Knowledge And Passion Have Been A Winning Combination For Haskin

by | 06.15.2015 | 5:30pm
Steve Haskin, on the beat in 2014, talking with California Chrome's exercise rider William Delgado

Steve Haskin resigned from his position as senior correspondent at Blood-Horse on Monday, ending a popular and productive 17-year run as the magazine and website's lead writer on Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup Classic. The resignation was effective immediately.

Bloodhorse.com reported Haskin was leaving to “pursue select freelance opportunities, public relations work, and consulting.”

Haskin in an exchange with commenters below that story, said the departure was “100 percent my decision. It was just time for me to leave.”

In a Facebook post, Haskin said: “I hope to remain active on a freelance and selective basis and continue to utilize my 46 years of experience in the Thoroughbred industry. For those who have followed my Derby Dozen and Hangin With Haskin blog, I also hope to continue these either on another reputable website or more likely on my own blog/website, which I plan to set up, hopefully funded by sponsorship and/or advertising. Details obviously are very sketchy right now, but I just want to thank everyone for all their support and kind words over the years. They have been greatly appreciated and often humbling. It will take a while for the dust to settle. I have been employed by only two companies in the last 46 years, so this is an unchartered path I am forging.”

That's the news part of this story. The rest of it is personal.

Steve came to Blood-Horse in 1998 from Daily Racing Form, where he'd spend nearly 30 years. As I recall, he started as a “copy boy” at the Morning Telegraph in New York in the late 1960s and then wound up as the librarian at what became the Daily Racing Form's headquarters in Hightstown, N.J., when it was under the ownership of Walter Annenberg.

He wrote free-lance articles for a number of racing publications in the 1970s and 1980s, but not for his full-time employer. Years later someone said to me: “Who knew that Daily Racing Form's editors kept one of their best writers under lock and key in the library all those years?”

The library, however, allowed him to absorb so much racing history – all of which he seemed to retain like a human computer chip. His recall of races and events he'd attended was virtually photographic. He could quote Charles Hatton and Joe Hirsch – men who wrote volumes in Daily Racing Form over the years – at the blink of an eye. That knowledge, combined with a great passion for the horses and the sport, helped propel Steve's growing contributions as a free-lance writer to the point that a new team of editors at the Form promoted him to national correspondent in 1991. Seven years later, while I was editor of Blood-Horse and after there were more ownership and management changes at Daily Racing Form, I talked him into coming to work for a weekly magazine full-time as its senior correspondent.

It was probably one of the best things I did in my 15 years there.

Though I was working for Daily Racing Form throughout most of the 1980s in Los Angeles, I'd never met or talked to Steve. Our first conversation came in 1988, shortly after I'd been hired to be managing editor of Thoroughbred Times. He immediately ingratiated himself to me by saying, “Congratulations. That's the job Mark (Simon, the editor) really wanted me to take.”

Steve was the New Jersey correspondent and a features writer for the now-defunct weekly, and his race reports – then as now – were filled with details from the stable area and breeding farms that other writers who spent most of their time in the press box never got.

Steve would go to ridiculous lengths for his small free-lance payments, whether it was cooling out with a horse past midnight after a late-night stakes at Meadowlands or driving to Monmouth Park at 5 a.m. to see a trainer (because he had to be at his Daily Racing Form job by 8 a.m.).

His approach to writing reminded me of the motto often associated with the U.S. Postal Service: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

One of his herculean efforts in getting the story was almost comical.

The 1988 Molly Pitcher Handicap at Monmouth Park, featuring the unbeaten Personal Ensign, was held on July 4. That was a Monday, the day we had to have all of that week's Thoroughbred Times camera-ready copy delivered to the printer in late afternoon. Things were a lot tougher then. Copy was usually delivered by fax, then keyed into a word processor, proofed, type-set, laid out on pages, proofed again, etc. With a late afternoon post time, there was no way we could include Personal Ensign's Molly Pitcher in that week's magazine.

Steve offered a solution.

There were only four opponents for Personal Ensign, so, he said, “I'll write five different stories (approximately 1,000 words each) and send them in several days before the race.” Steve said he would then call from the Monmouth press box, as soon as the Molly Pitcher was run, with an opening paragraph of race details that could be paired with his lengthy background feature on the winning horse.

I thought he was crazy, but went ahead with the suggestion, and after Personal Ensign won the Molly Pitcher we had coverage in that week's magazine that our competition (Blood-Horse) did not have.

Steve Haskin at Santa Anita Park for the Breeders' Cup

Steve Haskin at Santa Anita Park for the Breeders' Cup

No detail was too small for Steve to discover and try to fit into his stakes recaps. He relishes the background stories of the people connected to the horses he writes about with such passion.

But times have changed, and lengthy magazine stories on races that most readers have watched on television or online and read about on various websites don't carry the impact they once did. Multiple web updates, Tweets and videos now take up the time that reporters like Steve used to spend researching a story.

Steve isn't saying why he left, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't have something to do with how Bloodhorse is altering what it does to stay relevant as the demands of its readers change.

This much I do know. Very few people covering horse racing over the last several decades possess that combination of knowledge and passion that Steve puts into every story he writes. Blood-Horse won't be the same without him.

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