It was 2004. We lived and worked at 48 Union Avenue, in a partially renovated - OK, partially demolished - carriage house. The masthead listed 19 names, the only ones who still remain are Dave Harmon, Tod Marks, Joe and me.
Survivors or suckers? Sometimes we wonder.
It was the fourth year of The Special and we had started to at least scratch the stone we were trying to chisel. People began to know we were here, began to give us time when we asked our questions. Think about how many questions we have asked over the years.
That year, we decided to celebrate Shug McGaughey's induction into the Hall of Fame with daily insight about a horse. Each day, a new horse, a headlamp into the horses who had placed McGaughey in the Hall of Fame.
"Will he do it?" Joe asked.
"Not sure," I answered.
The morning before the first paper - nothing like deadlines - I asked McGaughey if he would go for it. He paused, nodded and we began. No notes, no Internet, we'd hit three or four, then skip a few days, and then talk about a few more. Sometimes he volunteered horses, other times, I'd ask about a specific horse. Some were long, crazy, take-you-back-in-time stories. Other days, just a few observations about horses who had always been behind glass to us.
Hearing the news that Seeking The Gold had died, we went searching in the archives for the bound edition of The Special. Musty, and admittedly moldy, the papers bring that summer back to life.
Inside Information led off. "I'll tell you the truth about her, I never knew she could run as much as she could run. When you say she was 14 out of 17..."
Heavenly Prize came next. "She kinda got untracked up here. I ran her in the Test and she finished third. And I ran her back in the Alabama and I don't think they thought I was doing the right thing, against Lakeway and she won way off."
And actually, Heavenly Prize came next again, we somehow ran her two days in a row, just in case you missed it the first time.
The journey meandered through Lure, Cadillacing, Lion Hearted, Coronado's Quest and on the eighth day, Seeking The Gold.
Christmas Eve, no it was the day after Christmas. I flew back from Florida. Personal Flag was in the Widener and Seeking The Gold was making his first start, he was a 2-year-old. Personal Flag won the Widener, and they used to have a press conference up in the press box. I said, 'I gotta wait, I run this horse in the last. I'll come up afterwards.' It was about half dark and he won from here to that house over there. We went up to the press conference and nobody cared about Personal Flag. They all just wanted to know who he was.
He won his first four starts. (Randy) Romero was riding him and he kept telling me how easy he was winning but it was taking him awhile to get over his races. He won the Swale and I brought him back here and ran him in the Gotham against Private Terms. He got behind and the dirt started hitting him in the face and he finished second. We ran him in the Wood and finished second again to Private Terms on an off track.
I didn't know anything about the numbers then, but these guys come and say, 'You gotta run him in the Derby. He ran a 1 on the sheets.' We ran him in the Derby and he just wasn't ready for it. He legitimately should have run in it, Private Terms was the 8-5 favorite and we had just been second to him twice. I thought with a little bit of luck, he could have won (he finished seventh).
Then he went on to be a nice horse - 110 percent. I put Pat Day on him after that, he won the Peter Pan and everybody wanted me to run him in the Belmont. I said, 'No, we're not running in the Belmont, he won't run that far.' We ran him back in the Dwyer and he won that, then we took him down there for the Haskell and Forty Niner beat him a nose.
It was 100 some degrees in the paddock at Monmouth, we put them on the van and brought them back up here. The next Saturday or Sunday, Woody (Stephens) works his horse five-eighths in 59. I said, 'I got this son of a (gun) now. No horse can stand that.' I went a half the next Wednesday or something in 52. The next weekend, here Woody goes again, fast.
In the Travers, he outsmarted everybody on that deal. He told (Chris) McCarron to drift out a little bit and let Pat Day get there, then shut the door. That's what he did, and we came around, we got beat that far."
I can still see McGaughey hold his fingers in the air, a sliver of daylight between them.