The Special loses one of its own

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Gaile Fitzgerald loved racing, everything about it, the camaraderie, the challenge, the sights, sounds and smells, the friends, gentle ribbing, the puzzle of handicapping, the horses. Oh, the horses.

The horse Fitzgerald loved more than another other was Romp, an Argentian-bred who placed in graded stakes, ran in two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon and in a roundabout way brought her to The Saratoga Special.

“The quilt has lost a patch. Gaile was one of those great fans who you met along the way, just part of the fabric of this crazy game we play,” said Sean Clancy, The Special’s co-founder and co-publisher with his brother Joe. “A real racetracker, and I mean that in the most sincere, most genuine way.

“We became friends when I liked a horse she owned, Romp, in 2007. I put him on the bottom half of a $41 exacta with La Neige at Saratoga. I think I hit it 20 times to win the New York Post betting competition. She loved that.”

A few years later Gaile joined the handicapping team at The Saratoga Special, one of five brave souls who try to unlock the puzzle in the daily paper’s Power Grid. She loved that, too, “offering canny picks and providing perennial champ John Shapazian with his first taste of competition, I think she even beat him, at least once.”

Shapazian, like everyone on The Special’s staff of editors, writers, designers, interns, photographers and delivery and errand folks, mourns the passing of Fitzgerald. The news came last week, passed along by fellow handicapper and friend Charles Bedard, who heard from trainer Abby Adsit. Fitzgerald, 67, passed April 3 after a prolonged illness.

“A lot of times you really do not remember things about a person until they have passed,” Shapazian said Wednesday. “Any time I saw Gaile she’d have a little twinkle in her eye to let you know she was glad to see you. 

“Gaile first of all was a ‘People Person.’ I’ll always remember a lot of quiet times on the Saratoga backstretch watching horses warm up and getting her thoughts about the upcoming race. This summer I’ll be on that same backstretch and l’ll miss seeing her. It just won’t be the same without Gaile.”

Fitzgerald indeed gave Shapazian a challenge, almost annually. She finished as The Special’s leading handicapper in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013, the latter by a single victory after picking seven winners Closing Day to six for Shapazian. Fitzgerald’s 122 winners that year put her third among all Saratoga public handicappers. Third in 2014, she finished second to Shapazian in back-to-back years in 2015 and 2016, and was third in 2017 despite battling health issues the entire meet. Fitzgerald picked at least 101 winners in each of the last six seasons, including a remarkable 121 (and a 33 percent strike rate) in 2012 when The Special did not publish a Monday edition or put picks online. 

A resident of West Seattle, Wa., with her 30-year partner in life, travel and business, Johnine Larsen, Gaile was born in Sacramento, Ca., and was the daughter of the late Charlie (Mert) and Thelma Fitzgerald. An obituary circulated on social media by Larsen said her middle name, Anita, came from Santa Anita Park.

GaileFitzgeraldRompRomp ran in his first Breeders’ Cup Marathon in 2010, the inaugural running of the 1 3/4-mile stakes best known that year for the post-race near brawl by jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano. Romp finished tenth of 12 that day, but returned to the Marathon at Santa Anita in 2012 and finished eighth. He also finished second in that year’s Grade 3 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Romp raced for a partnership that included Sisters in Racing, a syndicate that Fitzgerald co-owned and managed.

In addition to thriving in the equestrian world, Fitzgerald participated in a large and loving tennis community and served as captain of her USTA team.

Always inspiring fun and always up for travel, Fitzgerald had friends throughout the West and East Coasts, loved a good mystery, filled her home with art produced by cherished friends and was a generous advocate for animal rights. Ruby, Gaile’s dog, lived a well-loved life.

A celebration of Gaile’s life is in the works, both near her home and by the team at The Saratoga Special later this summer.

Anyone wishing to make a memorial donation on Gaile’s behalf is asked to give to New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program at