In the Paddock

Jane Crager buzzed into The Saratoga Special office Thursday afternoon, new sandwich board in hand and an update on the significance of July 26.

“It’s National Intern Day,” she said. “I’m going to put something out on social media about it and our team.”

Nothing warms the heart like thinking of the crew we put together every summer as a team. And what a team we’ve got for you, the reader, in 2018. The cast of characters – oh, there are some characters in this mix – come from all over the country and from various backgrounds. They’re a blend of veterans and newcomers, not unlike many of the barns we profile daily in the Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour. 

We’ve introduced some of the team to many of you in person, either here in the first few days of the meet or even going back to 2015. Yes, 2015. We’ll let them come back for a fourth season but only under certain circumstances. Others you may never meet, but make no mistake they’re so much more than a name on a page. 

Let’s get rolling, here’s The Saratoga Special team for 2018 (and apologies to some groups from the recent past, who were never introduced in this space). We’ve got five “veterans” and three “rookies,” many with nicknames and if they don’t the default is their last name.

Brandon Valvo, 24, is the senior member of our team and now in his fourth year. He came to us in 2015 with the class of Annise “Fargo” Montplaisir, Billy “Blaze” Blake and Katie “Vish” Vishneowski. We have a few nicknames for Brandon – we initially heard he wasn’t fond of Valvotron but got word Friday that he doesn’t mind  – and he’s also our harness racing and Queen expert. Think Freddie, not Elizabeth. A native of nearby Clifton Park and a graduate of Siena College with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting, Brandon works during the week at the Albany-based public accounting firm UHY LLP and pitches in on the weekends, handling everything from stakes and racing recaps to features and Stable Tours. 

Shayna Tiller, 22, bounded up the stairs of our home base in Fair Hill in January 2016 for a job interview and before she spoke we knew she’d be a great fit for the team. A native of Laurel, Md., who studied for two years at the University of Maryland before going two more years and earning her degree at Delaware Valley, Shayna does it all. She writes daily recaps, stakes recaps, features, Stable Tours and anything we ask, and she won’t hesitate to make sure the paper racks are stocked and neat or to make a run to the Spring Street Deli or Augie’s To Go. Shayna’s real passion is horses – and her new puppy Fudge. Thursday night that dedication came out as she went to see Imperial Hint arrive at Saratoga a little after 9 – at night.

Ben Gowans, 21, is in the midst of his second full season after pitching in a bit in 2016 when we gave him a “tryout” late in the meet. He’ll enroll at the University of Kentucky next month and before that he’ll serve up some strong stakes previews – did you see the Diana or Coaching Club American Oaks pieces last week? – and cover the races inside and out. A native of Seattle who has lived in seven states, “Benny Boy” graduated from Greencastle-Antrim High in Greencastle, Pa. We even hustled him to write some stuff for Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred and he does that and everything else in an efficient and thorough manner with his head down.

Kevin Murphy, 30, is the “senior” member of the team and works on morning distribution, marketing, social media and sales. A native of Mechanicville who went to Ballston Spa High now living in Saratoga Springs, Kevin graduated from Siena College with a Bachelor of Arts in Management. He also has a day job but can’t get enough racing and is in his second season with The Special. 

Morgan Yaeger, 19, works with Kevin and is the “junior” member of the group. Morgan bee-bops from barn to barn every morning we have a paper, always with a smile. She grew up in Gansevoort, graduated from Schuylerville High and studies occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University in Hampton, Conn. When she isn’t handling distribution or other tasks – horsemen, she delivered those letters this week – Morgan is involved in a local hippotherapy group that provides rehabilitative and therapeutic treatment to people using horses.

Jane Crager, 21, is one of three newcomers and if you’ve passed by the office so far this meet her handiwork is familiar. Jane writes funny jokes on the sandwich board, which replaced a straight chalkboard we hung in Joe’s front window the first weekend of the meet. The native of Berwyn, Pa. attends Villanova University in Philadelphia and she handles social media, website updates, marketing and sales. 

Sarah Newman, 20, comes from great friends of the “program.” The daughter of owner Rich Newman and niece to owner, fellow runner and occasional beer gift-giver Adam Newman, Sarah is enrolled at Vassar College with an eye on a possible law degree. She’s headed overseas to study in Greece – man, we’re jealous – and is from Massapequa on Long Island. A member of the cross country and track teams at Vassar, Sarah could dust The Special’s editors  in any race and she’ll write recaps and features this summer. 

David Woods, 24, is another member of the team whose family has deep ties to the racing business. A native of Ocala and the son of longtime horseman Eddie Woods, David’s main interest is in television production so he’ll help us add some multimedia while also doing some writing at the races. 

Another team member is graphic designer Todd Koch, who owns a custom furniture design company out of Washington County. Introduced by a mutual friend and my neighbor Benj, Todd and I traded emails and realized we were friends growing up and graduated from the same class at Saratoga Springs High in 1989. The rain has severely limited Todd’s motorcycle commute from his home in Hebron, but Sean, Joe and I are optimistic to take the Triumph for a spin one day even though we know it would end in a crash.

And don’t forget photographers Tod Marks, Dave Harmon and Connie Bush who have been part of the team for years. 

There you have it, our team for The Special 2018. As I’ve mentioned before, they’ve got friends they’ll bring to the races and tell them about the greatest game played outside. 

Be nice, they’re the future. And P.S., if you’re not nice they always let us know.