Wednesday is Irish day at Saratoga Race track, the premier race meeting in the United States if not the world, but Tommy Mullan will not be there.
The 81-year-old died with his boots on attending his final opening day at the upstate racetrack on July 18 where he took sick there and then and later died.
His tipster's perch, where he sat every day for the meeting that now lasts 36 days, still continues along Frank Sullivan Way on the entrance to the clubhouse, but a vital voice has been stilled.
When his funeral was held the Saratoga Special, a newspaper concerned with racetrack matters, noted that the cortege passed his old tipster stand at the clubhouse entrance and stopped in fitting tribute.
He was always bedecked in green, his hat read “ Irish Tourist Board,” his tip sheet was called the Irish Horse and he had a second one called the Lady Outside.
Every year as you approached the track on your first day you listened for his voice because you heard him long before you saw him.
He was part and parcel of the Saratoga experience. The newsstand sellers disappeared with their regional editions and racing coverage as the internet exploded, but the racing tipster Tommy Mullan seemed set to last for all time.
If you needed a ticket for the hard to get grandstand or clubhouse seating he was your man for a quiet word. He loved knowing you were from Ireland, put on his best brogue as he bid you up for the ticket price.
Saratoga was started by Tipperary man John Morrissey 151 years ago because the blue bloods wanted to keep the former Irish prizefighter out of their exclusive game downstate.
But Morrissey beat them all over time and established Saratoga as the greatest race meeting in America perhaps the world. Diamond Jim Brady put it on the map as did Damon Runyon, whose famous portraits of raffish characters at the racetrack would surely have included Tommy Mullan if he had known him.
Around 1941 Tommy Mullan, son of an Irish immigrant father who tragically died young, arrived at the gates of Saratoga. He came to work at just eight years old shining shoes at the Spa, as the venerable old track is known. His most famous client was Art Rooney, founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a big racing fan and fellow Irishman..
From there he graduated to tip sheets and worked in the Post Office as well where he was remembered as a model employee. He found time to serve his country in Korea, raise four kids and be married for 62 years at the time of his death.
He told the Albany Times Union he knew little about racehorses and that someone else wrote the sheet, but he could sell 150 copies of it a day for $2 bucks each. Once, on Travers Day, the biggest day of the meet, he sold 400.
Tommy Mullan could sell anything, his friends agreed.
The Irish Horse tip sheet continues without him, along with the other tipsters like the Wizard and the Daily Edge who make Saratoga such a colorful throwback to a bygone age.
Mullan is probably up there somewhere selling Runyon his tip sheet or passing the very best clubhouse seats off to his new friend Morrissey.
Meanwhile, back in Saratoga Springs on Wednesday, Irish day, we will miss him.
May he rest in peace.
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