The Pensioner (pensionerspaddock.com) is the online home of Bob Barry. Here’s my story.
My first blog, Around2Turns (2014-2016), was a quirky labor of my love for thoroughbred racing. It was also a quiet act of desperation by a 57-year-old newspaper circulation analyst in dire need of a creative outlet¹.
Around2Turns² gained a following among certain curious subsets within the American racing cognoscenti. This resulted in an invitation from the (in utero) Blood Horse Daily to write a weekly Racing Commentary column. The column ran in most Tuesday editions of the BHD from its launch in August 2015 until August 2018³.
In August 2017, I left my day job with the New York Times to become a full-time resident of a small town in the southwest corner of Columbia County, New York. I started a consulting company and kept up with the column, but country living and semi-retirement only served to confirm long-held suspicions about the supposed salutary benefits of keeping one’s nose to the grindstone.
In late summer 2019, two years after quitting the NYT, a year after being let go by the BHD, and with the consulting work drying up, I filed the necessary papers and started collecting two small pensions (one via the NYT and another from an earlier long-time employer). These futures bets I’d made over 37 years of full-time employment had finally started to pay out. I was a pensioner, free of obligations. This verdant paddock beckoned.
¹After getting a degree in Literature (Bard ’79), I moved to New York with the bright and original idea that I would work a straight job during the day and write fiction in my spare time. The former proved easier than the latter. The writing bug, however, had never been adequately squashed. On Memorial Day in 1998, at a barbecue in suburban Putnam County, my perceptive wife, sensing a looming mid-life crisis about to overwhelm her husband, cajoled a neighbor of ours who wrote a column for the New York Observer into suggesting that I should write an article about Real Quiet’s quest for the Triple Crown, and he could help the story find its way into print. He sold me on the idea as if it were his own. Thanks to my generous neighbor, my madcap wife, and a friend in the speed figure business who provided some tasty quotes, I had my first byline. But my second would be a long time coming. Right before the millennium turned, when blogging was well on its way towards being a thing, I took on a terribly demanding job with the New York Times. The prospect of writing in my now diminished down time seemed ever more unlikely. It was 13 years later – work demands having slackened – when another opportunity emerged. A friend from another speed figure company, having become aware of my bridled ambitions, suggested he too might be able to help. Thus, with a couple more bylines under my belt, a renewed desire, and a confidence that was perhaps unearned, I started writing regularly about the ponies at Around2Turns.
²Although I retain the rights to the domain, Around2Turns no longer exists (the URL re-directs to here). For every old blog post that still gave me pleasure, there were two more that made me wince. Besides, I needed a fresh start and wanted a different approach. [As a nod to posterity and sop to an ego that still needs frequent stroking, over time I’ll probably repost some of my darlings from @2T here.] This way, I can think of the old blog as just one more absent friend, remembering only the good times we had together.
³The Blood Horse Daily fired me, but it was out of kindness, I suppose. More like the columnist’s version of “suicide by cop”, only with editors pulling the trigger and no one dying. I had been thinking of quitting for a while, but couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I loved having the platform and the access that a NYRA press pass provided. I knew that, once lost, these things would not be easily regained. But columns that might have once been bittersweet started losing the sweet part. Some sacred cows got tipped and some columns got spiked (if your opinions don’t get spiked every so often, it means you ain’t really trying). I had been asking for it. When the axe fell, I knew I had it coming. I’ve had ten jobs over my lifetime, and this was the first one where leaving was not completely my idea. But I couldn’t feel bad about it or be angry with anyone at the BHD. It had been a great run, but it was time to move on. The events that made 2019 an awful year for American racing only served to confirm that the timing of my downfall was providential. I’d grown weary of cutting my content to fit the fashions of the Jockey Club (owner of the BHD). Trying to write Racing Commentary in 2019 would have only made things harder on everyone. The journalists who write for “the trades” (as Racing Twitter ace @o_crunk accurately refers to the Daily Racing Form, BH/BHD, and the Thoroughbred Daily News) are frequently on the receiving end of criticism that is, in my view, often misdirected. Freedom of the Press – as the old chestnut from the print era goes – belongs to the people who own one. If racing’s trades are serving the broader industry ill, that’s on the bloodstock industry bigwigs (BH & TDN) and venture capital titans (DRF) who own them. Humans – and this I know from personal experience – are pretty good at looking out for their own interests. Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, need all the help they can get.