Sep 3rd 2012 10:00 am |
In the relatively brief time that I have been making an annual pilgrimage to Saratoga Springs, New York there are two places where I happily part with my money. The obvious one — with handicapping skills equal to an 8-year-old — is the racetrack. The other is the Lyrical Ballad Bookstore. For a student of racing history, there is no better place to browse and ultimately spend more than intended.
This year’s catch at Lyrical Ballad included the Joe Palmer authored 1944 and 1950 editions of the American Race Horses series. With the exception of This Was Racing, Palmer’s work on American Race Horses from 1936 to 1951 is one of the few (relatively) accessible sources of his work. Needless to say, I am a great admirer of Joe Palmer. So you will understand my thrill when I read the foreward to the 1950 version of American Race Horses written by longtime New York race writer and editor James Roach.
Roach began his reporting career in the 1920s and had been on the racing beat since the 1930s. He likely would have been aware of Palmer’s work sometime after 1932 when Palmer began writing for the Bloodhorse. Roach’s opportunity to watch Palmer work on a regular basis would have started when Palmer became the regular race writer for the New York Herald Tribune in 1946.
Roach explained how he came to write the foreward, oddly enough, in the foreword for American Race Horses. The following would have likely transpired during the Hialeah winter meet in 1950:
Palmer wrote this book during December. He apparently forgot one thing. He forgot to get somebody to provide prose for this page. A telegraphic reminder from the publishers was delivered to Palmer’s hotel room in Miami on January 22. He knocked on the door of the room to the right, handed over the telegram and said, ‘Write me an introduction and have it ready before the third race this afternoon. You won’t have any trouble. Smith wrote one last year, and he didn’t have any trouble.’”
Occupying the “room to the right”, of course, was James Roach. The “Smith” referred to was the legendary Red Smith who authored the foreward for American Race Horses in 1949 where he used the space to praise its author. I think it is safe to speculate that such praise was to the chagrin of Joe Palmer. Even so, James Roach decided to do the same in his 1950 foreward. Smith wrote that “…nowhere at all is there anyone able to write a story better than Joe Hill Palmer” and Roach further elaborated by describing the mechanics of Mr Palmer’s work by describing a day in the life of the the race reporter. Roach demonstrated that not only was Joe Palmer a tremendously gifted writer but, just a few years away from his death in 1952, he was one of the hardest working writers in the business.
Here is how Roach described a day in the life of Joe Palmer:
Let me give you an idea of what its like to sit alongside (Joe) Palmer in the press boxes ten months a year.
Take Saturdays. Usually on a Saturday I get to the races shortly before noon. Palmer will have been at his typewriter for half an hour or so, and will have completed one of the pieces that he has to turn out each weekend. By noon he will have put the marks at the end of 1,500 words for The Bloodhorse. Then there’s time out for martinis and the Harry M. Stevens patent-applied-for version of deviled crab.
You know that he broadcasts the Saturday stakes in New York for CBS. Well, when we get back after lunch he writes a page or two of copy (perhaps 600 words) for the introduction to the broadcast. That’s known in the trade as ad lib material. Then, perhaps between the first and third races, he writes his Monday column for the Herald-Tribune – a little matter of 1,200 words.
Next he goes visiting in the box area and collects some notes for his Sunday report in the Trib. Maybe, if he finds time hanging on his hands, he starts work on a piece for the Middleburg Chronicle.
Up comes the stakes race. Up goes Palmer to his CBS booth for the coast-to-coast job. Down comes Palmer to write his 1,200-word report of the race for the Trib. By the time the horses are going to the post for the seventh race, he’s usually through. He pats his palms briskly, say, “See you Wednesday,” beams at all hands, and heads for the exit.
By that time I am in the middle of the fourth sentence of the fourth paragraph of my Saturday chore. By that time I detest, I loath, I abhor Joe Palmer. At all other times I think he’s a right good guy, a most remarkable guy. He’s the best racetrack press-boxer in the nation….
Joe Palmer would write just one more edition of American Race Horses. In 1952, he died unexpectedly after a day of writing about the races at Jamaica Race Track in New York. In a previous post, I wrote that Palmer died while “on his way to becoming a racing legend.” I can now revise this statement. His addition to the Joe Hirsch Media Honor Roll at the Racing Hall of Fame this year sixty years after his death, makes his status official. Joe Palmer is a racing legend.
Sources, News, and Notes
For more information about Joe Palmer, see previous posts from Colin’s Ghost
I have been posting images from my 2012 Saratoga trip over at Instagram, you can check out the gallery here
One of the features I have been writing for Hello Race Fans is called The Month Ahead, check out the September edition at the HRF website
Thanks for reading and good luck!