#FanFriday: Get to Know Joe Clancy

The Life
Eclipse Award winner Joe Clancy with 2014 Arlington Million winner Hardest Core. (Courtesy of Anne Litz)

Joe Clancy is the editor, publisher and owner with his brother Sean of ST Publishing, parent company of The Saratoga Special newspaper, thisishorseracing.com and other editorial projects within Thoroughbred racing.

The University of Delaware graduate is a husband to Sam, father of three boys (Ryan, Jack and Nolan) and loyal servant to Katie the Labrador Retriever. Joe, 52, lives in Fair Hill, Md., when he’s not neck deep in an all-consuming newspaper project in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He received an Eclipse Award for his coverage of the 2014 Preakness in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

Joe Clancy (Courtesy of Tod Marks)

My introduction to horse racing occurred when …: I was born. My father was a trainer of flat and steeplechase horses in the Mid-Atlantic. I grew up on a farm in Delaware, then moved to a farm within the grounds of Delaware Park and went to the races every day in the summer. I was a hotwalker, groom, exercise rider and assistant for my dad from about fourth grade through college. I loved working the barn and we joke around The Saratoga Special office that if it all goes south I’m going back to that.

What I do for a living: I write about racing in a variety of roles. My brother Sean and I own ST Publishing, which publishes The Saratoga Special newspaper and the thisishorseracing.com website. In addition, I’m the editor of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred monthly magazine published by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. In Saratoga, I write, edit and do layout (a lot of layout) for our four-day-a-week newspaper.

What I like about Thoroughbred racing: The horses. They’re such athletes and I’ll never get over what they’re able to do. They’re so big, but so agile. They’re fast and powerful, yet they scare easily and sometimes need to think things through. And no matter how long you work in the game, you’ll never truly have the horses figured out. There’s a mystery to it and there always will be.

How/when was The Saratoga Special started? The first year was 2001, when we did six days a week, tried to sell copies for $1 each and nearly went broke. My youngest son, Nolan, was born that year, and now he’s driving. That really marks time. It was started on a whim, or out of a “why not?” discussion between myself and Sean. We started Steeplechase Times, a newspaper about steeplechasing, in 1994 and it had reached a stage where it wasn’t going to get much bigger and we needed something new. I remember reading The Saratogian’s Pink Sheet when I was a kid and we’d come up here to run some horses. That stayed with me when we mapped out – or tried to map out – The Special.

Do you have a favorite Saratoga memory? Way back, it’s watching Secretariat run, and lose to Onion, in the [1973] Whitney [Handicap]. My family and I stood on the rail along the far turn because the track was so crowded. It feels like we just pulled over on Union Avenue and walked in, but that seems crazy. I also remember watching Forego run – he lost, too. My dad won a hurdle race with a horse named Hawaiki in 1983, and I remember walking up the stretch so proud that we’d won a race at Saratoga. It felt like a really big deal, and it was. More recently, it’s seeing horses like Point Given, Wise Dan, Rachel Alexandra, Songbird, and all the rest. The quality and depth of the racing over six weeks is still pretty cool, even if it’s more stretched out than it used to be. The history here will never go away.

How has The Saratoga Special evolved over the years? We used to wonder whether we’d make it to the end of the meet. Now, we’re pretty sure. It’s still got a college newspaper feel, where everybody does whatever they can to get it done. Technology has made it easier, though we try to do more with the technology. We transmit pages over the internet rather than by someone picking up a disc and driving it to the printer, then sleeping in the car while the paper printed. We’ve got more help than we used to have. The paper has become something of a launching pad for young people getting started in racing – our graduates include Jim Mulvihill, Travis Stone, Gabby Gaudet, John Panagot, and a bunch of others. We hired Tom Law a few years ago and that’s made a huge difference. He helps hold it all together. It’s a great team effort – Sean, Tom, myself, photographers Tod Marks and Dave Harmon have been there since the start, and “the kids” as we like to call the writers we hire for the summer. It never gets old being part of a group of people who care about something. The paper is full color now, too, thanks to the Albany Times-Union’s state-of-the-art printing division. It’s a massive step forward for newspapers. Readership has changed. People actually find us, year after year. At the beginning, we had to explain what the paper was before we could convince them to read it.

Who is your pick to win the 2017 Travers? Tapwrit

Have you ever been to Del Mar Thoroughbred Club? No. Someday.

Clancy with Grade 1 winner Ring Weekend. (Courtesy of Joe Clancy)

Best advice to someone considering ownership: Don’t get ahead of yourself, find a trainer you mesh with, and enjoy it for the horses. Remember the grooms and how hard everyone works in the barn.

Favorite place at the racetrack in which to watch a race: If I’m covering it, next to the winning trainer or owner or groom. I’ll be the one taking notes. If I’m just watching, somewhere up the stretch a bit maybe near the eighth pole. The race is still in doubt there. I’d rather be among the crowd than on the roof or in the press box.

Should the Breeders’ Cup rotate from coast-to-coast or have a permanent home: Rotate, though I get the idea of a few main hosts – like Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. Put it at an out-of-the-box track every three years or so. Keeneland, Monmouth Park, Lone Star Park, Woodbine … people remember those Breeders’ Cups. New York deserves to host it again.

My top 3 favorite racetracks in order: Saratoga, Keeneland, Timonium

Most influential person in my career: First, my father. He taught me how to work hard and how to care about doing a good job. Back then, it was horses. Now, it’s a newspaper. Second, and more toward what I do now, Chuck Stone. He was a journalism professor at the University of Delaware and made me think I could actually write.

My out-of-the-box idea for Thoroughbred Racing: No more claiming races.

Other sports/teams I follow: Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers. Just wait until we get LeBron James next year.

My favorite athletes of all-time: Bernie Parent, Julius Erving, Steve Carlton, Chase Utley.

What book(s) I am reading or have recently read: “This Old Man: All in Pieces,” by Roger Angell, “The Outermost House,” by Henry Beston, “The Boys in the Bunkhouse,” by Dan Barry, “Bottom of the 33rd,” by Dan Barry.

Favorite Magazines: Sports Illustrated, Outside, old copies of The Blood-Horse from way back when.

Hobbies away from Thoroughbred Racing: Running (slowly), hiking (infrequently), whatever my Labrador Retriever Katie wants to do, keeping up with my sons, Ryan, Jack, and Nolan.

Favorite movies: In no apparent order, “Shawshank Redemption,” “The Green Mile,” “Field of Dreams,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “The Sting,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Gran Torino,” “Fargo,” “Chicken Run.”

Favorite TV shows I watch or used to watch: “Seinfeld,” “M*A*S*H,” “The West Wing,” “NYPD Blue.” I’m apparently not watching much current television and watch pretty much zero television other than racing in Saratoga.

Favorite foods: Chicken Marsala made by my wife, Sam, Barry’s tea, oatmeal raisin scones from The Bread Basket.

Favorite vacation spot: Block Island in Rhode Island. Someday, my wife, Sam, and I are taking a one-way ferry.

Favorite Musician/Band: The Head and The Heart.

Top 10 websites I visit daily: I’m not sure I visit 10 a day. For work: thisishorseracing.com, equibase.com, nyra.com, the admin side of thisishorseracing.com, photographer Tod Marks’ website. For everything else: philly.com, nytimes.com.

Best racetrack food can be found at: The burgoo at Churchill Downs at the 1988 Breeders’ Cup basically saved my life.

Accomplishment I am most proud of: My family. Sam, Ryan, Jack, and Nolan are the best things that ever happened to me.

My philosophy on life: Do the best you can.

Favorite animal other than a horse: Polar bear

What apps are on your phone: Twitter, Words With Friends, WXPN (the best public radio station in the country), Horses Races Now, NYRA, FitBark (like FitBit for dogs), Capriotti’s (it’s a sandwich shop in Newark, Del.), NBC Sports.

My biggest gambling score ever at the racetrack was: When No Deadline won the last on closing day at Saratoga in 2001, the first year of the paper. We didn’t win all that much money, but it was amazing. My biggest non-gambling score at a racetrack was meeting my wife, Sam, at Fair Hill Training Center.

What is your go-to or signature bet to make at the racetrack: $2 exacta box with three horses, including a longshot I like. I’m a pretty small-time gambler.

Clancy with Ben's Cat (Courtesy of Maggie Kimmitt)

Favorite fall holiday cocktail: Guinness

Favorite summertime cocktail: An obscure, local-to-wherever-I-am IPA with a mysterious name. Brewed by Mispillion River in Delaware, Union Craft Brewing in Maryland, West Sixth in Kentucky or any number of upstate New York/Vermont places.

Favorite all-time racehorse: Secretariat

Favorite all-time racehorse I worked with: Odd Man. He was cool, bay, aptly named and he could run a little bit, too. Scared the life out of me a few times.

Favorite racehorse currently competing: It was Ben’s Cat until two months ago. Mr. Hot Stuff. He’s all class.

Favorite international racing event: Ireland’s Punchestown Festival.

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