The Inside Rail

He was our first reader. Well, he was our first reader who wasn’t named Clancy, wasn’t a trainer I rode for during a summer in Saratoga or wasn’t somebody who knew Joe from his backstretch days at Delaware Park.

I don’t know how he found us. Nobody found us that summer. 2001. Tom Coyle walked into The Special’s office in an empty yoga studio in the Palio Building on Broadway. 

He just walked in, introduced himself, said he might like to write for us, maybe sell some ads, said he liked what we were doing. We gave him a sign with The Special logo that said, “We Read It” and he wedged it in the driver’s side back window of his two-door BMW.  

Looking in the archives, it took him until Aug. 25, to write something for us or that long for us to print something he had written. It was Travers Day, Point Given on the cover, and we had pages to fill. A whopping 28-page, the biggest of the year, needed copy. “Brass-O-Mania band looks, sounds good” filled out page 21, right above ads for Lyrical Ballad and Albany Cigar & Pipe. A music buff, Tom loved listening to the music at the track and wrote about the 16-piece band. 

Perception sometimes can obscure reality. This was evident after their first season performing at the track. Someone from management felt their bright Hawaiian shirts might be a bit too much and suggested more sedate uniforms would be more appropriate. So, in their second season, they appeared in white polo shirts. After receiving a comment from a listener at the track that “They were good, but not as good as those guys in the Hawaiian shirts that were here last year,” they abandoned the white polos in a heartbeat. And, if anyone asked, “what happened to the guys in the white polo shirts?” they had their answer ready…“Oh, they were fired. They just weren’t that good.” 

Classic racetrack. Classic Tom Coyle.

Over the next 18 summers, we would run into each other at the track or in town, we’d catch up on our lives, talk about a few races, share a few tips. I’d see him sitting on the steps in front of Section F or at the paddock rail for the stakes or in his BMW as he rolled down East Avenue at the end of the day, always the same time, a few minutes after the last. Sometimes with some cash from his only bet, the grand slam. The sign was always in his window, faded by the sun, cockeyed, but always there. 

From Dayton, Ohio. A member of the musical group, The Campus Owls. A graduate of Miami University. The United States Navy. Distribution sales manager for Globe Motor Industries. An avid bridge player, a Diamond Life Master (that’s big in bridge). A racing fan. A Saratoga fan. 

Two sons, Ted and Andrew. Two daughters, Pam and Betsy. Grandkids. And Glenn, a friend of Ted and Andrew’s who came to Saratoga every summer with or without them to stay with Tom, a place to stay, a friend at the track. 

Not a gambler, a two-dollar better at the most, the grand slam his quest. He loved the horses, the music, the vibe, he simply loved the track, loved Saratoga. The magic of meeting people and sharing this place with his friends, his family. He visited on weekends, then retired in 1997 and came here every summer after that, rented on Clinton. East. Broadway. His favorite horse, Spend A Buck. Saved every issue of The Special, they’re still in piles back in Dayton. He took a photo of every horse in the stakes, deleted all of them but the winner and put them in a journal, a binder, maybe the first blog and give them away at Christmas. The daughters have every one of them. 

He would listen to Reggie’s Red Hot Feet Warmers and the other bands, walking the beat for the beat, but always start and end at Section F, in front of the grandstand, about halfway up the stretch. Put his cooler down in the morning, come back in the afternoon, the unwritten, understood decency of the track. It’s really what life’s about, the people you meet, the impact they make on your life, the positive difference. There was a community in Section F. He met Ann, she’s still here, they would go to happy hour. Barb from Cohoes would sit over there on her towel. Bill would bring his whole family, homemade picnic, stand by the rail for the finish. 

Thomas W. Coyle died Aug. 10, 2020. 

Sunday morning, we gathered in front of Section F to celebrate a father, a grandfather, a friend, a reader, a racing fan. His family asked me to say something. I gathered my nerve and scoured by memory, by the end, I wasn’t sure who was talking, me or his sons or his daughters. All of us, I guess. “There are a lot of Tom Coyles around this track.” We nodded, smiled and thought about the one we knew, the one we lost. 

His family found the sign in the garage. 

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