Summer School

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Every year, it’s the same thing. Summer help, hired for six weeks at The Special. Where do we find them? How do they find us? Whatever became of . . . ? What will happen to . . . ?

We’ve improved the recruitment process over the years, concentrating on young, enthusiastic, in college, just-out-of college, going-to college kids who like the game and like a challenge. They blow the turn occasionally, but always seem to come out of the woods with a laugh and a story.

We’ve found if you’re an adult who has the summer off (unless you’re the great Tod Marks or Dave Harmon), you might not be suitable for the commando style of The Saratoga Special.

If you ask for a parking pass before you ask for your first writing assignment, it’s an instant gong. If you ask for a day off before you ask for another stack of papers, it’s another gong. If you complain about the free food in the press box rather than happily gobbling up pizza crust at midnight in the office, well yes, you’re Chuck Barris’ bullseye.

Over the years, we had one writer who smoked dope behind the office, another who filled a tumbler full of Jack Daniel’s to write a story and yet another who kept saying, “You can’t fire me if you’re not paying me,” when we asked him to leave and yet another who fell in love with a jockey and wondered why he dumped her on closing day.

Think Bad News Bears meets Newsroom.  

This year’s crop started at six and has dwindled to two. Ryan Jones and Gabby Gaudet have risen to the occasion. That’s all we ask. It’s a big ask.

As you get older in life, you learn there are no excuses, no explanations, no alibis. You either do the work or you don’t do the work. Your work is either satisfactory or it’s not.

We don’t want to hear that your alarm messed up (alarms don’t mess up, people mess up), or your tape recorder broke (it happens, deal with it), or you couldn’t find the owner, or the trainer didn’t say anything, or nobody interesting won races or you were tired (everybody’s tired).

Over the years, it’s been about a 1-to-3 ratio of success to failure. We’ve watched roaring successes and epic failures. The funny thing is we don’t have to time to appreciate or laud the successes and we certainly don’t have time to correct or soften the failures. We watch the car wrecks, first it’s a fishtail, then it’s a spin, then it’s Richard Petty at Pocono, 1980. September comes and we won’t see them again.

The successes, well, they’re certainly more fun.

Quint Kessenich. The Marylander wrote an e-mail back in 2000, maybe 2001. Something about a lacrosse goalie, about loving horse racing. We told him to show up, figured we’d never see him again. He showed up. We gave him an assignment, he spun on his heel, went out the door, came back an hour later, wrote it and asked for another. He was the only Special writer who beat me to the track more than once. He worked for us for two summers, met everybody, broke the bank on a Graham Motion firster, worked hard and went on to bigger things, commentating other sports on ESPN.

Travis Stone picked up a copy of The Special in the backyard, sent an e-mail and showed up the next summer, must have been 2003 or ’04. He wanted to be a track announcer, slept on a mattress in the office, created his own radio show from the closet, wrote, worked and laughed at the lunacy. He got the job as the announcer at Louisiana Downs. He’ll be calling here some day. Positive.

John Panagot. Another e-mail, written with thought and passion. Loved the game, read the paper, knew nobody. Welcome aboard. The most unnatural writer in the history of the paper, he wrote like he was laying brick. I sent him over to write a recap about the 2008 Go For Wand, Ginger Punch was 1-9, Panagot knew he was about to walk into the jaws of death. He walked anyway. Frankel ate him up, spit him out. It made Panagot tougher. He went from The Special to Graham Motion to Robert LaPenta. One day I hope he remembers us. Driven.

Jamie Santo showed up for part of a summer one year, and stayed – making sense of the copy, fixing mistakes, steering entry and results pages and making us laugh. We figure he’s still reading, and catching mistakes. Joanie Morris worked hard and played hard (don’t think I didn’t know) for a summer, before her promotion to the United States Equestrian Foundation. She worked the Olympics this summer. Jim Mulvihill brought New Orleans charm to The Special before graduating to become communications manager at Fair Grounds. Katie Bo Williams wrote prolifically for two summers before going to Gainesway.

It’ll be interesting to see how far Gabby Gaudet and Ryan Jones go in their lives . . . don’t forget where you got your start or at least where you spent the summer.


******From the August 17 edition of The Saratoga Special.