Staple of Saratoga

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The words jumped off the screen faster than the snow fell from the sky Friday morning in Saratoga Springs.

“This is my final weekly column for this newspaper. Thank you for being on this enjoyable journey with me since I began in 1979. Keep your love of the noble thoroughbred, and its history in Saratoga Springs.”

And just like that, Michael Veitch’s nearly 40-year tenure as racing columnist for The Saratogian reached its end.

Veitch wrote those words at the bottom of his column published Wednesday titled “Ruffian, Personal Ensign top this columnists’ list” that answered a question about his favorites in the game. Veitch can’t begin to estimate how many columns, let alone how many words, he wrote for The Saratogian, the daily newspaper in Saratoga Springs that has seen its fair share of owners, publishers, editors and writers over the last four decades.

One constant through it all was Veitch, a now retired social studies teacher, family man, racing enthusiast, respected historian and lover of all things Saratoga. Veitch’s final column for The Saratogian comes just a few weeks after he was selected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor.

“Overall what I really wanted to do was have Saratoga Springs get the best information and the best perspective that I could give them,” Veitch said Thursday

Veitch, who wrote two columns a week for most of his 38 years with The Saratogian, also wrote for the publication’s daily racing section The Pink Sheet during the Saratoga meeting along with other hard-news stories related to the industry. He is the author of two books related to Saratoga racing, “Foundations of Fame: Nineteenth Century Racing in Saratoga Springs” and “Summit of Champions: Thoroughbred Racing in Saratoga Springs 1901-1955.”

Not one to rest on his accomplishments or rest at all – he still plays basketball and rides all over town on his bicycle well into his 60s – Veitch is working on two more books and isn’t ready to power down his laptop for good.

“For The Saratogian I’m done, but I’m not done writing for publications for darn sure,” Veitch said. “I’ll never not love racing and not love racing writing. I’ve got two books in the hopper right now and I’m certainly hoping for other things that may or may not come along.”

In addition to his regular place in the local paper, Veitch was a regular on the Saratoga backstretch and almost always made his way to and from the track on two wheels. He said the most important issue he wrote about through the years involved the issue of the New York Racing Association franchise and the debate over the land ownership of the three tracks. As for his interactions with horsemen during those morning rounds, that’s at the top of the list.

“Every interview I did was a joy because I was welcomed to the barn, that’s just a real privilege to speak with trainers where they are in their element,” he said. “It’s the greatest game in the world, and trainers are the most special people in the world. I’ve often said to people outside the gates at different when they ask, ‘what’s it like to do what you do?’ One thing I’ve learned is, you show me a successful horse trainer and I’ll show you someone that is so innately intelligent. That is a beautiful thing to see. As you know from your work, nobody deals with more floating balls in the air hour by hour than those guys. … And all their IQs are off the register.”

Veitch identified a few favorites, mentioning the late Angel Penna Sr., P.G. Johnson and Scotty Schulhofer and current top New York trainers Shug McGaughey, Nick Zito, Jim Bond and Rick Violette.

“For heaven’s sake there’s so many,” Veitch said. “In my mind I’m wandering through the grounds on both sides of Union Avenue thinking of people.”

Many of those individuals are members of the Hall of Fame, which along with the Oklahoma Training Track holds a special place in Veitch’s heart. He also enjoyed a longtime association with the recently retired Mark Cusano on the Capital OTB Network’s weekly Saturday television program “Down The Stretch,” which aired its final episode Nov. 18.

JohnMikeVeitchVeitch is a longtime trustee of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and served the organization in several ways through the years, including as chairman of the Historic Review Committee and as a member the Nominating Committee. A member of the Saratoga Springs History Museum’s Hall of Fame, Veitch introduced several Racing Hall of Fame inductees through the years and said being there in 2007 when his cousin and trainer John Veitch was inducted “was a life highlight.” (At right, with John Veitch in Saratoga. Tod Marks Photo)

A lot changed in racing and publishing since he landed at The Saratogian in the summer of 1979, a position he secured after he learned longtime Turf writer Landon Manning was close to retirement. He wrote an editor at the paper a letter expressing his interest and started contributing during the Saratoga meet. The weekly column “Eye on Racing” followed shortly thereafter, before it became a twice-weekly column.

He probably wrote about 3,500 columns during that time – that’s purely an estimate – and scores of other news reports, previews, features and other pieces about racing. The way it was done changed significantly over the years. During the early years Veitch would report to The Saratogian’s offices on Lake Avenue and type his columns on a typewriter to be printed in the paper’s evening edition. Later they were sent via email from a computer in his home office.

“If it were racing related, stakes-race related, the most important thing would be to get the facts correct,” Veitch said. “Then I also liked to put the result of that race in context in terms of whether it’s during Saratoga, what it meant to that trainer, where that horse stood, that sort of thing.

“If it was on the order of an industry piece, that took a lot of time. I would very often make sure I touched base with the NYRA president, the political person involved, whatever it was about. I very seldom wrote about something like ethat without touching base and just saying, ‘I’m going to go with this topic, is this part factually correct?’ That would be half the time, the other time it would be pure commentary and something that came off the top of my head. The way I viewed something.”