Sean Clancy, co-editor/publisher of ST Publishing Inc. (parent company of The Saratoga Special newspaper and thisishorsracing.com), will receive an Eclipse Award for his coverage of the 2023 Test Stakes in The Saratoga Special.
Clancy’s story about Maple Leaf Mel’s tragic breakdown and Pretty Mischievous’ subsequent victory was recognized in the News/Enterprise category of the annual media Eclipse Awards contest overseen by the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Daily Racing Form.
Clancy wrote “The Worst Test: Pretty Mischievous wins tragic renewal of Grade 1 stakes” in the August 6 edition of The Saratoga Special, the flagship publication of ST Publishing since 2001. He wrote the piece on deadline after an emotional day – to say the least – and after witnessing the events alongside other members of The Special’s editorial team.
The story began:
It made you turn away.
Strides before the wire in the Grade 1 Test Saturday afternoon at Saratoga, the undefeated Maple Leaf Mel had put away six rivals in the 3-year-old filly stakes, the feel-good story of all feel-good stories was about to crescendo when she bobbled, stumbled and fell strides before the wire. Spectators gasped that terrible gasp, the one heard so rarely, but so deeply.
The Special’s editorial squad on hand to cover the Whitney Day card made quick decisions in the wake of the tragedy, shuffling assignments as the events unfolded just off the Saratoga winner’s circle amidst the noticeable silence from the big crowd.
The Godolphin team declined a winner’s circle photo, canceled a trophy presentation. There was nothing to celebrate, nothing to immortalize. Pretty Mischievous cantered back and stood on the track, a double-play toss from where Maple Leaf Mel was taking her final breaths behind a wavering brown screen. Every race has a winner, and every race has a loser, this one had nothing but the latter.
Jockey Tyler Gaffalione pulled off his tack in an empty spot in front of the winner’s circle, trainer Brendan Walsh stared into oblivion, the now three-time Grade 1 stakes winning filly walked home. At least she was walking home.
Walsh and Gaffalione walked through the stunned clubhouse crowd toward the jocks’ room, the quietest Grade 1 aftermath. Ever.
A Delaware native, Clancy was born into racing. A third-generation horseman and the son of trainer Joe Clancy Sr., Sean Clancy officially started his career in the game riding pony races in 1983. The spark and attraction to racing came much earlier.
“I loved it from the start,” said Clancy, 53. “I went racing all the time, following my dad’s horses and everybody’s horses. … I was fanatical about it and had some miniature horses that my mother painted the silks on. I put together race cards with those horses, have them go against each other, then put the winners against each other for the next card. I’d sit there and announce the races and everything.
“If anybody was going to wind up a writer, or involved in racing, I guess it would have been me. From right outside my bedroom window I could hear Tony Bentley’s race calls at Delaware Park. What else was I going to do?”
Clancy later became a steeplechase jockey, winning 157 races (152 over jumps) and racking up more than $2.9 million in purses during a career from 1986 to 2000. He graduated from the University of Delaware during his riding career and was the National Steeplechase Association’s champion in 1998.
The NSA title came just two years after Clancy endured a fall that resulted in a concussion and contemplation of retirement. Clancy’s older brother, fellow Eclipse Award winner and ST Publishing co-founder, editor and publisher Joe Clancy Jr., helped put a plan in motion around that time. The brothers had started Steeplechase Times newspaper in 1994. Sean’s writing began there, but moved forward three years later.
“I was going to retire [from riding] and Joey, he got me an internship at The Blood-Horse in the winter of 1997,” Sean Clancy said. “He recognized that I was in a bad spot, depressed, in terrible shape and he said, ‘I got you an internship with Dan Mearns and you’re starting January 5. Whether you’re going to ride again or not, go do something.’ ”
Clancy worked at The Blood-Horse for a month, landing his first byline with a story on Kurt Becker being hired as Keeneland’s first announcer, before returning to the saddle with a backup option in place.
“When you get this riding stuff out of your blood, there’s a place here for you,” Mearns told Clancy at the end of the internship.
“I walked out of there and felt light and free,” Clancy said. “It was amazing.”
The Clancy brothers kept publishing Steeplechase Times and expanded to create The Saratoga Special in 2001, not long after Sean’s riding career came to an end.
“I remember back in 2001 I was dabbling as a writer and when we started The Special, we were so understaffed and so overwhelmed, we just had no concept what was going to happen,” Clancy said. “We had stuck our neck out and started a daily paper. Some people were laughing, some people scoffing and some people were just ignoring it, and that was the hardest part. There were times when I’d be working on a preview, stakes recap, a column, everything. But that’s when I learned I could do it.”
Clancy also credits work at Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine and for the late editor Lucy Acton with helping launch his career.
“Joe handed me a lot of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred features,” Clancy said. “He was raising his kids and had other things on his plate. I look back on it, I had the freedom to get in the car, go to farms in the area and work on features. It really helped and I couldn’t believe it when Lucy Acton asked me to cover the Preakness, I was like, ‘What?’ ”
Clancy is a four-time winner of the David F. Woods Memorial Award for the best Preakness story in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2014. Joe Clancy is a three-time winner of the Woods Award in 2015, 2017 and 2020.
The Eclipse Award is the first for The Saratoga Special, which earned recognition a year ago when Paul Halloran’s piece “Fairytale” about Cody’s Wish earned an honorable mention in the News/Enterprise category. ST Publishing Managing Editor Tom Law won last year’s Eclipse Award in the News/Enterprise category for his piece “Big Tally” on the 2022 Preakness Stakes that appeared in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.
Clancy will also receive his second Eclipse Award, after winning in 2009 in the News/Commentary category for his piece “Life’s Work,” a column about an estate sale of the late Hall of Fame Trainer Sidney Watters Jr., in 2008. The entry appeared in the January 3, 2009 edition of The Blood-Horse.
Members of the ST Publishing editorial team have won three Eclipse Awards since 2014, starting the stretch with Joe Clancy’s victory in 2014 in the News/Enterprise category for “Horse of a Lifetime,” a news account of the 2014 Preakness Stakes won by California Chrome, which appeared in the July edition of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.
The team approach to churning out the editorial product at The Special, which publishes 20 times during the Saratoga season, is not lost on Sean Clancy.
“The best part is sharing with Joe and you, and working with you and Joe,” he said. “That’s the most rewarding part of the whole job, of my whole career.”
The Test Stakes story – written clean on deadline in the midst of sales week, during a stretch of six consecutive editions, with a key member of the team out with an illness and after some on-the-fly shuffling of assignments – stands out as what The Special is all about.
“That night of the Test, thinking about the week ahead for us, Joe is out with Covid … in a weird way there are plenty of times when we wouldn’t have covered it the next day,” Clancy said. “I’m not glamorizing being a turf writer in any way, but I did feel a real responsibility because of our voice, our daily nature, we’re coming out the next morning, sales week, everybody is there and around, there were people out there going ‘I need to read what these guys are going to write.’ I took that very seriously. I took a responsibility to not glorify it and also not to condemn it. It was a devastating moment and a brutal moment, and like we say, it happened and we had to write about it.
“There had to be a different way of telling it. I wasn’t going to describe Melanie Giddings, Bill Parcells, Joel Rosario and the filly’s groom and exploit them in their worst tragedy. That’s not our role. But I do think our role is to present the raw honesty of the emotion from the players that are involved in the sport. … The hurt for everybody that day was shared pain and hurt.”
In addition to his roles at ST Publishing, Sean Clancy runs Sean Clancy Bloodstock and Riverdee Stable, specializing in turf and steeplechase horses. Riverdee Stable has campaigned either solely or in partnership Awakened, winner of the Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard Handicap in 2023 at Saratoga and a possible finalist for champion steeplechaser, Grade 3 winner Eagle Poise, Grade 2 chaser Valdez, Saratoga winner Apse among others. Sean lives in Middleburg, Virgnia, with his wife Anne and son Miles.
The 2023 Media Eclipse Award winners:
Writing – Feature/Commentary – Tim Layden, NBCSports.com – “Maple Leaf Mel and the long arc of a horse racing tragedy,” Nov. 1, 2023
Writing – News/Enterprise – Sean Clancy, The Saratoga Special – “The Worst Test,” Aug. 6, 2023
Live Television Programming – NBC Sports – “The Breeders’ Cup World Championships,” Nov. 3-4, 2023; Lindsay Schanzer, Senior Producer
Feature Television Programming – Woodbine Entertainment: “SECRETARIAT The Last Race,” – Oct. 8, 2023. Airing on TSN (The Sports Network) in Canada. Tammy Gillanders, Producer
Multimedia – TDN Writers’ Room Podcast – “Wade and Carson Yost,” September 20, 2023; Susan Finley, Publisher, Thoroughbred Daily News
Photography – Carolyn Simancik – “Trading Horse Paint,” (Cody’s Wish/National Treasure battle in Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile) The Press Box, Nov. 4, 2023
Media Eclipse Award winners will be presented their trophies at the 53rd Annual Eclipse Awards Ceremony and Dinner Thursday, January 25 at The Breakers Palm Beach in Florida.