Sunday, April 22, 2012
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 22, 2012—I’ve been putting this off because I’m in denial—the anger stage, I think--but mostly sad; a time when that knot in your stomach just won't go away.
At this juncture, I’m starting to get used to losing family and friends. Check that: You never get used to it; only concede that loss is inevitable and more a part of life than it used to be, way back before you lost no one and knew everything.
Richard (Dick) Hamilton was so many things to me: a one-time colleague; a one-time adversary--the way a New York Racing Association steward and newspaper columnist working-different-sides-of-the-same-street are natural competitors.
I didn’t mention friend because he was a friend to everyone he ever met and spent quality time with. Maybe it’s because I’m green-eyed about it; he had so many friends but you wanted to be his best friend because that’s the way he made you feel.
Special people make other people feel special.
Dick Hamilton was a very bright man but never hit you over the head with that. He’d use playful humor to put your idea down or point out the kind of prejudice that comes natural to anyone who’s plenty longer than 15 minutes on the planet.
He could always disagree because he loved to spar on various subjects; the game, people, politics, sports in general, especially, hailing from Lowell, Mass., his beloved Red Sox. In fact, he was one Red Sox fan this Yankee fan suffered gladly.
Indeed, Hamilton could disagree but never was disagreeable. We had many philosophical differences and with age I admit that I came around to his line of thinking after shunting my ideas aside, for whatever reason.
There was an incident one day involving a jockey that I didn’t think put forth his best effort. In fact, I sought out Hamilton to express my displeasure. He said he hadn’t thought about it in that context but would check it out.
The next day, he sought me out, said that my observations might have been on the mark, that all three stewards watch the video patrol with the rider to the effect that he would receive a warning, and to consider it the only warning he get.
I wanted to report that meeting in Newsday and Hamilton said he would have no official comment on the stewards’ actions. That might have been the only time we disagreed so that other people might notice but I respected his wishes for several reasons:
First, it would be betraying a confidence. Second, Hamilton was under no obligation to tell me about the meeting since it was an “internal matter” between the rider and the stewards but thanked me for bringing the situation to their attention.
Finally, there are times a reporter must go off the record. If he doesn’t--especially in this business--he will be frozen out of information needed to do his job which would also put his newspaper at a competitive disadvantage. It’s a fine line.
The next morning I was getting some coffee in the press box lounge when Hamilton entered the room. I turned around and said “good morning, judge.” Hamilton said: “I have ‘no comment’ on that.
From that moment, "no comment" became our personal greeting whenever we saw each other.
After accepting early retirement from the NYRA, Hamilton became the communications officer for the National Museum and Racing Hall of Fame. Politics notwithstanding, no one ever loved his job more than Hamilton loved his time at the Hall of Fame.
He helped conceptualize and author the Hall of Fame induction ceremony each August, a tradition that has become an SRO event open to the racing public.
Hamilton also created free handicapping seminars for the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup events at the Museum, organized bus trips to the Belmont Stakes, and personally conducted backstretch tours at Saratoga’s Oklahoma Training Track.
“Dick Hamilton was an invaluable contributor to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame both during his years here as our communications officer and also in recent years as a volunteer,” said current museum director Christopher Dragone earlier this week.
“His knowledge of thoroughbred racing and his passion for the sport and the Museum were evident to all who knew him. He was one of the true gentlemen in racing and was beloved in the Saratoga community. Dick was a wonderful ambassador for the Museum and the sport in general.”
Through the years, Hamilton was careful never to inject his opinion into the controversial aspects of the game but made one exception: “There is just no excuse for not protecting the public,” Hamilton told HRI at the time of the Life At Ten investigation.
“All the chief steward hadd to do was pick up the phone and ask the state vet at the gate to take a close look at the filly. [The stewards] should be fined the amount of money the public lost.” It was the only time I ever saw him angry.
I would see him every month I went for blood tests at Saratoga Hospital, where Hamilton volunteered. But I won’t anymore because, at 76, he’s gone.
He might shake his head in disgust but Dick Hamilton never uttered a disparaging word except that one time. Equally, we strenuously try to avoid the use of clichés, except this one time: They broke the mold when they made Dick Hamilton.