Special moments

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I remember when I first met Sean Clancy and asked him if I could start writing for The Saratoga Special. I was hoping he would let me contribute a story per week or even a few for the season.

I was wearing that seasons giveaway T-shirt with a pair of cheap binoculars hanging around my neck. Whatever my pitch was, it worked. One year later I was living on Union Avenue and fully immersed into everything Saratoga. What a thrill!

I’ve been very lucky in my career to have a lot of support, help and guidance but I’d be hard pressed to find anything that came as close as my time with The Saratoga Special. It taught me a lot about dedication, the value of hard work and even gave me a taste of life at a small business.

Working with The Special takes-on a ritualistic feel: Wake-up early, hit the backside, write a story, quick nap (if you’re lucky), shower, races, interviews, notes, more stories, more writing, editing, proofing, dinner and bed. Rinse. Repeat. Six weeks straight.

There are a lot of things I miss about working there and there are things I don’t (sales week was brutal). Some would call it a grind, and they’d be right, but it was always fun.

In an era where the printing press is being replaced by gigabytes and 140-character limited tomes of knowledge, it’s refreshing to see a newspaper continue to thrive. There are very few things out there that can capture the magic that is Saratoga like The Special. Every year. Every day. In an industry full of frustration, doubt, hope and change, there are few constants. Two of them – Saratoga and The Saratoga Special – are a welcome relief.

For me personally, The Saratoga Special allowed me to watch Flower Alley win the Travers alongside trainer Greg Gilchrist after Lost in the Fog romped in the King’s Bishop. It allowed me to interact with amazing horsemen like Bobby Frankel and jockeys like Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens and Mike Smith. I watched Commentator and Saint Liam in a thrilling Whitney inches from the finish line. Roses in May, Birdstone, Azeri, Storm Flag Flying … all memories only Saratoga can create.

If it wasn’t for The Special, I would have never been able to start my career as a track announcer. The demo I used to apply for my first job was created during those long summer days. I would watch the horses in the paddock, scurry up to the roof and call the race into a cheap tape recorder before darting down back downstairs in time to interview the winning connections. I did this daily and eventually gathered enough calls to create a viable demo.

I remember when Chowder’s First rallied down the center of the track to win the John Morrissey Stakes. I called the race into the tape recorder, ran downstairs and interviewed trainer Phil Serpe, then wrote about it later that night. The call I recorded from that race was the leading race on my demo that landed me the job at Louisiana Downs.

Now as the track announcer at Monmouth Park, my most anticipated moment this summer is calling the Haskell Invitational, but a close second, in a photo finish, is returning to where my passion for this sport started – Saratoga.

The other day I was talking with a reporter who asked for some of my favorite memories in horse racing and I immediately thought of those summers I spent on Union Avenue, in an under-construction apartment, working with Sean and Joe Clancy.

The Saratoga Special has a knack for helping to advance the careers of its staff. When you look at the industry today, there are many who started their journey writing stories about horse racing in Saratoga at the meet’s only dedicated daily newspaper. For all of the reasons mentioned above, it’s easy to see why.

I haven’t been to Saratoga since I moved to Louisiana nearly 10 years ago and I’ve missed it more than one could imagine.

When I walk onto those grounds for the first time this season, you can bet my first order of business will be to grab a copy of The Saratoga Special.

I know within a few pages, I’ll feel right back home again.

Travis Stone grew up in Schroon Lake, about 60 miles from Saratoga Springs and Saratoga Race Course. He started work as Monmouth Park’s track announcer this spring after a stint in the same post at Louisiana Downs.

Read more about Travis Stone.