Simon: ‘Painful end of a terrific publication’

by | 09.17.2012 | 10:43pm

No one thought it would end like this, because no one wanted it to end, like this or any other way. But when Thoroughbred Times was closed on Friday, our owner filing Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, it marked a painful end (at least for now) of a terrific publication. I know this because I was the editor on Friday, as well as the founding editor in September of 1985.

From the beginning, when Dick Broadbent hired me to start the Thoroughbred Times, as a weekly newspaper, we sought to make it a leading publication through great, independent reporting, thorough, helpful and proprietary statistics, timely news, and industry insights to help our readers — fans and industry insiders alike — understand, appreciate, and enjoy their participation in this great sport.

I hope we accomplished that for the vast majority of our readers, and if we did it was because of the contributions of many, many talented and enthusiastic staff members and contributors who brought the game to our readers daily and weekly (and, of course, biweekly at the end), through our website, our daily e-newsletter Thoroughbred Times Today, and through the print edition of Thoroughbred Times.

I am extremely proud of the fact that the Thoroughbred Times has, over the decades, been a starting point for many top young writers and editors, as well as providing editorial space for some of the best established journalists in the business. To mention just a few of the talented members of our editorial staff, at one time or another: John Sparkman, Ray Paulick, Tom Law, Frank Angst, Matt Hegarty, Glenye Cain, Ed DeRosa, Amy Owens, Don Clippinger, David Heckerman, John Harrell, Ron Mitchell, Tom LaMarra, Bill Mooney, Jeff Lowe, Alicia Wincze, Mike Curry, Myra Lewyn, Marianna Haun, Michelle MacDonald, Patrick Reed, and Pete Denk. Heck, even Kent Hollingsworth and Ed Bowen pulled tours of duty on the Times'  staff. Most recently we had been blessed with a pair of rising stars in Joe Nevills and Nicole Russo.

And the most noteworthy of all (unless I plan to spend the next year on the couch), and there from the very beginning, is my wife, Mary, a stalwart and constant contributor, even though she was never officially on the staff. But she did as much as anyone, writing, editing, copy editing (particularly my stuff), proofreading, and even writing advertising copy at times. And in 2000, she won an Eclipse Award for feature writing for her 11-part series on racing that would later become the book Racing Through the Century.

Mary's was one of five Eclipse Awards earned by Thoroughbred Times in its 27 years, the others being Tony Leonard and Frank Anderson for photography, Billy Reed for a Guest Commentary, and current (at least as of last Friday) staffers Tom Law and Greg Charkoudian for multimedia.

Then there were those 16 American Horse Publications awards for General Excellence, along with dozens more earned for writing and design. And those random Red Smith, Bill Leggett, and Charles Engelhard awards. …  And not to forget that we inaugurated a biennial fiction contest, which included as its first winner an eventual O Henry Award winner as one of the best pieces of American short story writing of 1993. And we co-sponsored with Castleton-Lyons for more than half a decade the $10,000 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, in an effort to honor full-length literary works on horse racing. (Our winners included a National Book Award winner.)

As for non-staff, regular correspondents, the list of talent is both impressive and intimidating. While time and space are limited, special acknowledgement goes to Steve Haskin, Jay Privman, Bill Leggett, Steve Myrick, Bob Ehalt, Bill Heller, Neil Milbert, and Steve Schuelein. I consider them not only great writers but great friends whom I met because of Thoroughbred Times. And we had a number of regular, specialized contributors, on veterinary topics and farm management, and there are no better than Denise Steffanus, Brent Kelley, Cynthia McFarland, Ken Marcella, and Liane Crossley.

And, last, but not least, a name that will always be associated with Thoroughbred Times is Z, not as well known by her full name, Enzina Mastrippolito, who was our staff photographer and public face for decades. She was an invaluable contact with all our clients and always willing, cheerful, and game for any assignment or challenge.

You make a lot of friends in racing, and it's those bonds that make this game great. The horses may have brought us all together, but it's the people we meet, work with, and even compete against, that make this such a terrific pursuit. Racing, at its core, is a game of people, and I'm reasonably sure it's had more characters, protagonists, and antagonists per capita than any sport that ever existed, and that includes owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, track executives, etc.

Writers were mentioned first, because they are the most visible faces of the publication, but we also had terrific staff on the business, art, and advertising sides over the years, people like Publisher Joe Morris, Art Directors and staff Jeanette Vance, Gail Burge, and Betty Gee; gifted artists like Tami Zigo; advertising account executives John Hamilton, Kirk Nixon, Jim Cox, Scott Rion, Kari Simon, Dee Dee Douglas, and in the business office, Judy Faulconer. When our very first production manager, Susanna Thurston, passed away in her mid-40s, I was devastated. She was so special …  and had been the first person I hired for the Times. It makes you understand that the Times, like all businesses, is only as good as the staff.

It takes a village to put out a publication. And all those people and hundreds more over the past 27 years have made this a most enjoyable, dizzying, and wonderful experience.

I do not know what the future has in store, whether or not someone will step in, buy the Thoroughbred Times' assets, and resurrect all or parts of it. But I do know its loss does not bode well for the sport in general. If racing is to retain its centuries-old status as a major sporting entity, it will require a vibrant, competitive press — both hands-on and electronic. Local newspapers and national general-interest magazines simply won't cut it – they've largely lost interest in our sport, except for such special events as the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup.

The Sport of Kings deserves more than that … better than that. I'm convinced that good industry-based publications — those that report the news, tell the stories, investigate the problems, ask the tough questions, chronicle the history, and show the pictures of a complex sport of rare beauty and passion — are an absolute necessity for racing's long-term survival. But these days, they are fragile and endangered, and as of Friday, Sept. 14, such publications took one step closer to extinction.

I will always be proud of what we accomplished, but sorry it had to end this way.

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