Cup of Coffee: Time Flies

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Somebody asked me the timeline of The Saratoga Special.

That’s easy, we get up at 5 a.m., hit the track by 5:30, back in the office at 10, to the races, to the office and then dance with the deadline until finished around 11. Then we do it again. And again. And again.

They said, “No, not the daily timeline. What about the timeline? From the first year to this year.”

Whoa, that’s different.

2001. Fresh off a riding career, I convinced Joe and my college roommate Paul Wasserman to do a daily newspaper at Saratoga. I told them, we’d have fun, get rich. Joe and Sam had just welcomed Nolan to this world, a few months before. It was not a good plan. We rented an old gym in the Palio Building on Broadway, tried to publish Monday papers, I fired my first employee (who we weren’t paying, it was awkward). We drove the paper on a disk to the printer, Paul slept on cardboard boxes while it printed, high-speed Internet was a pipedream. We slept in our cars, we lost money, nearly lost our minds. Bobby Frankel schooled me. Some of our friends – Toadie, Bill Person, Mark Hennig, Charlie Boden, Doc Richardson – read the paper. The rest of the world had never heard of it. Came Home won the Hopeful. Point Given won the Travers.

2002. We moved to the Arcade Building, learning that 400 square feet is not enough square feet. Quint Kessenich saved the day – interviewing everybody from Wayne Lukas to Treveille Carty. You and Carson Hollow awed us. Bailey crushed them. The Chief asked me how the paper was going, I asked him what he thought, he said, “Great. Great.” I thought we had arrived. Joe wrote the headline of the year, “Alotta Zavata” when Zavata won our race, The Saratoga Special. A top floor apartment served as home for most of us, it was hot, leaked when it rained, but was worth it for the view over Union Avenue at night. There were jump jockeys, trainers and vagabond writers strewn across the floor. We threw porch parties every Sunday. The Special was better, still unexposed, still a slog. Edgar Prado won his first Saratoga title. Pletcher too. Capsized won the Fourstardave in the slop. Medaglia d’Oro won the Travers in the slop.

2003. We moved to the Chamber of Commerce building on the north end of Broadway. We actually had room, we stretched out, somehow added a few members to the staff. Funny Cide and Empire Maker flirted but never danced. Jimmy Toner taught me how to ask a question, after I started with, “Wonder Again’s been disappointing…” It was like I kicked his dog. Quint was back, relentless and determined. We met John Nerud, he told us about Pancho Villa and Ben Jones. Mike Smith cried at the Hall of Fame, forgot Shug and had to go up again. Ten Most Wanted won the Travers.

2004. We moved the office to 48 Union, in a renovated condo in the back. We worked downstairs. Lived upstairs. Jamie Santo brought his dog, Floyd, I’m not sure he saw the light of day. Hall of Famer Joe Aitcheson stayed a night, on a cot in the kitchen. We asked Ramon Dominguez when he was going to come to New York and stay for good. Birdstone won the Travers in the dark. Travis Stone found us, lived in a room next to the office, did a radio show from a closet. We pulled off “Shug’s 32 Flavors,” still our favorite feature in 13 years. Flyers for the Integrity Hotline greeted racegoers at the front gate. Jerkens did it again, this time with Society Selection (talk about a timeline). Wayne Lukas won the Go for Wand with Azeri.

2005. Do I dare say, it started to become easier? I didn’t say easy. We stayed at 48 Union, porch parties becoming a tradition. Pat Day got inducted into the Hall of Fame. Joe’s boys were growing up, Nolan now had a sense of humor. I spent nights on the steps, head in hand, life was changing. Commentator staved off Saint Liam. Shadow Cast upset Ashado. New Orleans was under water, Jim Mulvihill, here for the summer, was dying with every news flash. Tod Marks and Dave Harmon completed their fifth seasons with us, they’re still here today, the only ones (beyond Joe and I) who have stayed the course. At the end of season 5, Joe wrote a column after meeting a reader named J.R. from Boston, he had spent his first summer here, finally checked it off his bucket list. He said he had dragons to slay at home.

We know the dragons. Those were the first five years – classic moments in racing, awesome moments in journalism and plenty of laughs, tears and fears along the way. I’ll give you the next seven another day.