One for my Brother

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In the old news department. My brother won the Eclipse Award.

As Jay Hovdey wrote in the Daily Racing Form…

A dime’s worth of research reveals that full brothers have never won Eclipse Awards. There have been full sisters (the turf champs Banks Hill and Intercontinental) and grandmother-granddaughters (Personal Ensign and Storm Flag Flying).

Then came the Clancy brothers, Joe and Sean, both by Joe Clancy Sr. out of Ruth Clancy and raised to know which end did what from the day they could stand and nurse.

Sean Clancy, a former professional steeplechase rider with limbs miraculously intact, won an Eclipse Award for his 2009 story about the legacy of Hall of Famer trainer Sidney Watters. Now Joe, the tall one, gets his own horse for the trophy case, having been honored for his 2014 story about the Preakness Stakes victory of California Chrome. If racing fans still read, it’s because people like the Clancy brothers continue to write. Nice going, Joe.

The mantel looks better with two. Well, it’s two mantels, one in Fair Hill, one in Middleburg. But it’s definitely balanced.

When NTRA’s Keith Chamblin called to tell me I had won the Eclipse Award, for a split second, I felt achievement. I stopped on a trail in the White Clay Creek Preserve and felt that simple, grounded feel of achievement. Then I thought of my brother, ‘I’ve got to tell Joe.’ See, my older brother had taught me everything I knew about writing, if it wasn’t for him, I might be still trying to ride races. He knew the rules – “Don’t bury your lede…be careful with the first person references…kill the adverbs, dude…you don’t need two spaces after the period…exclamation points, juvenile…um, the place and the date…”

The list was long. And, yes, I’ve broken all of them.

When we started Steeplechase Times in 1994, he was the writer. With a journalism degree from University of Delaware, years of on-the-job training at The Review, The Whale and The Cecil Whig, Joe was the writer, the layout guy, the editor, the publisher. I was the jockey, moonlighting as the photo greaser (this was long before computer layout), the envelope stuffer, the paperboy.

When we mapped out the first issue of Steeplechase Times, I said, “We should write about…” Joe agreed, “Yes, let’s cover that.” I said, “Who’s going to write it?” Joe said, “You are.”

Now, I had somehow survived four years of college, but the only thing I read with any interest or dedication, was the Monday overnight picked up at the National Steeplechase Association office. If I had written my question, it would have looked something like, “Whose gonna right that.” Yes, I was that bad.

Joe nurtured me, cajoled me, inspired me and, yes, sometimes, scolded me. He read every word I wrote for our publications and every word I wrote for rival publications. He fixed many of those words. Before I sent my Preakness feature to Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, Joe read it. Before I sent my Eclipse Award-winning story to the Blood-Horse, Joe read it. Before I sent a love letter, Joe read it. I had an editor say to me one day, “Your stuff is clean.” I had to laugh. If they only knew.

Hell, Joe handed me most of my early freelance gigs. Editors would call him and he would tell them to call me. He was busy raising three kids and managing the day-to-day details of ST Publishing while I was improving my craft. When I sat down at my kitchen table for three mornings in a row to write the piece on Watters, Joe was dropping kids off at the bus stop, ripping to the office, dealing with health insurance premiums, car payments and fixing my copy. Always, fixing my copy. The role of the older brother. We went to Watters’ estate auction together, I had the time to write it.

When I finished it, I sent it to him. He sent it back with a few minor touches and a sentence, “You nailed it.”

Five years later, back in May, Joe sent me his Preakness feature for the first read. I sent it back, with a couple of comments, “Strong. I tweaked a few things. Let me sleep on it and I’ll get back to you with more thoughts.”

I called him the next day and said, “Slow down when you talk about the race, watch it over and over and get the nuances of the trip, the ride, the horse. That’s about all it needs.”

He nailed it.

And, now, Joe has his Eclipse Award.

He texted me after NTRA’s Jim Gluckson called to tell him. I was in a meeting, read the text and blurted out, “No sh**.” And, yes, I’m sure that spelling is against some journalism rules.

Since that first conversation in his basement – our office – in 1994, I’ve tried to follow his rules and I’d like to think I’ve helped him break some of them too.

Congratulations Joe – you’ve always been an award-winning brother. Now you have one for your mantel.