Check – Saratoga comes to a close

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I can take down the seven pieces of paper taped to my office wall. They list, in various forms: Times Union PDF file specifications, a slew of contact numbers at the printer, the complete advertising schedules of iStable (until it changed) and Maestro’s, less-detailed advertising schedules for Brisnet, Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, West Point Thoroughbreds and WinStar Farm, Times Union file-name specifications and very detailed instructions (which I forgot) on how to upload our digital editions. 

Must be time to go home. Thanks Saratoga, it’s been real. 

For about seven weeks (it only seems like 17), I live The Special by checklist – ads, photos, articles, headlines, cutlines, photo credits, PDFs, printer logistics and so on – every day until we’re finished. Occasionally, the process seems smooth. Others, it’s as bumpy as driving a golf cart down the old Horse Haven track. And by this time in the summer, I’ve had it with checklists, ad changes, troubles with the computers, hassles from some people, the lack of sleep, the relentless nature of this project, the days that spin into nights and back into days again.

Oh the things I didn’t do this meet. 

I didn’t write enough, I didn’t climb more than one Adirondack High Peak, I didn’t get to the cool interviews with Chuck Fipke and Ronan Cunningham in my recorder (look for them on I didn’t go to enough nice restaurants, I didn’t watch enough races. I never got to meet with the people at Unlimited Potential, a local business that employs people in recovery from a mental illness to make (among other things) the picnic tables you sit on at the track. I didn’t spend enough time with my family – Sam, Ryan, Jack, Nolan, Sheila, my dad. I saw quite a bit of Sean, though not where either one of us would prefer. I didn’t sit on a rocking chair and chat – enough – with Don and Cindy at the Saratoga Sleigh. I never had that coffee with Barry Loffedo, who organizes a speakers series called Horses, History and Handicapping at Empire State College and a Bridges Out Of Poverty class in Schenectady. I never went to the Times Union to see Joe and Travis and everyone else who prints The Special and makes it look so good. I didn’t go see the guy in the clubhouse reserved seats who hasn’t missed a race – not a racing day – at Saratoga in 27 years. 

But, 48 days and 34 newspapers after coming to town, the list of things I did contains plenty as well.

I saw Flintshire win. Man, what a horse. He blew away the Sword Dancer on the Travers undercard (which is crazy; Flintshire on an undercard?) then went back to France in pursuit of the Arc. Like watching Bernard Lagat run the mile.

I saw American Pharoah train. He looked crabby the first day, fluid as Hannah Davidson the next. I hiked to the top of Cascade Mountain with Sam, Jack, Nolan and Katie the Labrador. Then I went swimming in Saranac Lake.

I boated with the Cristianos (once). I ordered so many egg-cheese-lettuce-tomato-mayonaise sandwiches at Spring Street Deli that they now start making one when I call. I saw the sun rise and the mist float. I tried to take a photo of the full moon at Oklahoma after finishing the paper one night – and realized I need a tripod. 

While delivering papers one morning, I met Doug Cowans and his horse from Belterra Park. They finished second, after looking like a winner, in the With Anticipation. Cowans lived the life of a Saratoga underdog – training at Clare Court, collecting his own bucket and bell boots in the paddock, wondering where to stand and watch, almost (painfully almost) winning, then leaving his horse with Hall of Famer Bill Mott for a new owner.

I met Past The Point in his new life as Trish McLaughlin’s best friend. I wrote a sad column about Divine Fortune, and wished I didn’t. I attempted to explain jump racing’s difficult balancing act to people who wanted to know. 

Like an idiot, I did not watch the Travers with Dale Romans and his family despite walking out of the paddock with them. Two days before the Travers, I said hello to Funny Cide. Gave him a proper pat between the eyes and a rub on the neck. Horses really are amazing.

For the Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour, a feature we sure hope is here to stay, I talked horses with Christophe Clement, Robin Smullen, Kiaran McLaughlin, David Donk, Graham Motion and several others. Oh the insights. I love talking to horsemen who are good enough to explain what they do and confident enough to say they don’t have all the answers. All we ever wanted to do with this newspaper was try to explain the horses to readers. To everyone who talked to us all summer, thanks.

I watched Brandon Valvo, Billy Blake, Annise Montplaisir and Kaitlyn Vishneowski take real pride in a project they knew nothing about a few months ago. I watched Tod Marks, Dave Harmon and Connie Bush take classy photos from one end of Saratoga to the others. I saw Tom Law do heavy lifting – writing, editing, distributing, organizing, coaching – all summer long. I saw our handicappers good naturedly wrestle with the puzzle of trying to pick winners (and succeed). I saw my brother write a column a day, for the 15th year in a row.

I saw enthusiastic readers pick up the paper from town to the track and hot spots to hotels. They sent us notes, dropped off food and generally relished the magic involved in trying pull this off every day. We couldn’t do this without a whole lot of people, but if nobody read with interest we’d be truly sunk.

And today, I’ll pack up and drive home in time for Monday’s closing-day party at Fairfield Pool, in time to get back to normal, in time to live a little bit less of a checklist, in time to tell my wife happy 25th wedding anniversary Tuesday. 

That’s all, Saratoga.