Of trotters, artichokes and publicists

“You have to look at it this way. In 1959, the Giants and Dodgers were gone to California. There were no Jets, no Titans. The hockey and basketball seasons were much shorter. Most people thought the thoroughbred season in Saratoga was only for the rich. There were dog days then.”

—Joe Goldstein to George Vecsey,
Vecsey’s NY Times column, July 22, 1988

Roosevelt Raceway was a shopping mall and Yonkers Raceway was more noted for holding a flea market in its parking lot in my youth. So though the Golden Age of harness racing has long gone, it is with saddness that we read the news of Joe Goldstein’s passing last week. The New York sports publicist was 81.

According to his obits, Goldstein promoted Madison Square Garden basketball and the New York City Marathon, among many other events and sports. But he was most noted for promoting harness racing, including touting a totter that came from France in 1959 that loved artichokes — he took out newspaper ads urging fans to send them to the track. The presumably satiated horse won in front of nearly 46,000 people.

Of course, it’s a changed world now. Publicity might have always been about spin, but being “on message” is different now, and while the good thing is that coverage is more critical and questioning, the bad thing is our sense of fun is gone, or at least replaced with a sense of snark. That’s not always a horrible thing, and God knows my cynicism sits with me at my desk next to my bitter cup of coffee. But there are no bloggers or commenters on, if you will, “the artichoke beat”  at The Big Lead or Deadspin — as with Joe Hirsch, neither blog noted Goldstein’s passing, nor why would they? Following the Ponies, either at the flat track or at the trotters, ain’t a sport built for this generation the way it once was.

[T]he summer night still young, people with their first mortgage, their first car, just might head over ”to the trotters” (nobody ever said ”to the pacers”) to bet a few bucks and howl abuse at Eddie Cobb and follow the latest gimmick of Joey Goldstein. … Rarely has the success of one sport been linked so directly to flackery. Other people put up the money and managed Roosevelt Raceway, but from 1954 through 1968, Joey Goldstein helped turn a harness-racing track, for goodness sake, into a merry little universe.

…But once upon a time, the Raceway turned dog days into trotter nights.

—George Vecsey


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