What more needs to be said or written about 2020? A year that we can’t wait to move past certainly produced its share of things we’ll never forget.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic dominated the headlines in the mainstream and in racing.
Meetings were halted, shifted, altered, restarted, canceled, postponed and more during 2020, which saw a Triple Crown that started in June and ended in October. The Breeders’ Cup went on as scheduled in early November, albeit without fans, or at least without your everyday spectators in attendance.
The year taught us all kinds of new phrases and introduced us to new ways of life, from social distancing to quarantining, droplets to super-spreaders and curbside pickup to video conferencing.
Friends and heroes were lost near and far and with the death toll continuing approaching the New Year it seems fanciful to think 2021 will be anything but more of the same. Of course we hope that isn’t the case but if 2020 has taught us anything it’s to at least be realistic in the face of so much chaos and loss.
Here at ST Publishing we went from our annual January “ST Summit” meetings to plan out a year that was supposed to include celebrations of 20 years publishing The Saratoga Special to first dealing with the realities of federal indictments against horsemen for alleged pharmacological cheating to Covid-19.
We rolled out a new publication in the spring, The 2020 Special, to give readers something to consume and dig into while stuck at home during the months usually reserved for the classics and jump racing. The first of five issues came May 2, which should have been Kentucky Derby Day but instead turned into Arkansas Derby Day, and by the time we posted the July 4 edition we were ready for Saratoga.
The Saratoga Special continued in 2020, albeit an online version only and twice a week for the 40-day Saratoga meet. Thanks to the support of our faithful advertisers and the work of a downsized team we didn’t miss an issue and by the time Issue 17 hit the virtual newsstands we could hang our hat on another good run at the Spa and start to reimagine what 2021 might bring.
We’ll know more about that for sure in the weeks and months ahead. Another ST Summit is on tap, some personal and team challenges (check back for details on those after the New Year) and so much more.
The year wasn’t without positives. Certainly many, including our team, were able to reconnect or connect deeper with immediate family and close friends either within the household or from a safe distance.
We noticed with many more staying at home they were consuming our content when posted here and by the time the clock strikes midnight Jan. 1 thisishorseracing.com will see almost a 20 percent increase in visitors and nearly a 10 percent increase in page views. That’s all thanks to you, our faithful and loyal readers.
What were you reading? Keeping with tradition as 2020 comes to a close we’re proud to present the This Is Horse Racing Top 10 for 2020, the TIHR 10 for 20 if you will. Take a look back at the most read stories of the year, then toast to good health in 2021. See you next year.
1. Triple Maryland Hunt Cup winner Senior Senator dies of colic. April 15. By Joe Clancy.
Maybe horses aren’t supposed to win the Maryland Hunt Cup four times.
World War II interrupted Winton in the 1940s, making sure his successes stopped at three. Mountain Dew won three in the 1960s, but also improbably finished second to Jay Trump three times. Jay Trump won all three of his attempts, but ventured to England (where he won Aintree's famed Grand National) in 1965. Garry Owen, Princeton, Blockade, Pine Pep and Cancottage couldn’t get past a hat trick either.
2. The Outside Rail: Paddock Schooling. June 21. By Joe Clancy.
In 1984, my dad sent me (and a van driver) to run a weird, gawky horse named Family at Laurel Park while my dad went somewhere else to run a different (probably less weird and gawky) horse. Dad said he’d get somebody to saddle Family, since back then you needed an assistant trainer’s or trainer’s license to tack up a runner in the paddock. No problem. The van driver drove, I did the rest – including my first application of rundown bandages for a race. In the paddock with Family, I looked for our would-be saddler and saw no one I knew. There was a valet, me, the van driver, the horse and an annoyed paddock judge.
3. The Inside Rail: Goodbye, Mike. January 31. By Sean Clancy.
Mike Berryman died January 24. The veteran horse trainer was 67.
Berryman was everyman. The affable, upbeat, horse trainer made a difference when he showed up at the races. Not in the record books, but more importantly, in our hearts. Berryman brightened your day, it didn’t matter if you were riding a maiden claimer for him or sharing a shed row or passing him in the paddock, he simply made a positive difference. He worked hard, made time for his family and friends and smiled bright. What else is there?
4. Federal indictments shock, but don’t surprise. March 12. By Joe Clancy.
Mike Trombetta entered a horse at Gulfstream Park, saw the entries, talked things over with his owner and scratched. Chuck Lawrence hasn’t won a race from 19 starts in 2020, but a second in New York March 6 might feel like a win for a while. Tim Keefe was proud of the best horse in his barn after a third in the General George Stakes at Laurel Park last month, but might be prouder now. Lizzie Merryman trains for an owner who asked, “What’s the point?” the last time they came up against a horse from the barn of a specific trainer.
5. The Inside Rail: James R. Wyatt, Jr. April 19. By Sean Clancy.
I can hear the pages turning, can see them in my friend’s trembling hands. One by one, six pages, front and back, printed pages, from a typewriter back when letters punched the paper, words laid out like bricks in a wall, offering permanency and finality.
6. The Outside Rail: Absent Friends. January 16. By Joe Clancy.
To four men, a newspaper company, lives well lived and people reached by all.
7. A year without a Maryland Hunt Cup. April 24. By Joe Clancy.
A few nights ago, Bruce Fenwick was riding his bike down Tufton Avenue – he does that in the evenings when the weather is nice – and saw a small group of people walking the Maryland Hunt Cup course. They were down by the sixth fence, walking along and no doubt talking race strategy and approach.
8. Years after Fair Hill visit, Reid gets 2nd Super Bowl chance. January 20. By Joe Clancy.
After the Kansas City Chiefs dispatched the Tennessee Titans Sunday to grab a spot in Super Bowl LIV, Thoroughbred trainer Graham Motion sent a text to congratulate Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
And, like he always does, Reid responded with a thank you.
9. Fair Hill’s Sharing sets sights on Royal Ascot run. June 16. By Joe Clancy.
For much of the spring, construction crews in Fair Hill, Md., have been working on a 165-foot water tower which – though built in a “retro” style to blend in with the surrounding area – can be seen for miles and certainly gets noticed by the racehorses at nearby Fair Hill Training Center.
10. A Dream born in Barbados. October 14. By Paul Halloran.
It’s easy to remember Rachel Alexandra’s manhandling of the 2009 Woodward Stakes field at Saratoga Race Course – “She is indeed Rachel Alexandra the Great,” saith Mr. Durkin – but odds are you don’t have the same recall of the winner of the sixth race on the Monday of Travers Week in 2015.