still find a way to spend as much time as possible here? Definitely. Sean’s already made a deal with me to cover the Smart N Fancy Stakes every year from now on. It started as a joke after we finished the paper on Travers night, but I plan on taking him up on it.

This year was one for the books. I saw Frosted and Songbird run twice. I saw Arrogate break a track record I wasn’t sure could be broken. I met a lot of great people and shared their stories, tales that would have otherwise gone untold. Like Raymond Handal winning his first race in Saratoga or owner Scott Summers’ love for his horse, Mind Your Biscuits. Finally, I worked with a great team again this year.

Thanks for another great year, Saratoga. It will feel like forever until next summer rolls around, but once the gates open, it will be like we never left. See you next year.