Giving Thanks: Thoroughbred Times Days

It was the winter of 1986, and I was in a major lull in my potential writing career. Still toiling aimlessly in the library of the Daily Racing Form after 18 years, I had stopped writing freelance features for the Thoroughbred Record. In addition, Stud & Stable, England’s version of the Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Record where I had been American correspondent, had closed down, and my column for England’s Sporting Chronicle, in which I wrote about the exploits of European horses that had been sent to the U.S. and which I wrote for free, was discontinued in the late 70s. Shortly after, the Sporting Chronicle, which competed with the Sporting Life, also went out of business.

I was actually just becoming enthusiastic about racing again after a brief hiatus in 1982, ’83 and ’84, during which my wife Joan and I had moved to New Jersey and become fanatic birdwatchers, especially me, and racing took a back seat to this new passion.

One afternoon, I was in the advertising department at DRF when I noticed a newspaper sitting on top of a pile of other papers. It was a tabloid style newspaper called the Thoroughbred Times. I had never heard of it, so I checked the mast head and saw that the editor was Mark Simon, with whom I had worked at the Thoroughbred Record, and the magazine was only a couple of months old. Mark had obviously moved on to higher things and I knew from my experiences with him at the Record that this would be a first-class publication.

The Thoroughbred Record eventually became a quarterly and then shut down, leaving only the Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times as racing's two weekly publications.

I called Mark and asked him if he would be interested in having me write for the Times, mainly features, many of them focusing on New Jersey racing and breeding. He agreed and I immediately began to pound out features again. Between the birth of my daughter Mandy in 1984, which stifled my bird watching career, and this new exciting publication, my passion for racing was rejuvenated.

When Monmouth Park opened for the 1986 season, Mark asked me if I would like to cover the stakes there, as well as at the Meadowlands and the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City. There were no computers back then, and I would type my race story, then drive almost an hour to Monmouth Park on Monday morning and have someone in the communications department fax my story to Ron Mitchell at the Times.

In 1987 I attended the Preakness and Belmont Stakes for the Thoroughbred Times, writing a full-length feature on Alysheba’s trainer Jack Van Berg as well as sidebar features. I had the privilege of covering the biggest race of the summer that year, the Haskell Invitational, which featured a showdown between Alysheba, Bet Twice, and Lost Code in the race that put Monmouth and the Haskell on the map on a national scale. Later that year, Mark asked me if I was willing to move to Lexington to become the managing editor.

With my daughter only 3 years old and my in-laws having just moved to New Jersey to be close to their granddaughter, I couldn't just pack up and move. Plus, I loved living in New Jersey and had no desire to live in Lexington. A short while later, Mark informed me he had hired one of the editors from the DRF’s Los Angeles office named Ray Paulick. I continued to cover New Jersey racing, write national features, and help in the coverage of the Triple Crown races and Breeders' Cup. I met Ray for the first time at the 1988 Preakness. The three of us hit it off really well and they became more like friends than business associates. I had never enjoyed writing so much.

Between Mark, Ray, and myself, we helped build the Thoroughbred Times into an entertaining and informative publication that soon began to rival the Blood-Horse. At least I hoped I was a major part of it. It was the editorial talents of Mark and Ray that saw the publication expand and improve. As I began writing more and more, my fear was that the DRF editor. Fred Grossman, who refused to let me write for the Form, would balk at me writing for another publication on a regular basis. I was all prepared to use the pseudonym Ard Patrick (the winner of the 1902 Epsom Derby), but surprisingly Grossman had no objections. But he remained steadfast about keeping me in the library and not allowing me to write for the Form.

I wrote for the Thoroughbred Times for five wonderful and fun years, and then came the birth of the Racing Times, a new daily to dare challenge the mighty DRF. Others had tried before and failed to topple racing's powerhouse monopoly. This new publication brought with it many changes in the structure of the racing media, while adding new innovations to its past performances.

Ray left the Thoroughbred Times to become the Midwest editor of the Racing Times. And with DRF needing all the ammunition they could muster to combat this new threat and its team of all-star writers, handicappers, and editors, our managing editor Joe Rosen pulled a one-man coup and convinced our publisher Bill Williams to overrule Grossman and let me write for the Form. Williams’ response was, “I’ve always wondered why Steve is writing for these other publications and isn't writing for us.” And so it was I finally was released from the library and forced to end my stint with Thoroughbred Times. While I'm giving thanks, I will forever be grateful to Joe for also altering the course of my career and allowing me to take another huge step forward.

After the Racing Times closed down after only one year, Ray was named Editor-in-Chief of the Blood-Horse in 1992, and he and Mark were now competitors. The more the Thoroughbred Times grew, the fiercer the rivalry grew. Ray, like Mark, was a natural in understanding the corporate world of racing and tackled all issues. While both were experts in every aspect of the sport and adept at looking toward the future, Mark was more laid back and remained behind the scenes compared to Ray’s more aggressive approach, making himself more visible.

To make a long story very short, I rose to the position of national correspondent for DRF, providing lead coverage of the Triple Crown, replacing the great Joe Hirsch, as well as Breeders' Cup coverage and the founding of Countdown to the Cup, while continuing to write features as well as opinion pieces. During this time. the Thoroughbred Times continued to grow under Mark's supervision, turning from a newspaper style publication to a magazine.

Then in 1998, the DRF was sold to a group headed by Steven Crist, who promptly brought in most of his crew from the now-defunct Racing Times. While my colleague Ed Fountaine and many others were let go, I was retained as the Bloodlines columnist, a position with which I was not exactly thrilled, being a major comedown from national correspondent and lead writer.

Then, while attending that year’s Saratoga Sales, Ray offered me a job as senior correspondent for the Blood-Horse, which I naturally jumped at. I went to Lexington and had dinner with Ray and publisher Stacy Bearse and was officially hired, starting in December of that year. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I, like Ray, found myself in competition with Mark and the publication that had rejuvenated my career. I was back covering all the major events and writing features, and founded the Derby Dozen, while writing six books for the Blood-Horse's Eclipse Press.

Ray eventually departed from the Blood-Horse and founded the Paulick Report, patterned after the Drudge Report and Huffington Post, and as to be expected, he has developed that into one of the most popular and poignant publications in racing.

To show what a strange complex journey this has been, in 2010 and 2011, my Blood-Horse blog, Hangin With Haskin, was voted Best Blog…by the readers of the Thoroughbred Times.

When the Thoroughbred Times closed down unexpectedly, Mark was named editorial director of the Daily Racing Form in 2013. This crazy circle was complete.

I resigned from the Blood-Horse in 2015, immediately following American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep, but continue to write for on a freelance basis, writing my Hangin With Haskin blog and continuing the Derby Dozen for both the website and magazine. Before I accepted the Blood-Horse's proposal, it was Ray who approached me first to write for the Paulick Report, and I was prepared to accept until the Blood-Horse made me the proverbial offer I couldn't refuse.

So, here the three of us are. Mark and Ray have left an indelible impression on the sport through their successes with the Thoroughbred Times, Blood-Horse, Daily Racing Form, and Paulick Report. To show how far the three of us have come from those early Thoroughbred Times days, we have all been the recipient of the Charles W. Engelhard Award from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association for outstanding coverage of the Thoroughbred industry.

While I don't see or talk to Ray as much as I would like to these days, Mark and his wife Mary, a brilliant writer and historian who has won three Eclipse Awards, have become dear friends since they moved to New York City for Mark's job at the DRF. Since joining the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society and becoming Revolutionary War buffs, we have visited just about every Revolutionary War site in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as seeing the musical Hamilton together. They are back in Kentucky now, but we try to see each other as much as possible. Joan and I truly miss them and our weekends together.

Mark and I have come a long way in the past 32 years since I called him about writing for his new publication. There are few people I have more respect for in this industry than Mark and Ray, two of the most exceptional editors and visionaries this sport has ever known.

But most important, everything I am today and everything I have attained in racing I owe to them, along, of course, with Joan for her constant inspiration. Every time my career seemed to veer off course or threatened to come to a screeching halt, it was Mark or Ray who were there to guide me back to my chosen path. In short, I wouldn't be where I am today without them, and I am long overdue in thanking them.

So, thanks, guys, and continued success in the industry you both have made so much better.

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