Ghosts of Press Boxes Past

The press box. The name evokes images of veteran reporters, sleeves rolled up, sitting behind their Underwood typewriters in a cloud of cigar or cigarette smoke, pounding out stories, scoops, columns, and features for the many newspapers across the country – whether from New York, Boston and Chicago or Kansas City, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Names like the Post-Dispatch, Plain Dealer, Globe, Herald, Post, Times, Tribune, Gazette, Daily News, and Free Press were bibles in their home cities. And horseracing was considered one of the deified chapters.

Whether covering horseracing, baseball or boxing, the three most popular sports in America from the ‘30s to the early ’60s, the press box was a place of camaraderie, stories, jokes, and perhaps a drink or two at the end of the day.

Those who inhabited the press box were respected journalists, who came up through the ranks and were the envy of every kid who could only dream of interviewing Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Mohammed Ali, and get right up close to Kelso, Citation, Swaps, Buckpasser, Damascus, and Dr. Fager.

These were men at the top of the food chain – men like Red Smith, Dick Young, Jim Murray, Joe Palmer, Charlie Hatton, Barney Nagler, Joe Hirsch, and before them, Grantland Rice, Ring Lardner, and Damon Runyon. They were all legendary sportswriters and they all covered Thoroughbred racing, which the great Red Smith always said was his favorite sport to cover.

These men were revered; a small group who attained fame themselves, as did, in many ways, every racing beat writer who was able to make it to the top of his profession and say proudly he was a sportswriter or a racing writer. These were not young men in their 20s and 30s; most were veterans in their 50s and 60s who started at the bottom and had to earn their way into the press box. To become part of this fraternity was an honor. As famous as the late actor Jack Klugman was, don’t think he wouldn’t have loved to have been Oscar Madison.

It is sad to say those days are gone. Yes, gone with the wind – the wind of change. The once hustling and bustling press boxes are now no more than ghost towns; hollow shells inhabited by no one. The most hallowed of all press boxes was at Churchill Downs, with its panoramic view of the track. That was torn down a number of years ago, with the media being moved to another facility, called a “media center” – a large space that was occupied at full capacity only one week out of the year. So to make way for a new luxury suite, the media was moved yet again, this time to a former betting parlor located near the track’s front entrance and far removed from the actual racetrack. Media members no longer park on-site, but are now shuttled from a far-off parking lot to and from the track.

The sport, from a media standpoint, has changed dramatically with the times. The sounds of pecking on computer keyboards can be heard only four times a year now, during the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup. But no longer are the stories emanating from those computers being sent to newspapers by professional, salaried employees of those papers. The press box occupants are now mainly free-lance writers or bloggers writing for websites or their own personal blog. Names like the Times, News, and Gazette have been replaced by Horse Racing Nation, America’s Best Racing, Thisishorseracing, outlets for ESPN and Fox Sports, and Horseraceinsider, run by former Newsday racing writer John Pricci.

In New York, for example, the Times stopped having a regular presence in the press box years ago, now concentrating more on occasional features and exposes. The day before last year’s Belmont Stakes, the Post fired its longtime racing writer and their two top handicappers. The News got rid of all newspaper coverage, focusing on the internet, only to fire their racing writer and handicapper this week. Long Island’s Newsday also is long gone as far as racing coverage.

In another incident this week, we didn’t have a newspaper getting rid of racing, we had racing get rid of a newspaper. The New York Racing Association banned the popular publication The Saratoga Special from being distributed at Saratoga for reasons known only to them. Considering the Saratoga Special boosts interest in racing at Saratoga, is not controversial in any way, is a must read when in Saratoga, and costs absolutely nothing, NYRA’s actions seemed perplexing. A compromise was then made, allowing the publication to be distributed at only three designated places on-track. Then, thanks to the rallying cry of its supporters and the efforts of several people at NYRA, the Saratoga Special finally was “back in business.” Who knows what that was that all about in the first place?

Here we had another example of the silencing of horse racing by eliminating, or in this case, attempting to eliminate, a newspaper. This time, however, it was racing devouring itself. Thank goodness, the powers that be came to their senses.

The Belmont Park press box has now become virtually silent, an echo chamber with the Daily Racing Form all that remains of the once extensive press corps.

Racing’s leaders talk about the reversing the decline of the sport, dealing with a litany of controversial issues and basically making little headway.

But can’t we see what is right before our eyes; something we are blind to or choose to ignore?

If the racing world is ever going to end it is not going to happen in one cataclysmic blast. As Rachel Carson wrote in Silent Spring, “Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”

Like everything, there are warning signs. No one is attempting to compare the steady disappearance of the birds or the loss of the rain forests and other important habitats to the steady disappearance of newspaper racing writers. But it nonetheless is a warning sign of the sport’s self-destructrion. It is not the actual disappearance of racing writers as much as it is the reason why newspapers have gotten rid of them.

According to newspaper editors and publishers, no one cares about racing anymore. Instead of attempting to make them care, they just take the sport, crumple it up and throw it in the trash, as they would a piece of poorly written copy.

We may not realize it, but this is a microcosm of what is happening to the sport on all fronts, in that we have lost one of the main concepts of journalism – force the public to become interested, just as poker, NASCAR, wrestling, and mixed martial arts have done. Just as milk did years ago and insurance is doing now. The public has proven time and again they will buy anything if you make them. Make racing a product in demand and the newspapers will return, and so will the journalists.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It requires an inventive marketing mind on a national level, not just marketing heads at individual racetracks. It is the fractured nature of racing that has hurt the sport. Yes, of course, we must get rid of the public’s perception of racing by exposing the cheaters and uncovering sinister activities and pushing for harsher penalties. But, like everything, that is a slow, tedious process and easier said than done when you have no single ruling body, as do the major sports.

Racing writers once helped nourish the Sport of Kings, enabling it to continuously grow, not only by their words, but by bringing it into the public’s consciousness through newspapers. Not just the public in New York or Los Angeles, but in small cities and towns across the country. They were the link between horseracing and America, even to venues like Salt Lake City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, and Spokane. They all had a presence in press boxes across the country. Now, as the newspapers say, no one cares anymore, except on the rare occasion when you have a California Chrome or a Smarty Jones. But the sport cannot subsist on such a sparse diet.

So, newspapers continue to eliminate what they consider to be dinosaurs. First it was the racing writers. Next it will be the sport itself, which has been driven into the ground and is close to being buried completely. A good deal of the publicity racing does get concerns its nefarious activities, and many people now view the sport in a negative light. We must eliminate that perception in the eyes of the general public. We must bring back the birds. We must bring back the beauty. We must bring back the words.

67 Comments

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dance with fate

Mr. Haskin, your words should be nationally syndicated on major news sites & in print for starters. The beauty, grace & dignity of the thoroughbreds have been a constant - how can anyone not admire that & their courage. The powers that be in racing must unite to act swiftly, effecting change in public  perception - that's the crux of it. Agree, exceptional PR needed - positive stories are everywhere & should be made widely known. And am thankful every time I hear a bird sing - not taken for granted.  

20 Jul 2014 2:39 PM
Old Old Cat

I am not attuned enough to this complex issue to make an intelligent informed statement.  So coming from an outsider looking in to me the problem seems to be money and bean counters.   I used to submit names of bidge winners to the Sunday newspapers.  At some point the corporate head honchos decided the column inches taken up did not produce enough revenue to warrent their inclusion, so they were dropped.  Afterwards many peopletold me they stopped getting the sunday paper because the list of winners was something they enjoyed.

it seems the bean counters later also decreased their racing coverage for the same reasons.

coupled with the decline in print coverage was a decline in TV coverage which was brought about by the racetrack charging for the transmissions that formerly were free.

The newspaper now charges $20.00 a year for 7 days a week home delivery service, supported entirely by ads, and is begging for readers.  The TV stations now have 15 minutes of murders crammed into their 2 hours of previews of what's coming up next and never seems to get there.  

I prefer the good old days.  I don't watch TV regularly.  I only get the newspapers (adpapers) second hand for the puzzles.

20 Jul 2014 3:13 PM
Old Timer

Very well put, Steve. You almost bring a tear to my eye when I recall the huge crowds and the excitement every weekend at Aqueduct and Belmont back in the 60's. You have hit the nail on the head that they need a National Body for this sport to clean up the sport and standardize the rules and run a 100% clean game. Nothing can beat the sight of two or three powerful horses coming down the stretch dueling and pushing towards the wire.  All good things come back. But, as you say, it won't be overnight.

20 Jul 2014 3:21 PM
Paula Higgins

I could not agree more Steve. If you want the sport to live/survive, you have to be able to read about it and talk about it. But it is also part of the larger issue of what is happening to print newspapers and books in general. They are disappearing. Newspapers are folding and those that aren't, are cutting costs left and right in an attempt to survive. Books are being replaced by Kindle for those who actually want to read. Book stores are closing everywhere as well. There were four book stores near me and all of them have closed. I would browse the aisles for the newest arrivals and buy a book a week. Now, I go to Amazon.com. The bigger problem is that we have a public that doesn't want to read, period. Literacy is in decline among the younger generations. The internet has also been a huge driving force in the transition from print media to online/electronic media. The trend for immediate gratification has been a driving force in my opinion. The quicker the public can find what they want, the happier they are.

Your larger point about the loss of racing coverage as a contributing factor to the decline of the sport is spot on. If horse racing had a governing body that oversaw all facets of the sport, including advertising, the coverage of horse racing would improve. Instead, there is no co-ordination of its assets. It's all about competing interests.

Then you have the power of PETA and others who have trashed the sport as cruelty to animals. Thanks to a few bad individuals in the sport and the sport's failure to coherently address these issues in the past, that is what the media highlights. It is a very one dimensional view of the sport but that is what some people in the media have decided is relevant. A larger contingent of horse racing writers would be able to rebut some of it and act as a conscience for the legitimate criticisms.

There are many issues at play here but the decline of print writers covering the sport is certainly a huge factor. There are few who write about the beauty, drama and glory of the sport and there are even fewer newspapers who will carry them. It's all about money and as you said, visibility. You cannot create a fan base without creating the want and print is the way to do it.

One last comment: Guttenberg's printing press was considered a seminal event in the history of mankind. I wonder what it says about us now that we are in the process of abandoning print in favor of the ethernet.

20 Jul 2014 3:42 PM
dance with fate

To add to my comment, racing must be known to place safety & well-being of the horses first, & for honesty & integrity. This has to precede a change in perception. 21st century consciousness, including current fans, will not tolerate any abuse or cover-ups. In this fast-paced, frenetic world, horse racing may only ever be able to attract a smaller devoted audience & never be on as grandiose a scale (at the venues) as historically.  Concern over safety of all is primary for me when the gate opens & behind the scenes.  Am disheartened to see casinos associated with race courses. Appreciate your insight, as usual.

20 Jul 2014 4:10 PM
Owlbet

Horseracing needs heroes, underdogs, and villains.  Without them this sport and everything on the periphery dies a slow death.  

During any given Sunday during the summer in the early to mid 1980s, my husband could be found glued to the television watching NASCAR.  I had no say in what to watch on TV on Sundays.  A second television was out of the question because, being in the first few years of our marriage, we just couldn't afford an additional cable box.  I threw hissy-fits now and then because I couldn't watch what I wanted to watch.

Before I could pitch another hissy-fit on any given Sunday, my husband asked me to humor him by watching a NASCAR race.  My silent annoyance was rewarded at the end of the race when the most handsome man got out of his car in Victory Lane.  That man was Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  The Intimidator, The Man in Black, The Dominator.  My love affair with NASCAR was born.  I had a hero!  Along with my hero came the "villains" (spoilers) such as Bill Elliott, Rusty Wallace, and later a young whippersnapper named Jeff Gordon.  

For the next 20 years I never missed a race.  I even attended a few in person with my husband.  I couldn't get enough NASCAR.  I dialed 900 numbers to get updates on qualifying, signed up for CompuServe, scoured the newspaper's sports page for news, subscribed to sporting magazines, and purchased the NASCAR season-end yearbooks.

My love affair with NASCAR came to an abrupt end in 2001 when Dale died in a racing accident at Daytona.  I still watch NASCAR, but I'm no longer a fanatic.  I don't have a hero of the caliber of Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

To many fans, Zenyatta & Rachel Alexandra are equine heroines.  But our equine athletes don't stick around long enough to gain a following.  Had California Chrome completed racing's trifecta known as the Triple Crown, the sport may have enjoyed a resurgence.  I suspect the sport may get a boost when Zenyatta's babies start hitting the track, but unless there are underdogs and villians bringing up the rear, horseracing will continue to die a slow death.

20 Jul 2014 4:18 PM
BelmontBarb

Yes, Yes, Yes!!!!!

Just recently the Daily News has stopped the little coverage of racing that they did have and will only cover the larger Graded Stakes coverage i.e: Belmont Stakes - perhaps the Travers and/or Whitney (cannot imagine that it will be a full page - if at all) - also the Daily Racing Program has eliminated the alphabetical list of entries along with the picks by Rocky and Dennis and other handicappers - I initially thought they were trying to save ink however - it is quite clear that they are slowly preparing us for no run on paper.

Steve - this is worrisome - as we keep accepting the omissions in racing it is frightening to think that it is on a verge of disappearing.  However, the song-bird usually returns every year as does the cardinal and that gives us hope - of course, it is a test of patience - waiting, waiting, waiting for a new seed to burst and grow.......

Racing is filled with people that want to be in it and around it and should make the noise NYRA et al need to hear as they are quite incapable of taking care of business and it is reflected in what their focus is on - it certainly is not our horses and the world of racing. It has become a corporation with policies and procedures trying to "re-structure" in order to make up for losses at the sake of our horses and owners, jockeys. fans and the "ghost" that linger through the tracks.  Marketing is not geared toward or promoting racing.  They lack in the ability to make any presentation - once on a billboard or a TV screen.  The excuse is technology and/or lack of interest.  How can there be interest without performance packages being pushed - the younger generation is so unaware of reality and most are not interested in anything other than an Apple. Communication levels are low and relation to an equine is unknown. Surely those that have been in racing and recall this blossom of beast filled with strength and beauty  able to crush the fields of fractions must see what is happening and they should be the first to recognize the issues and do what they must to survive - or are the "Phipps'" meeting for cocktails instead of manes.  Recently they asked for the NFL marketing king for input - because they do not have the ability to create - ideas, thoughts - nothing.   Most of us here have more ability to understand the needs of racing and the marketing of it and enough knowledge and concerns to make it what it was because we ourselves are missing out as much as the new generation will if the "song-bird" is silenced.

I recall very well -all that you have mentioned here and spent many a cold morning in the clockers booth and then to the press rooms that now are gone - cigarette butts and shots to keep warm (be it coffee or Johnnie Walker ) - while interviewing jocks that quietly gave the bet of the day.  It was a passionate time and filled with excitement - I could not wait to read the reviews and remarks of the "ghost" of the press - nor the photo of a monster colt in black and white with the best jockey aboard where you could see the dirt that hit the camera -  What these people are missing today is a great loss to them in a world that is made of production and animation.  It's enough - we need to get back to reality in our business of racing - but firstly must re-discover passion - We must listen for the slightest sound of the "birds" - learn to notice again it's beauty and then "fInd the words" that have been lost.

Mr. Haskin ~ You have put a spark in type right here - and it has started a fire that needs to spread -  

20 Jul 2014 8:12 PM
captainsmistress

Alas, Steve! What is to be done? I love reading for pleasure, holding a newspaper in my hands over coffee every morning I'm not getting ready to slave away at work! Our young generation seems to relish that quick fix, so to speak. Horses are not monster trucks or Nascar, they can't hang around as long as they used to. The collective attention span of this country seems so poor! They just don't want to read anymore. My kids will never have a newspaper subscription or a landline. As for the media; if it bleeds, it leads...that may explain some of the focus on breakdowns. There is so much more to the sport we all love so much.

20 Jul 2014 8:54 PM
Pik4Joel

My first intro to the media was in the early 70's during the lead-up to Monday Night Football...We used to go out on to the playground and set up a picnic table so I could crawl underneath and pretend to be in the production trailer...Then I began calling radio shows when I was 7, winning World Series tix when I was 9, and being fascinated with those that brought us the news...Our Press Box at Santa Aniter is sacred - named for the Mud (Alan Malamud - where do you think I picked-up the elipses points?)...Every year we hold a Breeders' Cup there I get to work for the Press - that's right, I GET to work for them...I stopped taking the LA Times when they got rid of Mieserszky, and we have had a new development here on the left coast recently as Bob Ike stepped down from his post as the daily beat h-capper...the loss of print news goes beyond what seems to us as a lack of concern for horseracing - it also means a loss of national security, as I (or the CIA) could subscribe to local news in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or any other hot-spot and get a sense of the political/cultural climate...I am only 45, but reverent of a time and heritage lost so quickly - the info age is certainly not what I am accustomed to...Thank you to the guys in the box at SA, as well as our annual visitors who muster to gain every true angle on every race and relay that to their part of the world...Thank you to CoCo, who prepares us great food and ensures the beers are very chilly by the end of the last race...Thanks to Jim Murray who so dutifully covered all SoCal sports (especially USC V ND)...But most of all, I appreciate everything most horseracing writers still give to the ink-starved fan of yore... exception being drf staff (except Marty and Mike)...the rest of you can go tweet to your hearts content - I won't be following... Joel from Downey (Los Alamitos)

20 Jul 2014 8:58 PM
Steel Dragon

It's a different world and some things are just gone forever.

Is racing flourishing anywhere in the world? If the answer is yes, then how are they making it work?

20 Jul 2014 9:09 PM
tjconway

I remember a time back in'79 when I couldn't wait for the new edition of the DRF to hit the stand...so I drove down to the DRF loading dock in Chicago and got one "hot off the press"....it was literally "warm" when I got it. I think the truck loader thought I was nuts, but he sold me a copy for 2 bucks. Those were the days!

20 Jul 2014 11:21 PM
tjconway

I long for the days when a racetrack "smelled" like a racetrack! Cigar smoke,popcorn,beer and hot dogs! I loved it when the odds board changed in sequence every minute. The anticipation was great!

20 Jul 2014 11:25 PM
House Of Ribot

I appreciate the article. Problem is, that most of these comments are coming from people who are either retired or at most, a decade away from that. We lament the glorious past and we are there to console each other. For the most part, we aren't in the position to do anything about it because we aren't steering the wheels of the world any longer.

21 Jul 2014 2:36 AM
thesnowleopard

An excellent, wistful rumination, Steve. But, please, let me take issue for a few moments. The press box has not gone away. Perhaps in the U.S., but certainly not in Dubai, where I have been ecstatic to have had the opportunity to cover racing from Meydan, and 5 Dubai World Cups, for UPI with the mentoring of Robert Kieckhefer. He came up through the now-depleted UPI ranks, but his lively weekly column continues on at UPI.com (yes, plug :) along with my weekly contribution during the International racing season at Meydan on through the Dubai World Cup. I am privileged and thrilled to write about what I've loved so much since I was a child in inner-city Philadelphia. And, honestly Steve, I don't need a press box (though Meydan's is impressive); I just need the love...and something to capture it.

21 Jul 2014 5:43 AM
wjfraz

Totally on target.  Everyone in Southern California knows Del Mar racing is the place to be in the summer and yet the San Diego papers only carry horse racing news for that brief period when the track is racing.  I believe it would be in the interest of every track to supply turf writers to newspapers gratis, for the the coverage it would emanate for the sport and the cost would be minimal at best.  Coverage from Santa Anita is worse. Time and again those who guide racing shot themselves in the foot by ignoring the millions who would be touched by the stories.  I agree that racing needs heroes and that the equine athletes are retired far to early in the name of the all mighty dollar and greed.  I grew up reading about Arcaro, Shoemaker, Kelso, Bold Ruler, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and loved Joe Hirsch's columns on the back page of the Racing Form.  It can be turned around if the those who guide racing look back to the glory days of racing and maybe read the stories, in the archives of the Daily Racing Form, the Thoroughbred Record and the Blood Horse to get a feel of how it used to be and try to resurrect our sport.

21 Jul 2014 6:58 AM
Derby Dew

Steve,

You did a good job giving acknowledgement to the many fine writers who helped stoke interest in our great sport.  The racing beat writers did their part in luring the fans to come out to the track to witness the great show put on by the horses and horsemen.  Some may argue that the internet now serves as the clarion for racing.... but, you have to look for it.  Used to be we were fed news of horse racing on a daily basis as part of the total news diet by newspapers that landed on our doorsteps or that were available on most any street corner in town.  I don't think that newspapers will completely disappear but lately the printed press does seem to be on life support and racing is not far behind.

As for attempting to get rid of the Saratoga Special on track, what was NYRA thinking?  I, like many other fans, read the "Special" faithfully to absorb the atmosphere of Saratoga that is so shared so effectively by the Clancy's and their staff.  Reading the "Special" gives one the feeling of being there every day on track and on the backstretch and made to feel like one of the family.  Steve, if you do find out what started this ill advised attempt to curtail on track distribution of the Saratoga Special, I wish you'd share that info.  Thanks!

As for the "Ghosts of Writers Past", please don't join that fraternity any time soon.  We need you now more than ever, Steve.  You're the best!

21 Jul 2014 9:51 AM
Secreteriat

Soon we will loose  THE VOICE!!!!!  MR DURKIN

I will never forget him and the excitement he generated.

21 Jul 2014 11:07 AM
Steve Haskin

I can only gauge the interest of a subject by the number of comments it generates, which is why I am now convinced the newspaper editors are right. No one cares about the old newspaper reporters and what their status was and their importance to the sport. Wise Dan column next up waiting to go. Time to move on to other, more current, topics.

21 Jul 2014 11:54 AM
Floridabred

Steve Haskin you are one fine writer !. You share, you inform, you enrich, you discuss, you teach and you  entertain. You paint pictures for us in words, and also with photography. Your valuable experiences and valuable knowledge cross several horse racing generations. You do it all, and very well. We look forward to what you have to say. Many of us believe you are a g-r-e-a-t writer !.  

21 Jul 2014 1:39 PM
Bret Stossel

Newspapers are dying, too, Steve. What now?

21 Jul 2014 1:43 PM
Floridabred

Possible answer re: limiting various "free" newsprint materials around major edifices and institutions. The Housekeeping and Grounds Maintenance Department at the track is up against thousands of wind-blown local advertisers, shopping newspapers, auto-trader listings, local venue(s) advertisements, brochures, etc. Often in budget-concerned administrative meetings, "free" newsprint materials are considered "junk" and "waste" which employees have to be paid to gather up and dispose of. It happens. Someone complains and states their logic. It's reviewed. Policies change.  

21 Jul 2014 1:57 PM
Relaunch126

The Pimlico & Laurel press boxes....indeed, filled with the ghosts of some you've named. And others, whose daily company I paled in....Dale Austin, Jack Mann, Joe Kelly, Clem Florio, Andy Beyer, Vinnie Perrone, Tom Keyser, to name a few of the "regulars" whose passion for racing never ebbed. My life and memories are blessed with their consistent wisdom and humor. Their print stories, clipped from the "Baltimore Sun", "Washington Post" and other notable publications were religiously archived by press staffers.  

21 Jul 2014 1:57 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Steve

   I wasn't going to comment because I'm trying to take a sabbatical but I have to now in response to your comment " no one cares about the old newspaper reporters."  I loved this article and I'm sure I'm not the only one not commenting that cares very much about the old writers and the memories of how great it was to read them. I read the real old timers like Grantland Rice and Ring Lardner in reprinted articles in books and on microfiche at the library, and I read some of the others at the time they wrote but the one I read daily for years was Jim Murray. For a long time he was the first place I went when I got the paper. I was anxious to see what wit and wisdom he'd come up with next, just as I have done for years with you. You and he are my favorites of all time by far.  I know that The Deacon feels the same way I do about Jim Murray. His style was different than yours but he had a jaw dropping magical way of writing and enthralling me and a vast audience just like you do. You are both unique and stand out in comparison to the other writers of your time. If you were a daily columnist and wrote about a variety of sports as Jim Murray did you would be a standout in your writings about all sports just as he was, just with a different style but unique and special nevertheless.

21 Jul 2014 2:06 PM
Floridabred

Impressive !. All these awake, conscious, judicious  and well written comments. Proofread !, not just "spellchecked". I haven't seen a typo error yet. Thoughtful. Edited. Supportive of the topic(s) and with additional facts and flavor offered. Well done, readers and writers !.

I read an article on another site where the young writer decided on the word "piqued" for "peaked" - ie: "... and the filly obviously "piqued" at the proper time and won the race...". Hmmmmmm. Not correct.

Not only could the writer not spell (ask your mom, go to school, get a dictionary, take a vocabulary class), with just a few seconds of research-time their article would have actually made sense. Perhaps the editorial staff were in meetings or looking for their copies of Strunk & White, or The Chicago Manual of Style.      

21 Jul 2014 2:29 PM
Soldier Course

Steve,

Don't assume that a low number of comments submitted for a particular piece signals lack of interest in the topic. Sometimes a topic induces melancholy, which in turn makes it difficult if not painful to respond. Other times you've covered a topic so well, so completely, that many of us are at a loss for words because the thing speaks for itself. Your work goes beyond making an impact. It creates resonance. Always.

21 Jul 2014 2:40 PM
Steve Haskin

Soldier Course and Dr. D., thank you, but I wasn't complaining about the lack of comments, just making a point that perhaps there isn't that much interest. You never know if you're bringing up a topic of interest until you see what kind of discussion it brings. I never know which stories are going to result in lots of comments or few comments. All comments and discussions are appreciated whether there are 20 or 200. When going back in time, you just never know what the interest level will be.

21 Jul 2014 2:57 PM
michael old friend

Steve, As usual, you hit a 450 foot homer. I can still hear the ghost of glasses clinking with Joe Hirsh and Sam McCracken at the Wishing Well. Keep swinging.

21 Jul 2014 4:40 PM
Davids

Steve, as much as I regret the passing of racing in print, as mentioned earlier, newspapers are fossilising themselves. Racing needs niche markets, and to be  promoted and promoted and promoted to survive. It's a time when everything is about ME, what is racing offering ME? Sad but true.

21 Jul 2014 5:33 PM
trracki

I recently turned 32.  I've been a participant in the sport since age 22.  I came to love horse racing because of Seabiscuit, Smarty Jones, and fantasy horse ownership.  

It has been difficult to watch the decline in the sport but even more difficult to watch all the infighting in the industry.  I've seen so many of the administrative people in the sport fighting for their own slice of the pie that the pie keeps shrinking around them.  It would be wonderful to see everyone come together and agree to grow the pie.  

Given that I am of the highly prized "millennial" age group, I've had the opportunity to serve in a volunteer capacity with race tracks and national groups that, for a time, were attempting to attract the next generation of horse racing fans and handicappers.  After months of work by a team of volunteers everything we did was completely ignored because the powers that be wanted to keep things the way they are.  Boards voted and they voted to do nothing new.  It was very disheartening to see that those who make the decisions have resigned themselves to the way things are and have given up trying to change.  

It feels that the sport is running on the fumes of goodwill from decades past, hoping that a Triple Crown runner will come along and save the day.  I beg to differ.  Horse racing is out of gas and if the sport wants to roll forward everyone is going to have to get out and push together.  Building a new following for the sport is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of money, and more importantly time.  Too often racing is wanting the short term bump and is not thinking in the long term ROI.  Hopefully things will change but I am not getting my hopes up.  I hate to say it but something cataclysmic will have to occur to get everyone to come together.  By then though it may be too late.  

If the people making the decisions keep doing the same things they are now, the future for horse racing is very dark indeed.

21 Jul 2014 6:04 PM
bluhorse

Only DRF is still at Belmont Park, yet now behind a paywall. Doesn't matter if you write great words if the few who still want to read them, can't. And CDI, callously destroying good will with the anti-charm offensive of the YUM Derby.

Steve, your soliloquy makes me sad, but I know it is the truth. I have found myself angry at racing lately, like a relative dying a slow, painful, sad death due to alcoholism and chain smoking. And then saying to all that will listen, "I don't understand why this happened to me. It's not fair."

The birds are long gone.

21 Jul 2014 6:52 PM
BelmontBarb

Good Evening Steve ~ just had to add a little bit here (ref: Dr. D and Soldier Course and your response to them) - as "lack of comments" comment is accepted and it is understood that it only indicates that those of us here are just not looking to get the pick-of-the day but do hold sincere and heartfelt concerns in racing.  You should never think that what you have presented should be based and/or evaluated by "interest" of others that can not relate to the "ghosts" but rather what is presented by a knowledgeable and outstanding writer and his words that touch all of us who need to know there is someone out there that actually thinks with pen-in-hand and heart. There is not a story of yours I would miss nor a column go unread that has not touched or sparked communication in the silent world of racing.  It is encouraging and positive, reflective and refreshing,  Without your recollections of the "ghosts" be it the Press Box or the equine gentle giants of the past - no "song-bird"  could be heard in the animated world that is without the luxury of a leather saddle that touches the back of a horse with muscles of a Michael Angelo sculpture.  

Steve ~ you are responsible for making so much of the past alive and renewed with current and open points of "interest" and urge communication from even those that have never expressed their thoughts before - some that normally would not even post anything in public (I am one of those)- but this is a different place and one of worth where no-one looses and you can write about anything that is of your "interest" and not worry about those that are lacking it......

You put it in and we'll read it ~ whether it's about the "Year of 69" or the "Ghosts'" - we have no fear and no doubt that you are not just the "best of the rest".

with gratitude

as always - so I remain.....

21 Jul 2014 8:14 PM
ML/NJ

It doesn't mean anything anymore as newspapers are in much worse shape than horse racing.  Does the New York Times still sell as many copies as the average daily attendance at Saratoga?  While Saratoga's ADA has about doubled over the last generation, the NYT's circulation has fallen at least by a factor of five.  I used to be a religious daily reader and now I never even look at the thing.

21 Jul 2014 8:21 PM
maggi moss

A very emotional and heartfelt article, not only touching racing, but the world as we now know it.  FYI, NYRA, and those appointed that are clueless as to racing, felt that the tradional and wonderful Saratoga Special, had no place at Saratoga for the following reasons:  1. it had no idea what it was,  2. not realizing its importance and tradition, felt it would only cause more trash to pick up.  No, I am not making that up.   NYRA continues to pay large salaries to those not remotely familiar with the racing landscape and that creates the dysfunction and chaos that no one seems to want to talk about.  Thank you Steve for being a brilliant voice of reason.

22 Jul 2014 12:36 AM
Davids

The NYT's realised the future, and online subscriptions etc saved the day. A quality product will always have a market.  Is US racing a quality product in the market place? If I was5 years old now, would I be interested in horses that are medicated to compete, I doubt it.

22 Jul 2014 3:10 AM
thesnowleopard

Do not sound so careworn with the response to this column, Steve. Remember, most readers will never have experienced the pressbox nor feel qualified to comment on it nor the writers in it. But we in the business were ecstatic to read this after the insults of the past few years in the U.S.

22 Jul 2014 6:21 AM
Abigail Anderson

Steve: I took my time before leaving a comment because I wanted to think about the issue you raise and its complexity. Although I consider myself a thoroughbred writer & researcher, I'm also always somewhat shy about joining your readers here as many are so knowledgeable and erudite. Of course, I share your point of view even though I haven't had the rich history in the sport that you have had. But it must be a very odd feeling to find old haunts (and the memories they hold) reduced to the feeling of a ghost town. Here are a few of my observations: firstly, there's the impact of mass media and "screen literacy" on the sport itself. In that, horse racing isn't alone. But it continues to interest me that, unlike yourself, many who write about the sport are still writing as though we all read paper/pages exclusively today and that is, of course, not the case. If the sport needs a journalistic boost, it would do well to start by gathering up reporters and giving them an intense workshop on (media) literacy and some of what that means for writers of just about anything today. During my career in education, I spent many months working with teachers on how literacy has changed from page to screen and some of what goes along with that. Most key is the way it has altered our sense of time by speeding it up and reducing our patience -- the impact here has been felt by teachers for many years now as they cope with students who often no longer will take the time it takes to read a 300-page book. Also, we read here (on screen) differently than we read conventional print and although this is still under study, part of the difference is that on-screen readers scan text, stopping to read the bits that interest them most. THEN they decide if they're going to read the text. Another is that the new generation of readers are very visually sophisticated: if the screen looks crowded with print, they're unlikely to find the text inviting and will "skip along" to something else. In many cases, they are also looking for visuals like photos or video, which they expect to elucidate the words. (I'm not judging any of this change in literacy behaviours although I do know that many in my generation decry it. But, then again, the arrival of print produced the same kind of reaction....) Another observation is that many horse racing journalists appear to be writing either to themselves or to a very limited readership (breeders, bettors, etc.) and while that made sense when there were only books & magazines & newspapers, on-screen it has a quite different effect. Simply stated, because potential readers on-screen can literally go anywhere, they fall into many thoroughbred "contexts" where the language is either so dry as to put them to sleep, or else it is discourse that completely excludes them. Last but hardly least: as information sources change more and more to the screen, I think we need to take account of its fundamental interactive nature, because this is becoming an expectation on the part of readers of all types and yet, the vast majority of horse racing sites remain stubbornly inviolate to comments or discussions. (PS: If racing writers ever do need a workshop on coping with the "new" media, I suggest that you give it Steve. Hangin With Haskin ought to be a standard for all thoroughbred racing and related sites on-screen -- and probably off-screen too!)

22 Jul 2014 9:58 AM
English Pete

Steve, for this particular blog I wouldn't take the number of comments as an indicator of the interest level. The fact is, it's easy to see the problems that you outline but none of us has a solution and that certainly inhibited me from commenting for a couple of days. For years we've had the same problems in the UK, in particular the decline in printed newspapers and a concentration of public popularity in other sports both leading to a decimation of racing coverage. As you say, this creates a vicious circle of less interest, less coverage and on it goes. The most recent setback regarding the sport's exposure here was the transfer of televised racing from the BBC to a commercial channel. Opinion is split as to how good a job that channel does, but the bottom line is that with the best job in the world it will never get the same number of viewers for the Derby or Royal Ascot as the BBC would and used to.

I strongly agree with you that the high level answer in the US (and in the UK) is to have a single body responsible for promoting the sport. Newspapers, whether printed or online, will feel no obligation to help the sport as they are driven by their commercial priorities. Therefore it is up to the sport to make itself relevant to those priorities by creating public demand to see, hear and read about it. All easier said than done, and unless there is a single ruling body responsible for achieving this I'm afraid that everything else becomes merely a local initiative, some of which will work(for example a specific track might be successful) and others which will fail. None will have the scope for providing the reinvigoration of interest in racing that is necessary to build the sport's long term popularity.

22 Jul 2014 10:12 AM
Steve Haskin

Thank you very much Maggi for your comments. You have become an important voice and mover and shaker in the industry and should be commended. I doubt you'll remember, but several years ago I was the guest speaker at the Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders dinner at Prairie Meadows. We had a wonderful time. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

22 Jul 2014 10:19 AM
Steve Haskin

Thanks so much, Abigail. Beautifully put as usual. I think it's a fascinating idea.

Thanks again to everyone who commented. Time to get back to more positive columns.

22 Jul 2014 10:21 AM
Bill Two

Well said.  Of the three major sports in the so-called Golden Age of Sports: Baseball, boxing and horse racing, only baseball has maintained its' prominence in the eyes of the public.  They did that by creative marketing and upgrading their facilities and product.  As much as people complain about the commissioner - Bud Selig - at least they are pretty much on the same page. Horseracing lacks a unified approach and the infighting and lack of cooperation is killing the game.  The battle between Gulfstream and Calder illustrates that point.  It's really idiotic for these two tracks to war with each other.  Of course, that type of internecine fighting has characterized Florida racing and politics for a long time.  Colonial Downs in Virginia couldn't even agree on a schedule of racing dates this year and is closed.  This kind of thing has to stop if there is going to be any hope for the sport.

22 Jul 2014 11:19 AM
mz

Sorry, Steve, I'm still in mourning for the loss of the race results and entries in the Toronto Star.  I grew up with only a very little pinhole on race reporting and I pored over every single scrap of writing I could find -- still have the mouldering scrapbooks with cut out photos from that paper from 1963.

I add my voice to those who tell you not to calculate interest by response - I'm with the melancholy Soldier Course about this.

22 Jul 2014 11:25 AM
Racingfan

As always, an interesting article, thank you!  I'm with those who advised you not to judge interest by the number of comments.  I read all your articles but do not always comment and NOT due to lack of interest. Sometimes I just do not know what to say or do not have anything to add....   I personally am very disappointed in the loss of newspaper coverage of horse racing.  I do not live in an area where I could get the "big" papers, but there still has been a dramatic change where I live.  I am a racing history buff and have made a point of collecting articles from the paper (my oldest start with Seattle Slew, as that is the year I discovered racing was on tv and in the paper).  Just the picture of the Derby winner used to encompass the top half of the first page of the sports section.  The rest of the page was dedicated to the article with more info, including the complete chart, on inside pages.  Now days, there is a tiny picture on the bottom half of the front page of the sports section,with a small amount of info inside and no chart.  They do still list entries and results from my local track but there is almost never an article about anything going on there.  It is sooooo disappointing to me and I really wish there was a fix but I do not know what it is.  On the other hand though, I am thankful for the "new fangled" media like this blog, where we can read great info and interact with each other.

22 Jul 2014 12:31 PM
Susan from VA

A few years ago I had to contact the Washington Post to complain that they had published the results of the previous year's Virginia Derby.  Their response was that they contracted with a freelance writer who accidentally sent the wrong file.  I guess he was "just mailing it in."  How low has the Post's coverage of racing has sunk!

22 Jul 2014 12:39 PM
Coldfacts

“We must eliminate negative perceptions in the eyes of the general public.”

The negative perceptions of Thoroughbred Racing covers a wide number of issues. Race day medication is just one of them. There are far too many variables involved in handicapping races. The deck is always stacked against the betting public. Incompetent trainers, inconsistent horses, unexplained no shows, unbelievable recapturing of form after poor performances, turf to dirt, dirt to turf, unnecessary equipment and many other issues make finding winners virtually impossible.

Until the drug philosophy is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned and until the playing field is leveled for the betting public, the elimination of  negative perceptions of Thoroughbred Racing by the public -

“Will remain but fleeting illusion to be purused but never attained. “ Haile Selassie  

22 Jul 2014 12:54 PM
tjconway

FIRST STEP.

LOWER THE PAYOUTS!

15% WPS

17% EXACTA

18% TRIFECTA-SUPERFECTA

...and noone gives a damn about the pick 6 or pick 7. Who cares, every race is different!

22 Jul 2014 1:55 PM
Vince Bruun

Steve, Excellent article with several interesting comments. But somehow the elephants in the room--legalized gambling & lotteries--have been overlooked. In the state of Washington, for example, whereas Thoroughbred racing once accounted for nearly 95 percent of all legalized gambling in the state, racing now accounts for less than 5 percent. Mind you, this shift of dollars has taken place in two decades!

Certainly other factors have contributed to a lack of coverage: the demise of newspapers and shrinking budgets for ones that have survived, negative news about cheaters, the difficulty of teaching impatient youths to handicap, promising racing careers shortened by injuries and breeding dollars, dramatic decreases in foal crops, the list is practically endless.

On the other hand, thanks to the Internet,I now have more racing news than I ever dreamed possible. There are hundreds of websites devoted to horse racing, and most of them are far more sophisticated than the horse racing news found in daily papers.

22 Jul 2014 2:01 PM
Soldier Course

RacingFan:

I stopped our local newspaper subscription a while back. This year I bought the Sunday editions after California Chrome won the Derby and Preakness. The article about his Preakness win was squeezed over to the side of the first page of the sports section. The bulk of that page was taken up by a huge photo of a Clemson coach and accompanying article. The Preakness was an afterthought, even though it looked like we were heading toward the 12th Triple Crown.

I don't know why this surprised me because this was the same newspaper that put Benghazi on Page Five when the story broke. That's the reason I cancelled the subscription my family had had since 1951.

22 Jul 2014 2:29 PM
Bill Two

One of the things that captured my interest early on in my love affair with racing was the quality of the prose of people like Charles Hatton.  I loved to read his columns in the DRF. His use of the language was so eloquent.  It was really stirring to dwell on his descriptions of horses and people and it inspired me to learn as much as I could about the sport.  You simply cannot find his ilk anymore.  

22 Jul 2014 2:36 PM
Bob Ehalt

Steve, I felt compelled to write this because you eloquently addressed a topic that has a great deal of meaning to me. I’ve been working in the sports department of daily newspapers since 1978 and covered my first stakes in 1979 when Instrument Landing won the Wood Memorial. Newspapers have indeed been my life for more years than I’d like to remember, and like you I’ve seen once vibrant press boxes in New York turn as quiet as a library on a typical non-Saratoga weekday.

It’s surely a sad day for racing when writers like the News’ Jerry Bossert and the Post’s Ed Fountaine and John DaSilva are laid off, and it does not bode well for the sport’s future.

Yet at the same time, I believe it’s more of a negative reflection on the newspaper industry than the racing industry. Over the years, I’ve seen scores of co-workers, colleagues and friends laid off as declining revenues and an inability to proper monetize the Internet have spawned a decline that no one knows how to solve.

The inevitable response has been to cut jobs. Twice I’ve been a victim of that axe and while I’m still employed at a newspaper, it’s because of my prowess at editing copy, laying out pages, loading web sites and working inside the office , not my writing – even though I’ve won a number of national awards over the years. My outlet for writing on racing now comes from internet sites you mentioned like America’s Best Racing and ESPN and I consider myself fortunate to have that.

Cuts are a way of life in the newspaper industry, and virtually all of us in it, myself included, live with a Sword of Damocles hanging over us, wondering when or if our positions will be eliminated. In that climate, while the state of racing plays a role in the cuts, the sport faces a difficult struggle for attention at a time when the media trend is to focus excessively on major sports like football and baseball.

Racing simply cannot compete with football and it would not do so even if we lived in a fantasy world in which every bad apple was removed from the sport and every horse ran free of medication.

The problem is that the bean counters at newspapers who decide people’s fate look solely at numbers in a ledger. They see racing requires manpower and expense money to cover and it’s not as popular as the Yankees so it becomes the target of the axe.

What goes over their head, of course, is that while there may be 2,000 people at Belmont Park on a Wednesday afternoon, there are 2,000 more people watching the races at Aqueduct. Overall, there might be say 20,000 or more people in their circulation area who follow that day’s races and bet at an OTB or online. There are owners, trainers, jockeys, and track workers who live their area and have family and friends, but a bean counter who gets rewarded for sending people to unemployment line is not going to care about that.

The timing of some layoffs certainly speak worse for the papers than the sport. The New York Post lays off Fountaine and DaSilva and Anthony Affrunti a day before the Belmont Stakes. The New York Daily News lays off Jerry Bossert a day before the Saratoga meet began. Does any of that make sense? These were the times when there would be the most interest in the sport, and you cut people then?

My closest friend since high school, Tom Pedulla, covered horse racing and the NFL for USA Today. He spent more than 30 years working for Gannett. In 2012, he was laid off two days after I’ll Have Another won the Preakness and was headed to New York for a Triple Crown bid. On the night of that Preakness, I was with him as talked with an editor around midnight to map out plans for Belmont coverage. Two days later, he’s let go. Classy, eh?

The fact that newspapers cut positions before racing’s biggest moments shows it would take a return to the 1950’s to save most turf writers unless they work in Kentucky or near Saratoga and Del Mar or in one of media’s ivory towers.

One thing you were slightly off on is that Newsday has an excellent turf writer in Ed McNamara, who in some ways is symbolic of the modern day turf writer. Ed does not cover the races on a daily basis. He’ll cover the major NY races at the three tracks and Triple Crown chase as well as the Breeders’ Cup on occasion.

The rest of the time Ed is a valuable asset to Newsday for his work as a great copy editor and the important role he plays in the production of each day’s newspaper and web site.

I can relate to that as my coverage of racing for some 23 years at the Stamford Advocate had more do with my love of the sport than my editor’s desire to have racing coverage in the paper. The weeks I was given to cover the Belmont Stakes were generally a reward for the numerous Saturday nights I spent on the desk or the extra days spent covering other sports. That’s the way it usually is with a fringe sport like racing.

If the Daily News was wise, it would have followed the Newsday model. It is indeed a hard sell to explain a body at Aqueduct in early December when finances are dwindling. But rather than alienate all of the people who have enjoyed the News’ racing coverage for decades, they could reshaped Bossert’s position to include coverage of sports like college basketball during slow periods.

Unfortunately bean counters at newspapers these days do not use common sense or concern themselves with the quality of the publication or become creative in ways to grow their business. It’s just cut and sometimes receive a bonus for doing it.

I can understand how you and others look at this as racing’s problem. But for me, and I believe many others in my position, it’s a commentary on the sad state of my chosen profession.

Yeah, I’d love to see racing become more popular. I’d also love to see newspapers find a way to make the Internet work better for them - be it through print and digital or simply online – so they can become thriving news organizations once again.

Hopefully I’m not a dreamer.

22 Jul 2014 4:18 PM
Mark Meyer

One of those memorable pressbox ghosts -- the late Paul Moran -- wrote this piece about the legendary Esposito's, a racing landmark with a character all its own:

Remembering Esposito’s (May 2009)

Every long stand begins with day one and my 23 years at Newsday began on March 11, 1985, a Monday at Aqueduct. Only Tuesdays were dark in those days. When the races were over, I drove directly to Elmont, almost as if it were required, a ritualistic homage to this new post in the midst of the best racing on earth, to a place with which I had become familiar while on many assignments in New York for my former employer in Florida.

The late Bill Leggett, of Sports Illustrated, sat at a table near the front window. He looked up as I sat down.

“You’re in the right place,” he said.

The sign in front of the building not a furlong from the Belmont Park stable gate now reads: Elmont Eglise Du Nazareen De La Saintete.

Nothing of particular note will happen there on Saturday. No one with a horse in the Belmont Stakes will stop for a drink before or after the third leg of the Triple Crown is run and the fence will not be painted in the colors of the winning owner. There will be no pepperoni, cheese and crackers set out after the races, a scant repast offered only on Belmont Stakes day. This was a place for drinking, for the gathering of kindred spirits and others whose lives revolved around the racetrack across the street.

Once, this was Esposito’s Tavern, quite simply the best racetrack bar ever, anywhere. You knew the whiskey in the bottles was something other than the labels suggested, that the lines through which soda, water and beer flowed were cleaned with something less than rigid regularity and the popcorn that came in institutional-size plastic bags was made at some point just after Man o’ War won the Belmont. But the bar was three-deep in people who would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame and drew owners, trainers, exercise riders, grooms, journalists, handicappers, most of those employed by the New York Racing Association and horseplayers of every stripe. True racetrack characters, a species on the verge of extinction, gathered here when they walked the earth I great numbers. They celebrated victories and betting scores and life at the races. When appropriate, they commiserated with friends in times of strife and fallow bankrolls.

History was made at Belmont Park and, later, embellished at Esposito’s.

Arthur and Gilda Esposito founded the business deep in the Great Depression. Gilda, who would come to be called “Mom” by generations of racetrackers, fed those in need of food, lent money to those down on their luck, was known to keep a large cash reserve for these purposes and bailed many a racetracker out of jail so that the accused could be back at the barn in the morning.

Mom, revered in the racing community, was almost always repaid. Those who crossed her or failed to meet their obligations became pariahs here and were blacklisted at racetracks throughout the country. Few took that risk and many whose names are now familiar on racing largest stages would at one time or another while paying their dues find themselves beneath the nurturing wing of Mom Esposito.

The business eventually was passed on to the Brothers Esposito, John and Junior, who were literally raised in the tavern where they worked throughout their lives. They were cut unmistakably from the same cloth, five-by-five men of great appetite, bald, gregarious, opinionated and willing to share.

John considered himself to be an expert on all things great and small and put forth often far-fetched theories from his pulpit, the bar, often igniting spirited if equally far-fetched debate. Junior, while keeping up a continual banter of small talk, was the engine that kept the place going and the place was where the pulse of racing in New York beat and could be monitored. The exchange of information, some accurate, was continual and took many forms.

Awakened one summer afternoon from an impromptu nap by a discussion that revolved around a suddenly hot trainer, a groom who worked for the subject in question raised his head and said: “New vet,” then resumed his siesta.

Both the Brothers Esposito would travel great distances to save money, the frugality taught by an parents who lived through the Depression. Junior drove to Eastern Long Island to buy cigarettes from the Shinnecocks long before cigarettes were taxed beyond middle-class affordability. He hunted down bargains, cheap whiskey to refill mislabeled bottles and John was always willing to launch a road trip in devoted pursuit of what he considered restaurant bargains, frequently involving the phrase, “all you can eat.”

Esposito’s was a place without pretense that would occasionally be visited by those who had spent the afternoon in the Directors’ Room at the track and wished to watch the replays of the day’s races, usually after one of their horses had won. Edie LiButti, owner of Devil His Due, on one such visit asked one of the bartenders, for a wine list unaware that the available vintage was generally not potable. “We’ve got red and we’ve got white,” the bartender answered, “and if we mix them, we’ve got rose.”

The tavern could be the scene of the occasional high drama with great implication.

On a grim Sunday, July 7, 1975, the bar filled slowly reporters who kept vigil while the great filly Ruffian, mortally injured in a match race with Foolish Pleasure that afternoon, was down the street at a veterinary clinic her fragile life hanging in the balance, a team of surgeons attempting to save her life. They drank. They waited for updates and eventually what they knew would be the worst possible news.

On the afternoon of June 11, 1977, with the nation awaiting the undefeated Seattle Slew’s Belmont Stakes and a Triple Crown that was widely considered no contest, trainer Billy Turner, Frank Tours, a former NYRA official who was at the time in the employ of Hialeah Park, and several friends repaired to the relative quiet of Esposito’s, a place in which it was easy to lose track of time.

Across the Plainfield Avenue, a second call to bring the horses in that Belmont to the paddock prompted Turner’s assistant and exercise rider, Mike Kennedy, to locate his missing employer. Esposito’s was the first place he looked. Turner’s reaction to Kennedy’s alarm: “You don’t think they’re going to start the race without us, do you?”

Seattle Slew arrived at the paddock 10 minutes late, and then proceeded to make history. Turner was fined $200 by the stewards. Tours, who would be accused of orchestrating the stunt, was thoroughly amused and the story has become part of Triple Crown lore.

What became a traditional painting of the fence in the colors of the Belmont Stakes winner was begun after Seattle Slew’s Triple Crown. Turner had been a fixture at Esposito's for years before that, beginning in the days when he was called Turnpike Turner and traveled the Eastern seaboard on the steeplechase circuit. If the trainer of a jumper needed a rider on short notice, a call Turner on one of two phone-booth lines at Esposito's, would have him on the road.

Woody Stephens, also a late-morning fixture at Esposito’s trained five straight Belmont winners, the first in 1982. On the morning after each win, Stephens, en route to his barn, would stop in front of Esposito's and honk his horn, a reminder to the proprietor that the fence had not been repainted. John claimed an unwritten rule allowed him a week.

Esposito’s is long gone as are its erstwhile proprietors and many of its habitués. Turner has not taken a drink of alcohol in years but remains a font of remembrance, lamenting the absence of the truly Runyonesque from the current racing scene. To those of sufficient longevity, the building now known as Elmont Eglise Du Nazareen De La Saintete remains a relic of a time long gone, a rich time when the racetrack was not a job or a hobby, it was a lifestyle, a closed society populated by those who shared a love for horses, the appreciation of a well conceived and executed scheme, reveled in the game and the life. -- PM

22 Jul 2014 4:39 PM
Eric Rickard

Another topic hit on the head by Mr. Haskin. In my opinion the sport is killing itself. It is becoming an elitist happening. It is reverting back to the Sport of Kings. Every thing is geared to the 4 big days; Triple crown and Breeders Cup. They make the average "Joe" pay through the nose to attend these days. The Saratoga Meet used to cater to bringing the Family; by keeping the cost relatively inexpensive to attend. This at least promoted the Sport to the younger set. This has gone by the wayside. The closing day "fare" is gone and the Labor Day weekend special pricing has quadrupled. With out fans, the sport can not grow.

Mistake.

22 Jul 2014 6:21 PM
Steve Haskin

Thank you so much, Bob. That was great. I appreciate all  your in depth comments and fond memories. I didnt intend to slight Ed. I know he covers the major races. I was referring to daily coverage by a regular beat writer. I should have made that clearer.

Mark, thank you very much for sharing yet another brilliant piece by Paul. The words came so easily to him. Great stuff. It's been a long time.

22 Jul 2014 6:32 PM
nobledancer

A masterful column, Steve, which poses some deep and troubling questions.  I wish I had the answers and the antidote to reverse racing's precipitous tumble into the ranks of the disenfranchised.  The majority of my generation came to love racing through osmosis.  We absorbed the enthusiasm and passion of family members who exposed us to the sport at an early age.  Today's "Family Fun Days" in the infield are a poor substitute for a one-on-one experience with dad as he patiently (or not)  explained the finer points of the game.  

I wish I had been born just a tad sooner so that I might have read, fresh off the press, the glowing words of such luminaries as Red Smith, Dick Young, Grantland Rice and Damon Runyon.  They were giant men of letters whose greatness matched the demands of racing's glory days.  Perhaps because racing is such a dichotomy, with great beauty paralleling omnipresent tragedy, and immense power masking the most tenuous fragility, racing has always attracted the most gifted wordsmiths.  These days, I sometimes feel as if we are living in pygmy times, in so many ways.  I don't even like to read a serious story on-screen, but always print it (I do re-cycle and file).  For many, largely because of the way we were taught, reading is still a tactile experience.

The one thing which I do not miss about those halcyon press box days is the lack of women turf writers.  Were there any?  If so, I would love to discover them. Or, because of the restrictions of the times, was the press box too much of a men's club for them to crack?  So many songs unsung.  So much beauty not expressed.  So many words never written or read.

22 Jul 2014 7:27 PM
BelmontBarb

Seems as though the number of comments has risen!

22 Jul 2014 8:32 PM
Arch the phoneman

Steve, I came to love horse racing in the 70's shortly after Big Reds Run. I'm out in California and we had the L.A.Times and the Herald Examiner, but, all the papers had their racing pages. I always went to the track with a folded up Herald sports page. They had Professor Gordon Jones and Jerry Antonucci and I followed their picks religiously. You know what I really miss? The full results charts that the papers printed the next day. Lots of info there. I still buy the Times everyday, but, it's a shadow of it's former self and the racing coverage is an absolute joke. Non-existent really. Steve, please don't confuse lack of comments with lack of interest. I read every word you write. Your Summer of 69 was very personal and I like everyone else really enjoyed it. It made me think of my own personal times at the races. Like the winter that The Bid came out here for the Strub Series. The Bid won all 3 races and Flying Paster was 2nd every time. I had a lot of horse racing buddies in those days. Good times. Sadly, they have all drifted away from the game for one reason or another. I'm the last man standing. I still enjoy the game, but, they make it hard. Thanks, Steve. Sorry to ramble.

22 Jul 2014 11:45 PM
Pik4Joel

Not to beat an old topic - but I think this is one of the most relevant articles of recent... Saw many who questioned Steve's lack of comment comment, but I see it differently... If we are surrendering as a nation (aka brooklyn white flag conspiracy) then those of us who are willing enough, educated enough, nurtured in a caring relationship enough, should have a mutual understanding as to where we want to take the sport... i.e, Breeders' Cup experience, race replays on local networks (ah, Dr. Allred we are speaking to you), print info such as daily sheets that don't cost twelve freeeaaakin dollars and free programs to those of us who visit brick n mortars on a consistent basis, and if it won't cost like a hundred bucks more - CAN YA PLEASE STOCK THE BRAND OF BEER WE LIKE? NOT SOME PROMOTIONAL CARTER ADMINISTRATION JUICE?

22 Jul 2014 11:48 PM
Richard Edmunds

Excellent article, Steve.

And this isn't just an American problem. I've recently started as a print racing journalist here in New Zealand, earning my first-ever press pass a couple of months ago. Getting paid to write about the sport I love - a dream come true, even though we're in the desperat depths of winter at the moment.

I can easily feel how wonderful the press boxes at our tracks must have once been, bustling and buzzing with activity. But now there's an average of around three or four people there at most race days, and I'm the only one under 30. In fact, most of the time I'm probably the only one under 45 or 50. It's a rather strange feeling, and more than a little unnerving.

I really hope it turns around somehow. Maybe someone in the US can reverse the trend and we can follow their lead.

23 Jul 2014 12:28 AM
Justine

I feel that there's something to be said when the comments 1) complain about the loss of print in favor of digital multimedia and 2) complain about the younger generations' need for instant gratification when they are the people you WANT around to keep the sport and industry alive. Color me surprised when people then complain about racing's decline.

23 Jul 2014 1:53 AM
Alex'sBigFan

A great piece here, Steve.  It all hinges on the effective marketing of the sport. Frankly I have talked about it ad nauseum here.  It's easier said than done, they need to find a way to connect the fan and the horse, clean up the sport, keep the stars around so there is something to market, and find a way to return it to the times when it was posh when folks like Lucille Ball filed into Del Mar for the races. This, the way it looks right now is going to be a herculean effort if the sport is ever to return front and center like it was in it's glory days. It needs to be the "de rigeur" thing to do and place to go again, the see and be seen thing to do, but how is the question.

The lack of unity in the fragments and in each state doesn't help either. It needs a governing body and some unification across the board.  And airtime, TVG isn't going to cut it here for the mainstream, it needs NBC to cover more than the TC races, why not cover all the Derby preps too all the way to the BCC so the "mainstream" folks have a concept of what it all is and what it takes to get there.

There is an additional fan base out there other than us the core base, it just remains the challenge of how to reel them into the sport.  Now, Steve hosting some of this proposed NBC stuff would be excellent!

Maybe it would take more mainstream visibility of a Baffert, Pletcher, Assmussen, Jones, Mott, etc.  Maybe the states should all have some local racing channel on their sports lineups, like NYRA had.  Or HRTV goes national, I don't even have that as a choice on my cable lineup.  It will all need a Don Draper type marketing wizard, combined with trainer exposure nationally, the star equines themselves, and joining the fan closer to them.  Good luck with all that!

23 Jul 2014 2:37 AM
Belmontlover

Steve, once again, you hit it dead on. The state of racing is indeed close to being buried completely. There are so many factors which lead to it, that this comment thread could set a world record.

As for the newspaper industry its on borrowed time. Part of the problem regarding racing in the news is that today's editors don't identify with what goes on at the track. Simply put they are not racing people, and don't care.

I was one of the Post guys laid off last year...not Ed, and not John so that leaves the "other guy"

After seven years under Greg Gallo as our editor we were "safe" and led the way because he was a horse guy. He loved and understood the game, and knew how much weight the paper carried within the sport. After his retirement his replacement knew little to nothing about racing. It was the sport which took too much room every day, and interfered with the other sports, and who tweeted what.

Concerns by me and my fellow racing guys to build the internet, and turn to social media were unheard on an almost monthly basis. When we were reluctantly given space on the web it was buried deep and hard to find unless you knew to search for it.

Only Saratoga was given adequate coverage because the powers that were wanted it that way. Once the meet was over, racing too was done for the year.

Its unfortunate, but in the days ahead the other sports will feel the crunch too. Athletes are able to tweet and within seconds its public knowledge. Newspapers are 24 hour late, and even their websites are lax in the time sensitive world. Its a shame, but these are the times.

As for the New York scene, its in dire straits. I've been told personally by a top NYRA guy that he doesn't care if anybody ever comes to the track again. Its all about the internet as long as they bet. This is the thinking that not only rains, but pours at NYRA. Its no surprise when customers and employees are treated as they are at all three tracks.

One State appointed fat cat no longer at NYRA set out to eliminate the coverage by cutting the money for the ads that appeared in the paper. That was the beginning of the end. His reasoning was that negative NYRA editorials appeared in the past. He disregarded the daily coverage that appeared six days a week, and promoted his venue to thousands and many more on the web ( if they could find it.)

That was a final nail in the coffin for the Post, but that is just one outlet. It was feared that the Daily News would follow suit, and it took over a year to do it.

Jerry Bossert is a good friend and worked extremely hard at his job. He now like we had been a year ago has plenty of new time on his hands. No more daily deadlines, hundreds of horses to examine in past performances, phone calls, etc. Now its a life of anonymity. Like him or not, he was identifiable on a daily basis. A sounding board for your own opinions and selections. Writers and handicappers are. I got started following the sport as a kid by following Newsday. Read Paul Moran's column and picked horses in the paper by following Pricci and Sisti. The next day I would see how many I got right and then pick more. Then it was the Post too. Got a hot walking job in high school, and followed Rick Lang. It got to the point I was taking bets from friends, janitors and teachers and running with a friend to the local OTB during lunch.  I was hooked. A fan for life at 50 cents a day. Now becoming an extinct possibility. This is one of the hundreds of problems that alienates the sport today, and its a shame.

23 Jul 2014 1:35 PM
sara futh

As always, you said it all, but coming late to the table, had to put in two cents. As a former stringer for the Times, sitting ringside at the press table in MSG for the Westminster dog show didn't hold a candle to climbing the stairs to the Saratoga press box and be in the presence of those great writers. filing a color piece and the excitement of seeing it in print.

Today when the Times has anything about racing it is usually negative; do they think that is what people want to read? Thank goodness for the internet where we can at least get entries and results and some really great reading like yours.

23 Jul 2014 1:59 PM
Windolin

Steve,

Way back when I was a horse crazy little girl (more years ago than I care to admit), I fell in love with Thoroughbred horse racing on Sunday afternoons, sitting on the floor at my father’s feet as he stretched out in his recliner and read “the paper”.

My father took newspaper delivery seven days a week. He got up every morning at 5:00A or so and walked down our long driveway to pick up his paper. He would roll  the paper, slip it under his arm and walk back up to the house and sit down at the kitchen table and read as much of the paper as he could before he had to go the barn and milk the Guernsey milk cows and then leave for work in town. His newspaper was sacred and both my mother and I knew to not touch his paper until he had finished reading it front to back.

On Sundays he always gave me the three sections that I loved reading; the funny papers (comics), the Parade Magazine and the Sports Section. In those days, the Sports Section listed the weekly results from tracks all around the country and there was always an article or two on the top races or the horses and jockeys. Often a black and white picture of a horse with a garland of flowers, a smiling jockey and happy owner or trainer accompanied the article.

Jockeys like Willie Shoemaker, Bill Hartack, and Eddie Arcaro came alive for me and on more than one Sunday afternoon I daydreamed of becoming the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. I could shut my eyes and envision that it was me sitting on the back of Carry Back, Kauai King or Chateaugay.

The words leaped off the pages of the newsprint and into the mind of a very imaginative little girl who was an only child and one that lived and breathed horses, especially her pony and later, her first horse. I could hear the thundering hoof beats as the horses headed for the finish line, the roar of the crowd and the announcer calling the race. I could smell the sweat of the horses, the hay, sawdust and hot dogs. I could feel the excitement of the favorite winning and the sadness when the favorite lost. I could see the racing horses with nostrils flaring, snorting with each breath and stretching out to reach the finish line with each stride.

The sports writers whisked me away from my bucolic country life in a state where there were no racetracks to the state of Kentucky and Churchill Downs and to Maryland and the Preakness and to New York for the Belmont.

Like Velvet Brown, I had a safe place to keep my newspaper clippings on the horses and the races. I could go back anytime I wanted and reread the stories and look at the photographs or read the results of the races.

On Saturdays, a group of neighborhood kids that had horses and ponies, including myself, all got together and spent the day riding the mountain paths, jumping creeks and riding on the dirt country roads. Almost every Saturday, we would be riding on a long straight stretch when someone would yell “Race” and we would all take off at a dead run as fast as our horses could go.  We each wanted to be the first one to go flying by the oak or pine tree in the distance that was the designated finish line.

My pony of course could not keep up with the horses of course, but he ran fast enough for me to know that I loved the sensation of speed I got riding on his back. Later when I got my first horse, I could keep up and often outran the other kids on their quarter horses.

She was a Saddlebred mare, but she had long legs and a tremendous back end and was a beautiful bay with socks and a star. She loved to run and she would stretch out those legs and eat the ground with her strides. As she neared the finish line, she would stretch out her neck and fight for the win. I loved it. That kick when she surged off her back end sometimes almost unseated me, The wind hitting me in the face so hard that I would have tears in my eyes and holding to her mane for dear life so she could have her head,; I think about it now and it scares me to death; riding with no helmet, often bareback and in tennis shoes, what was I thinking?

The years went by and the scrapbook of newspaper clipping were tossed out. The pony named Champ and the mare, Lady Star crossed over the Rainbow Bridge and then close to 25 years ago, my father died suddenly the day before Thanksgiving.

They are all memories now, carefully tucked away and easily remembered as if it all happened yesterday.

Since the advent of the Internet, cable TV, Kindles and Nooks and the social media, texting, Twitter and Facebook,…all digital and electronic and available with the a keystroke or a the touch of a finger on the screen, the print media is slowly dying and will eventually only be found in a museum somewhere.

The writers and reporters who wove the words together  with such passion that leaped off the newsprint into our hearts and minds that lead us to dream and imagine are also slowly disappearing.

No longer do we teach our children grammar and  to learn a new list of spelling words. No longer are children required to write themes like the little kid in the Christmas Story who daydreamed that he would get an A+++++to the 30th power writing about his Red Ryder double action BB gun with a scope. No longer do we teach Creative Writing or prose. Letter writing has even become a lost art and fewer and fewer schools are teaching cursive writing. Computers correct our spelling and our grammar and sentence structure for us, we do not even have to think about it. We no longer seem to be able to find words to describe emotions and feelings and have become dependent on emoticons to do it for us.

We live in a visual world now, lusting after instant gratification. There is no time to read the story behind the headline, only the headline itself.

We have lost the newspapers, the writers and sadly, I think we will eventually lose the imagination and dreams that we were able to conjure up like I did, sitting at my father’s feet, of becoming a female jockey who won the Kentucky Derby.

23 Jul 2014 8:26 PM
Uncle Smiley

Yes, Mr. H, Let us bring back the families with children in tow, to picknick near the Padock, and watch the riders and mounts parade to the track under the Call to The Post.

The Delaware Handicap this year was just that.  We even had a youngster that day who greeted every horse leaving the padock by calling hello to the number on her saddle cloth.  The crowd delighted in the salutes returned by the jockeys, as they rode to the track. And those salutes were heart felt.  That made the spectators feel they were in the right place, like good street theater.

Delaware Park is an old school racing venue. The Philadelphia Inquirer long ago stopped covering its daily card, and we lost the wise prognostications of Craig Donnely, who was the Inky's racing correspondent.  So yes, press coverage of racing is gone.

Just need to figure out how to keep racing Relevant to a young and digitally connected crowd.

They like the real experience of being there, the follow up on the web will replace where ink and paper expired.

US

23 Jul 2014 9:15 PM
Dark Horse

Right theme, wrong tune, Steve. If only because newspapers themselves are next. I bet you that horse racing will be around long after that cheap printed paper went extinct. The increase in new tv sports channels, after the monotonuos ESPN-ification of the US into a football/basketball/baseball republic, is where it's at today. No surprise that both NBCSports and FOXSports are actively broadcasting horse racing. They will continue to do so as long as the sponsors (commercials) are on board. The downer, for romantics like us, is that the US is now a corporate fascist state. But that's another story (and a good reason to escape into the exquisite microcosm of horse racing). Bottomline. As long as those tv channels continue the new trend horse racing may already have hit rock bottom, and may be back on the rise. Just don't expect to read about this inspiring come-from-behind win in dinosaur newspapers.  

24 Jul 2014 1:46 AM
Todd Fuqua

I love love love LOVE this column. Your first five paragraphs perfectly illustrate the atmosphere that made me want to get into sports reporting in the first place. As the editor of a racing magazine, I have seen first-hand the decline of writing at all tracks, not just the major ones like Saratoga, Belmont and Churchill Downs. It would be wonderful to see that rich culture come back with the sport.

24 Jul 2014 4:06 PM
Elisabeth

All sadly true. I have loved horses all my life and been a fan of racing and a worshiper at the altar of the Thoroughbred since I fell in love with Native Diver at age 11.

For the many (and more) reasons named below I have largely given up on US racing. But I have NOT given up on racing. I am a big fan of English, Irish, Australian, and Hong Kong racing. Through the Internet and some TV coverage this has been made possible.

Tired of wondering if horses are running sore, running medicated, bored to death of running at all?

You might want to look into Hong Kong racing. The amount of information available to the avid handicapper and casual fan alike is astonishing. First of all, they cannot legally run on all the drugs used by US trainers and drug testing and punishment is severe, all equipment change info (including bits!) is available online. There are NO claiming races. Horses race in Classes (it's easy to find out what these are and the class of horses online). There are too many positives to Hong Kong racing to go into here. Check out the Hong Kong jockey club Web site for details. And I do mean details!

the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia are race-loving (and horse loving!) nations. Want to feel part of something exciting in racing again? Watch anything from the major races at the big tracks like Ascot, the Curragh, Flemington, etc. on down to the little country tracks in the UK, Ireland, and Australia. And check out their Web sites. (I recommend, not very hopefully, this to operators of US tracks, too). Just look at all the events they have to bring people to the track. And I don't mean a baseball cap or T-shirt giveaway. How about turf course divot tamping for Club members. I'll bet some real race lovers would get a kick out of tamping down the divots turned up by horses' hooves on Del Mar's or Saratoga's turf course. Well, I know I would! And every track is different. Great tests of handicapping skills as well as sheer visual interest for the casual fan.

So if North American racing is getting you down, investigate racing abroad.

25 Jul 2014 12:18 AM
superdog

As usual, Mr.Haskins on the money.  As a former owner and fan, I have seen the exact same results. It has always been a mystery to me, why there is so little coverage of this great sport by the media. They will highlight a negative story, and bury a deserving one. Owners and trainers, and the entire racing world, need to have a joint effort in producing a solid and sound marketing strategy, that will appeal to all sports fans.Start with the Kentucky Derby, and it's history, and highlight some of the great thoroughbred's that accomplished the near impossible task of winning the 'TRIPLE CROWN. I can be done with the right team of advertising professionals.

30 Jul 2014 7:26 PM

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