Cup of Coffee: Really?

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Really? It has to come to this. Talking to lawyers instead of trainers the day before the meet? Rallying allies instead of rallying quotes? Fielding calls about audacity, instead of brilliance.

After 13 years of making a newspaper work, without any investors, without anything but work ethic, skill and a love of the game. After 13 years of late nights and early mornings. After all the issues, all the problems, all the snafus and all the politics (remember Getnick & Getnick, Empire Racing, Friends of New York Racing…?).

After telling the stories and promoting the sport. After donating advertising to the Chaplaincy, to B.E.S.T., to injured jockeys and retired horses. After writing about the greats and the forgotten. After earning fans, earning readers and eventually earning advertisers. After taking on interns who would turn into graduates and earn jobs at ESPN, NTRA, Monmouth Park, Arlington Park, Robert La Penta Stable…

After all this, we were told we can’t distribute The Special on NYRA property. Really? No explanation. No solution. Just told that NYRA wanted nothing to do with it. You want nothing to do with The Special? Then you want nothing to do with Saratoga. NYRA has never had much to do with The Special, other than advertising with us (after we proved we belonged) and allowing us to spread the message. We appreciated the opportunity and that’s all we’ve ever asked for. Until now, it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship.

It didn’t take long for the firestorm to hit Thursday morning. No Special? No way. Exercise riders, jockeys, trainers, assistants, jocks’ agents, van agents, owners, writers, clockers, cooks, caterers, kids, mothers, all rallied. Our allies. Our friends. Our readers. Our competitors. Our enemies – if we had any – would have also rallied.

First, they thought we were kidding. Like we told them they were sinking the canoe and paving over the lake. Disbelief turned to puzzlement, then exasperation, then anger. Then a rallying cry. As they say, “You never know how many friends you have until you’re in the car crash.”

The questions popped.

“How could management be that disconnected? Why would they want to do that? What’s the rest of the story? Who do you want me to call? Do they know how much good you’ve done here?”

Suggestions followed questions.

“Start a petition. Call NYRA board members. Call Chris Kay. Call your lawyer. Go to the press. Go to war.”

Sadly, it was never meant to be a fight. We’ve never fought anybody or anything here, we’ve simply written a newspaper about horses and horsemen we respect and appreciate.

As Claiborne Farm’s Bernie Sams said Wednesday, “You mean, the kids who we’ve watched grow up over the years won’t be handing us a paper?”

As Bill Mott said Thursday, “You’ve done as much good for this sport than any publication. Anybody.”

As one horseman after another said, “Say it isn’t so.”

When we were first told, actually when we first heard there could be an issue about distribution, admittedly, we scoffed. Laughed. Whoa, they got the wrong paper, read the wrong memo. The Special, not at Saratoga? We were told we could work it out. And told we could work it out. And told we could work it out. Nothing was asked from us, other than written proposals and possible solutions. We offered them. We were told we could work it out. Then we were told we couldn’t.

We have yet to work it out.

At 11:40 Thursday morning, nothing was resolved.

Being an optimist, I still thought we would work it out. I thought this all along. But I’m becoming a realist. I called a lawyer. I’ve never called a lawyer in my life.

At 2:42 Thursday afternoon, NYRA called with a compromise. We could distribute the paper in three places. Three places? It’s movement, permission to distribute on the grounds, but it’s a stifling offer to something we’ve built – heck, you’ve built – for 13 years.

On a micro level, this is crushing to us. On a macro level, it’s another blow to Saratoga, another blow to the sport. Crush our newspaper, stupid. Continue to crush the spirit and dedication of the people who have made this game go, damning. We promote the game, we make racing look good, we reach the horsemen and the fans. As I was told by a NYRA board member, “Your paper is fair, reasonable, ethical. And I love to read it. It’s part of Saratoga.”

We’ll see.