Handicapper John Pricci has noticed an inescapable difference in the Saratoga Race Course press box between when he first arrived in 1978 and today, and it has nothing to do with the evolution of technology.
“It was a lot more crowded back then,” he said Friday, the first day of the track’s 146th annual meet.
One of the empty seats Friday belonged to Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News, which parted ways Thursday with the longtime writer and handicapper. The Daily Racing Form said Bossert was “laid off.”
The timing, on the eve of one of the premiere horse racing meets in the country, mirrors a move last June by the New York Post, which axed its horse racing writers and handicapper just before The Belmont, a Triple Crown race.
For extra irony, one of the favorites Friday in the Saratoga meet’s first race was Goodnewsisnonews. He lost by a nose.
There are now no New York City turf writers covering Saratoga full-time, a blow to a sport starved for attention and an indicator of the travails facing scaled-back newspapers and mainstream media in general. Ed McNamara of Long Island’s Newsday is a last man standing of sorts, covering the meet on a part-time basis.
According to the Daily Racing Form, The New York Times has not covered horse racing on a daily basis for a decade, although it does have a reporter who writes about the sport.
The Capital Region media, including The Daily Gazette, provide wall-to-wall coverage, reporting on the 40-day meet as both a sport and an event. Various local print, broadcast and cable outlets also periodically cover the sport outside the region.
Overall, the New York Racing Association has issued 60 media credentials to photographers, 82 to radio personnel, 138 to various TV journalists and technicians and 102 to writers. Many do daily features on the track, but not necessarily on the racing.
But the gap of coverage in the home city of NYRA’s other tracks (Belmont and Aqueduct) and the absence of New York City media who once filled empty press box seats here is unsettling to some.
“The meet is not starting well for that vanishing breed known as The Working Press,” Steven Crist wrote on his Daily Racing Form blog. “Yesterday, the New York Daily News ceased daily racing coverage and laid off its hard-working racing writer, Jerry Bossert, leaving the Greatest City in the World without a general interest newspaper reporting on racing on a daily basis.”
Bossert, who according to the Daily Racing Form has covered horse racing for the Daily News since 1994, could not be reached for comment. His Twitter page @JBossertNYDN has been deactivated.
NYRA spokesman John Durso Jr. said while there are fewer horse racing writers from newspapers, there is a growing number of “industry-specific” writers for publications and websites. And like other entities in a variety of pursuits, NYRA takes it upon itself to report news.
“We have social media. We have NYRA.com,” he said. “We are speaking directly to the people.”
McNamara remembers when writers from newspapers as far away as Kentucky and New Orleans would come to Saratoga to cover at least a portion of the meet.
He said while thoroughbred-specific websites can serve those enamored of the sport, they can’t help introduce racing to the casual sports fan the way mainstream media can.
“If it’s not visible,” he said, “you are not going to see it.”
Pricci took a buyout from Newsday in 1995 and now lives in Saratoga Springs. He runs the website HorseRaceInsider.com. He thinks the growing number of empty chairs around him in the press box bodes poorly for the sport — and doesn’t look good for his former industry.
“It can’t possibly be good,” he said. “I won’t call it a death knell, but it’s as close as it gets.”