For twelve years Sherry Ross had my dream job, writing about the Rangers and racing for the New York Daily News. Her writing was knowledgeable, vivid, funny, and irreverent; I remember using as an example in my writing class an article in which she described Brian Leetch “snaking down the ice” en route to scoring a goal (ah, those were the days…), and I don’t think that anyone dished out more good-natured Todd Pletcher ribbing than she.
Last fall, Sherry left the Daily News to return to her previous gig, as the color commentator for New Jersey Devils’ radio broadcasts. I know that she’s a Jersey girl and that she worked for the Devils before she covered the Rangers; still, it was kind of like Howie Rose leaving the Rangers to go work for the Islanders.
As much as I missed her hockey writing, I missed her racing writing even more. She is the Queen of the Battle of Saratoga, regularly beating her Daily News colleagues Jerry Bossert and Dave Little in the summer handicapping contest, and the addition last summer of a Saratoga blog at the paper gave readers the opportunity to read her more informal reflections and observations.
I had the opportunity to meet Sherry when she spoke on a “Women in Racing” panel at the National Museum of Racing in the summer of 2006, appearing with trainer Leah Gyarmati, jockey Chantal Sutherland, and a NYRA vet whose name I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember. It was the summer of Barbaro’s breakdown and the signing of Shanahan (Sherry approved), and Sherry accepted my invitation to come talk to my writing class if we could find a mutually convenient date. We couldn’t, unfortunately, but when I contacted her recently, she amiably agreed to answer a few questions:
Why did you make the move from writing about the Rangers to go back to doing radio for the Devils?
I was the NHL columnist at the News (not the Rangers beat writer) when Devils GM Lou Lamoriello contacted me last August about returning to the radio booth (former Devil Tom Chorske, who did color the previous season on radio, did not choose to return). I was not actively looking to leave the writing job, but with the way both hockey and racing coverage have been scaled back — and with the issues in the newspaper industry as a whole (rising newsprint and delivery costs, declining readership), I thought it was a good time for the move. The cachet of working for an NHL team, which perhaps I didn’t fully appreciate when I held the job from 1992-95, was also appealing.
Are there any similarities between covering hockey and horse racing? What attracts you to both?
The biggest similarity is the access to the participants (meaning the jockeys and trainers in racing, although I also love it when I get to give a carrot or a mint to a racehorse). On the occasions when I have covered an NFL or a PGA event, I find the interviews are more regulated by the powers that be. As a journalist, you have a better chance of getting one on one interviews and mining your own territory rather than dealing with orchestrated press conferences. I also think that most of the people involved in racing and hockey are aware that their sport is on a lower rung in most sports departments, and are more than willing to work harder to sell their sport.
I fell in love with racing first since I was a horse-crazy girl. Hockey followed when I was about 14. I think the action of both sports appeals to me, and I think they combine speed and skill like no other sports.
Have you found any particular difficulties in either sport, covering them as a woman?
I was fortunate to come in the second wave of female sportswriters, right after the women who fought the legal battles for equal access. I owe them a huge debt, since they were consummate professionals and made it much easier for the next flight to be taken seriously. I had occasion run-ins (notably with Pete Rose and Tom Barrasso), but it was mostly verbal and they demeaned themselves, not me. I was barred from a few dressing rooms by clueless security guards. I can’t remember a single racing incident where gender played a role. There is also a small advantage in that, being a woman, I was almost always in the minority, and athletes tended to remember my name when they might not distinguish between eight or 10 males on the same beat.
Favorite hockey moment of all time? [Note: I seriously considered deleting this question and answer. Oh, the agony of having the Devils lauded on this site!]
It would have to be the Devils’ first Stanley Cup in 1995. It occurred while I was doing color for the team, and they completed a Finals sweep of the Detroit Red Wings in a huge upset. My aunt and brother were in the crowd, and I have a panoramic photo of the Meadowlands Arena where you can spot me in the press box and them in their seats, plus the Cup celebration on the ice. So that’s special in many ways to me.
I would have to cheat and add the 1980 U.S. Olympic win over the Russians. I wasn’t there, but I remember watching the (tape-delayed!) broadcast on ABC on a Friday night. In the years to follow, I would get to meet people like Herb Brooks and Mark Johnson and Ken Morrow. I am still in awe of what they accomplished.
Favorite racing moment of all time?
This one is easy!! I was at Secretariat’s Belmont in 1973. I still get tears in my eyes when I watch the replay and hear that call.
Can we expect to see you at Saratoga?
I would have been there one way or another! I was set to vacation up there Travers week, but luckily I was able to arrange a freelance assignment with the Daily News (thanks to the Devils, who allowed me to do this during the off-season). I have been at Saratoga either working or as a visitor for at least a few days every summer since 1980.
Any thoughts/comments/reactions to the Breeders’ Cup moving the filly/mare races to Friday and re-naming the Distaff the “Ladies’ Classic”?
I give the BC credit for opening up to a two-day event. I think last year proved (despite the horrendous weather at Monmouth that Friday) that there is enough good racing to go around. I am not so keen on the gender split (and renaming the Distaff is just plain dopey. What’s next, the Boy Baby Race instead of the Juvenile?). I don’t know what the best balance is, though splitting the turf races evenly over both days makes sense to pamper the grass course. The bigger issue is going to an artificial surface for the first time, and one that’s had serious issues at that.
Do you have any memory of why the Triple Tiara series was changed, either the first time or the second?
I hadn’t noticed this change since I don’t cover racing on a daily basis, but I will try to do so. My assumption would be that the original filly Triple Crown (which I think is what they used to call it back in Dark Mirage’s day) was held closer together to more closely mimic the traditional Triple Crown schedule. I also wonder why no one ever packaged the Kentucky Oaks/Black Eyed Susan/pick any NY filly race as a filly Triple.
Many, many thanks to Sherry Ross for taking the time to answer these questions, and as we are lucky enough to get her coverage for another summer, I guess Bossert and Little had better watch out…