Just minutes to post

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There were a couple of “good mornings” on Monday morning. A few, “Hey, how’ve you beens,” and even one “this is what you do all morning, stand around?”

As the tour went from the Annex (where we did the standing around), to Oklahoma, through Horse Haven, around Clare Court and down Nelson Avenue – with help from Richard DePass’ golf cart – there were a few good-natured jabs but mostly the one line that stuns my typing hands.

“Got the first paper written?”


We don’t know who we’re writing about, where we’re writing it from and who’s doing the writing – we certainly don’t have it written two days before deadline. We do better with 24 hours to put a paper together than 10 1/2 months. So, as always, the first one melts out of the gate, a little like Evening Attire – you know things will be fine, though it might take a while to get going. Of course, the 10-year-old veteran just won the $250,000 “Win and You’re In” Greenwood Cup at Philadelphia Park Saturday. We’re hoping we can get it together and bang it out for another year like the old soldier. Win and we’re in (the black).

 For now, we’re dead in the red. Every year, it’s like this; the only guaranteed number is the print bill. We’re more worried about hooking up the Internet, getting the computers to talk to each other, figuring out where everybody’s sleeping and setting up folding tables than the actual editorial content. Well, not more worried, just more pressed about the former than the latter because you can’t do the latter without the former.

We’re no different than the rest of the traveling gypsy show that puts on Saratoga. Trainers order stone dust, agents wait for their golf carts, valets open their tack trunks and start hanging girths on pegs, owners look for the credential office and everybody tepidly opens the doors to their rentals and hopes for clean and safe.

It’s like making gazpacho. The vegetables are spread all over the counter, all that remains is the chopping and the mixing.

Get the blender, er, food processor.

Joe and I are back for our eighth year of publishing (writing, editing, selling, distributing and fighting over) The Saratoga Special. Brothers, we’re stuck with each other. There is no way out for us. We’ve gradually recruited Joe’s kids to become valuable cogs in this crazy wheel. Ryan, 15, graduated from menial task division to head of distribution. With brother Jack, 12, he’ll be handing out papers like he’s the Giving Tree. Jack nearly sliced off his finger at summer camp – he’s banned from opening the paper bundles with a pen knife – and he was more worried about missing Saratoga than the tip of his finger. Nolan, 7, has worked his way up the menial-task hierarchy and should become a revenue source this year, at least, a source for comic relief. As for our wives, Sam and Annie, well, they’ll be holding down the flaps of the tent and wondering how they got into this madness.

After the family, it’s a full field in the office.

Jamie Santo and Brian Nadeau have become veterans of The Special. Santo has signed up for another year of taking the indecipherable and making it readable, of shepherding another wannabe writer, of surviving six weeks on cold Chef Boyardee out of the can (his choice). Nadeau used to sell mortgages or something and before that industry imploded, jumped to another slippery fish – Thoroughbred racing. He’s the resident handicapper, so blame him when your horse goes unfancied. 

Karen Johnson returns for her second year at The Special. Owner of the stakes-winning Rewrite, her copy rarely needs the same. She came to The Special from the court room (no, she’s not an ex-con, she worked as a court stenographer) and the Daily Racing Form.

John Panagot follows in the giant footsteps of past Special proteges. Quint Kessenich went from hustling stories for The Special to ESPN, Travis Stone jumped from this paper to the announcer’s booth at Louisiana Downs . . . Panagot wants to be a jock’s agent. Yeah, he’s 23, and wants to be an agent. As my brother said (with complete respect), “I didn’t think anybody wanted to be an agent, they just became agents.” The first slumping jockey at Saratoga might be calling John. 

Tod Marks and Dave Harmon form the daily double of photographers. Yin-and-Yang of the lens, these guys provide the images. Marks, whose day job is at Consumer Reports, might show up on your television set talking toaster warranties; Harmon, Mr. Memorabilia, might greet you from his bar, The Stadium Cafe, talking about the seats he has from the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Either way, they’re the vision behind the visions.

There will be others, helping and hustling for the six weeks. You might come across Barry Watson, Connie Bush (no relation to Tom or George), Laura Pepper, Pete Fornatale, Barbara Livingston, Emma Brockway, Jane Motion, Carl Hott and anybody else looking for a summer gig. 

In honor of the great Evel Knievel, who died in the off-season, we stand at the edge of the Snake River Canyon. Now, floor it.