Racing Times never got the chance to share its final day with its readers

February 16, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

When The Racing Times shut down more than a week ago, the end came almost as dramatically, and nearly as quickly, as the mysterious death of its founder, Robert Maxwell.

The late media baron was found, floating face up Nov. 5 in the Atlantic Ocean off the Canary Islands. He had either fallen, jumped or, some suspect, been pushed off his yacht.

It was a James Bondian sort of demise, with a Dick Francis twist.

Three months later, almost to the day, Maxwell's 10-month-old U.S racing paper ceased publication. It was considered a miracle that the paper held on as long as it did, because it was losing money. Maxwell's empire had begun unraveling almost as soon as he was buried on the Mount of Olives.

Still, The Racing Times editor Steve Crist did not expect the abrupt end that came about 10 days ago.

A New York media broker had been hired to dispose of the paper rTC after Maxwell's death and his financial pilferings had become public (for starters, Maxwell allegedly had robbed the pension funds of some of his companies by a couple of billion dollars).

Crist had talked to about a dozen groups, some, he said, with serious money, who wanted to buy the paper.

The Times had sort of been racing's answer to The National, and Crist a kind of horse player's Frank Deford.

On the phone last week from his home on Long Island, the 35-year-old former racing writer for The New York Times recounted the final moments.

It was Friday afternoon, more than a week ago.

Crist was sitting in his office in downtown Manhattan. About 4 p.m., he got a phone call from George White, the New York administrator of what is left of Maxwell's crumbling domain.

"George said that Charlie Wilson, who ran the [Maxwell] Mirror Group Newspapers in London, was in town. That's when I got an inkling that the end was near," Crist recalls.

He began writing "A Farewell To Readers."

In about an hour, Wilson was at the door with a battalion of uniformed security guards.

"It looked like a military operation," Crist said. "I told Charlie that we were working on the next day's paper, and could we at least put out tonight's edition?

"He said, 'Mr. Crist, you don't seem to understand. At the moment, you are trespassing.' "

Instead of printing the "Farewell to Readers," Crist read it to his staff. Then they were told to pack their personal effects and leave.

The Mirror Group had shut down the paper and sold certain assets, namely the operation's state-of-the-art mechanical equipment, to The Daily Racing Form, the industry's monopolistic daily The Racing Times had tried to topple.

Even if Maxwell had not died, Crist is not certain The Racing Times would have survived the financial collapse of its publisher's empire.

"But working for him was one of life's great experiences," Crist said. "All of a sudden, here came this rich guy out of the sky and said, 'Invent the paper of your dreams.' "

Crist, like a lot of other people, learned of Maxwell's death from his radio.

He had met with Maxwell for the final time last summer.

"He was pleased with the product, but not the circulation," Crist said. "He wanted to know why the paper wasn't selling. The Racing Form had already approached him twice and wanted to buy it. We figured our paper was costing them about $5 million in sales. But each time Maxwell told them to get lost."

Crist said that although the paper was an artistic success, it ran into distribution problems, and "it was taking longer for Racing Form readers to switch over than we had expected."

*

No surprises: When Gov. William Donald Schaefer's "Green Bag" appointments came out Friday, he had re-appointed racing commissioners Dr. Ernest Colvin and John McDaniel to two more four-year terms.

Missing from action is Pete Bozick, who apparently did not seek re-appointment.

The size of the commission was expanded to nine members in 1989. But the commissioners think that number is too unwieldy.

Instead of seeking legislation to reduce the number to seven, Schaefer might not fill Bozick's vacancy and the spot left open last summer by the resignation of Margaret McManus.

Colvin could be the state's longest-appointed racing commissioner. He is serving his ninth year on the current board. Before that, Colvin was a member of the harness racing commission before it was combined in 1984 with the thoroughbreds.

*

Up on the roof: Is everybody happy?

Dave Rodman, track announcer at Laurel and Pimlico, is nearing his first on-the-job anniversary.

He started calling the races on March 7 last year after moving here from Shreveport, La., where he had been the track announcer at Louisiana Downs for seven years.

From most accounts, Rodman has built quite a rapport with Maryland fans.

He's been getting quite a reaction from the crowd when the horse Iseverybodyhappy loads into the gate.

Rodman asks the rhetorical question -- Is everybody happy? The crowd screams back, usually in the affirmative.

Still, he says, he has to draw a fine line about getting too cute.

"From the feedback I get, the fans here want a straightforward call," Rodman said. "They want clarity. They want to know where their horse is during the race and if he has any chance of winning."

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