Cup of Coffee: Work or Play

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It’s Saturday afternoon, as I sit down to write this. A blank page stares at me, the horses for the third race canter to the start, Tom Law handicaps Sunday’s races, Linzay Marks sketches a scene for an ad, Joe just walked in the office, he looks like a run-over dog, the interns – fresh off a 72-page deadline and a night out on Caroline Street – are at the races, ready to hammer out some of the words to issue number 29. As I write this, the Travers lies in wait, five hours away. 

We are on fumes. It’s simply the nature of the beast as the Travers comes and goes.  The Travers is the white flag, signaling one lap to go. That’s it, one more week and the circus leaves town. 

With it, another summer, another year of our lives. Part of what I like about Saratoga is the pace, the rapidity of the routine. Around here, we wrote, designed, edited, sold and delivered 72 pages in 24 hours. We’ll do the same (although a few less pages) today. For horsemen or newspapermen, there’s not a lot of time for reflection or question, you simply do. At least, for those of us who are here. For those who aren’t here, I can tell, there is soul searching, Saratoga will do that to you. I sense it from emails, calls and texts. Some hint at it, some throw the chair through the window. 

The text popped on my phone at 7:44 Saturday morning. It was in response to my column about watching Travers’ reruns in the rain at the Morning Line Kitchen. 

Was I there? Check. Was it my favorite moment on the backstretch as well? Check. Do I have to find myself a job in racing cause you made me realize I miss being a part of the game after a year away? Check. I hate you (-: But keep me in mind if u hear of something suitable. 

I’ll leave the name out of it, it doesn’t matter anyway, he (or she) speaks for many who have been in the game and then got out of the game. It’s an exasperating sport, the variables are infinite, the lows are so low and so often. 

The highs, well, the highs are why we’re here, tantalizingly close but exasperatingly far, but always tempting. For anybody out of the game, they wonder about the road they took and wonder if it’s too late to try again. For anybody in the game, we wonder about the roads we didn’t take and if it’s too late to get out. 

The email arrived earlier in the meet. Out of the blue, from a reader of Saratoga Days, a journal from the 1999 season that we self-published into a book the following summer.

The other reason I am sending this is for advice. I am a finance guy and getting sick of my job and being desk bound. I am looking for a career that I will be more passionate about, and it seems all roads are pointing to racing. I just have no clue where to start and figured you may have an idea.

I never thought I’d be giving career advice. I’ve been asked this before, many times, and I’ve learned a few things that hold true. Be careful working in the sport that you love because there’s a chance you’ll shatter that love. It’s part of the reason why we come to Saratoga and jump in the deep end for seven weeks, writing and regaling. It’s just long enough to get our fill but not our kill. 

Dave Donk stood by the outside rail Saturday morning, the trainer talked about King Kreesa coming back in six days to win the West Point. He talked about the old days, the new reality and making choices.

“This is your legacy, whatever happens, look at what you did, The Saratoga Special is part of history now.” 

Donk made it sound like we made the right choice to stay in the game and make a career out of it. I thought of guys like Tim Molloy, Matt Groff, Graham Wolfram, Josh Cooper, Don Drew, Michael Costa and so many others. Smart, hard-working, young, inspired racing fans who tried to make a living in the sport but decided there was a better life somewhere else. Are they wrong? Are they right? Only they know. What I do know is that for six and a half weeks in the middle of the summer, some of them wake up, make the coffee, read The Special and wonder about their life’s choices. And that’s the difference, they wonder about their decisions 45 days out of the year. We wonder about ours the other 320 days of the year.