When the horses are running, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. is a newspaper town. As the fans roll into America’s most popular thoroughbred track, they run a gauntlet of vendors hawking competing broadsheets from Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga Springs, the New York City tabloids, tip sheets such as “Clocker Lawton” and “The Wizard” as well as Daily Racing Form and the track’s own Post Parade. But a standout in this crowded newspaper field is the upwards of 40-page Saratoga Special, a daily digest of the Saratoga thoroughbred season. Launched in 2001, The Special provides an insider’s view of the action and intrigue at the country’s most historic and significant racetrack, through the eyes of a pair of Irish American track rats who grew-up around the races, Joe and Sean Clancy.
“I’ve been to Ireland several times and met lots of cousins who are in Tullamore, Bellewstown, Dundalk and all over really. My grandfather Paddy Clancy was one of 13 children,” said Joe, the taller of the two. “The Clancys were from Tullamore in County Offaly, where there is a Joe Clancy Towing Company--that’s my father’s first cousin. My grandmother Nora, whose last name as Crinion, came from Bellewstown in County Meath, which is a tiny town that has a pub or two, naturally, a church, of course, and a race course--another certainty."
Their grandfather worked with horses on the Delaware horse farm of the Ross Family, who also owned Delaware Park racetrack and Brandywine Stable. Their father, Joe Clancy Sr., trained flat and steeplechase horses. A steeplechase, for the uninitiated, is a horse race run at long distances over a series of jumps and is the style of racing most fancied by the Irish--and the Clancys. Joe rode both flat racers and jumpers in their morning workouts, but quickly outgrew any dreams of becoming a jockey, saying, “being almost 6’ 2” will do that to you.” Sean was fool enough to race thoroughbreds over obstacles, becoming one of the top jockeys on the U.S steeplechase circuit, which is primarily contested in tony one-day rural meets, but does swing through Saratoga for a half dozen or so races each summer.
“Sean ends up out in the field more than I do mostly by necessity. I can do layout and design, though we have some people in the office who do a lot of it too, “Joe said, “I always leave Saratoga wishing I wrote more – that’s why we’re here, to tell great stories--but I get out and do my share. While Sean does more of the outside the office work and I coordinate the production – steer the ship with ads, layout, page counts, editing, headlines and all of that. The schedule makes it a necessity to dive in every day and do whatever it takes to finish the thing. It’s crazy for sure, and would make a great reality TV show, but I never tire of seeing the finished product in the morning. It works, somehow. We’ve never missed an issue—despite three blackouts!”
And it’s often black out when the Clancy brothers start their day, because the horses get up so darn early, well before dawn. It’s during those atmospheric early morning hours when so many of racing’s stories begin. Sean works Saratoga’s vast barn area by golf cart, the next best thing to be being on horseback, finding fodder for his popular “Cup of Coffee” columns and, as a fellow horseman, getting the kind of easy entrée with owners and trainers that most other journalists would die for. Sean is still at it late into the afternoon, when, snazzed-up in a sports coat and tie, he hustles over to the winner’s circle to get comments and insights from the jockey or trainer who just won the day’s feature race. Having won a total of 152 races and a national steeplechase jockey championship in 1998, Sean knows his way around a winner’s circle.
Among the dozen or so folks it takes to put out the paper are well-known writers and photographers, some promising rookies and Joe’s oldest sons, Ryan and Jack, who handle odd jobs and distribute the papers on track. You can get a look at the Saratoga Special without going to the track by going to http://www.st-publishing.com and filling out a quick, free registration form.
People always say there’s something special about Saratoga, that if you could only bottle it…which is something racing’s Clancy brothers are doing daily with the Saratoga Special.
MEDIA PINGS: Traditional media in general thrives at Saratoga Race Course, where I was on the payroll in a communications role for many years. A half dozen TV stations file daily reports from the races, the off track betting channel carries racing talk shows live from the backstretch every morning (you’ll probably see a Clancy there), and radio broadcasts emanate from the track daily. Sean Clancy also is competing in the New York Post's "Showdown at Saratoga," pitting his handicapping skills against the Post's resident racing experts. The 2010 racing season runs six days a week (dark Tuesdays) until Labor Day. For more info go to http://www.nyra.com/…Peter Quinn revives the detective Fintan Dunne from his earlier novel Hour of the Cat to “solve” the mystery of the disappearance of Judge Crater in The Man Who Never Returned which hits bookstores today, 80 years to the day from when Crater climbed into a New York taxi and vanished. For more info, go to Quinn’s website, http://www.newyorkpaddy.com/. The New York Times gave Quinn’s story a good push earlier this week at http://nyti.ms/b7V6qI…The two preeminent modern-day interpreters of the work of Eugene O’Neill – actors Brian Dennehy and Gabriel Byrne – will appear together on Oct. 18 in New York, when Dennehy accepts this year’s Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc. (IAW&A). For info, go to http://www.oneillaward.org/…Stanley Crouch rips Maureen Dowd and Bill Maher in a Daily News column this week entitled, “Obama is playing Palin's game: Dems and GOP both depend on irresponsible media,” writing, “maybe what the President really needs to do is consult editorial columnist Maureen Dowd on the hiring of black people for the White House staff. Maybe he should carry a gun in his waistband when meeting with corporate leaders or international heads of state, as Bill Maher recently advised he do in order to act like a "real" black President.” Read it all at http://bit.ly/caQvLq…a bewildering array of Irish media statistics is available at the NationMaster site at http://bit.ly/av0yY8, such as the fact that the Irish watch a lot of TV, an average of 23 hours per person per week.