I write this column this week with tears in my eyes and an extremely heavy heart following the passing of a personal friend and longtime presence at Saratoga Casino Hotel. In my more than twenty years as a track announcer, I have been fortunate to work with some terrific people on the roof. The dynamic is one that people could have no way of understanding without being a part of it. On the roof here at Saratoga, we have one person working in the press box, one cameraman, one charter (transcribing the lines you see in your program), one announcer and three judges. One flight even higher up, there is the “photo finish/tele-timer guy” who works nightly during the races. That’s it. That’s all we interact with on a day-to-day basis at work. As the announcer, I work very closely with the trio of judges while in constant communication. Naturally, in between races, oftentimes conversations break out. And while that remains the case today, the discussions I had with Larry Fox were more frequent and involved than with anyone else from the judges’ stand that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
Larry Fox spent much of his life being a part of horse racing. A huge fan of thoroughbred racing, Larry was a standardbred trainer here at Saratoga for a long time. Beginning his career as a trainer in the 1980’s, Larry enjoyed success while running a small stable. His pride and joy as a trainer was a trotter named Fish Story, a horse that longtime fans of the Spa no doubt remember. Fish Story, who was inducted into the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame in 2004, was a talented trotter who was named Horse of the Year in 1988 and amazingly achieved the same honor some eight years later when at the age of twelve he was voted Horse of the Year again in ’96. In his incredible career, Fish Story earned more than a half million dollars, a staggering number when considering the fact that the regular purse he competed for in ’96 was $3,000, a number which couldn’t have been much higher in the late 80’s when he was in his prime.
At the conclusion of his time as a trainer, Larry took a job at the NY State Gaming Commission where he became an associate judge here at Saratoga. This was when I met Larry, somewhere in the range of 2008, when he took the seat in the judge’s stand immediately to the right of where I stand in the announcer’s booth. I immediately took a liking to him and he to me. We shared the passionate love of sports, gambling and specifically fantasy football. Larry was the only person I’ve ever known that recorded every preseason NFL football game during the summer. He did this, he would say, to watch and learn about the rookies in the league so he would know where to slot them into his fantasy football plans. He would fill me in on everything he saw, both facts, such as their stats from the game, and opinions that he formed by watching the VHS tapes of the preseason games.
Although he was quite a bit more introverted and quiet than I, Larry and I each shared our strong opinions with each other. We would “go at it” about actions during or decisions made after a race, after the results became official of course. We would often have to agree to disagree and although sometimes it seemed to get a bit heated, it was never personal and felt more like having an argument with your friend when afterwards everything was immediately fine again. While Larry sat to my right, to his right was Ritch Gregory. Ritch was the presiding judge at the track throughout Larry’s time as an associate and he was present for, and got a good chuckle from, Larry and my “battles” throughout Larry’s time on the roof…as playful as they may or may not always have been! Also, we would go at it regarding our sports opinions. For example, he disliked by favorite basketball player at the time, Kobe Bryant, and let me hear about it constantly. Although he was no fan of my cherished Yankees, he would ask for a report on the score of their game during our downtime in between races. We all became close up there. After all, we were spending a large portion of four nights a week side by side with one another.
A few years back, Larry retired from judging. He enjoyed his work but it was time to move on. He was ready to just relax at home and have nothing he had to do. That is other than being a husband to his loving wife Linda and a father to his incredibly beloved daughter Susie and son Jimmy with whom he shared such a special bond and spoke of constantly. Upon his retirement, my relationship with Larry didn’t end. We would speak on the phone at least a few times a year, usually after he’d read this column, which he did weekly in order to keep up with the activity at the track and provide me with some feedback, or inevitably towards the end of summer when he would fill me in on the happenings of the rookies in the NFL. After all, even after VHS tapes went by the wayside, he still recorded the games…just now it was via DVR. Every conversation we had would start with him asking the same question…”how’s da family?” He had met my wife Kelli on several occasions and my son Gavin in his younger years and of course knew my brother Andy from the track. When a couple months ago I wrote my column about me taking a step back from announcing in order to be with my son and coach him in baseball, I thought I’d hear from Larry. A bit surprised that I didn’t, I just figured I’d talk about it with him in our annual August phone call when we prepped for another fantasy football season.
Unfortunately, last Friday (July 8) I found out why I hadn’t gotten that call from Larry. He had been battling cancer in recent months before succumbing to the vicious disease. When I received a text from my brother stating “RIP Larry Fox”, it was like taking a monster punch to the gut. I couldn’t believe it. The shock coupled with the hurt set in immediately. No, Larry wasn’t by best friend nor I his but the loss overwhelmed me and the thought that we’d never have another discussion, powwow, or debate is one that is hard for me to grasp at this time. I know upon retirement that Larry had been enjoying his time watching his old TV shows, taking his occasional trip to Atlantic City and betting a pony or two now and then (or a bit more often!) Two years back when we spoke in August, he had informed me that he was done with fantasy football. Between covid and not loving the state of the NFL, he had turned the page. I said “but what are you gonna do though?” He quickly responded “more family time.” He loved his family and I can’t imagine how sorely missed he will by his wife and children. As far as the track, Spa Hall of Famer Dan Cappello Jr. had not only been Larry’s regular driver for so many years but remained close friends with him throughout the decades. I know the loss has and will hit Danny hard. As for me, I’ll wipe away these tears but I’ll miss hearing “How’s da family?” when Larry’s number would pop up on my phone. I’ll miss our sports talks and our debates and most of all, I, like so many others at the track, will just miss Larry Fox for being Larry Fox. Rest in peace buddy, I can’t believe you’re gone. Larry Fox, gone too soon, at the age of 69.
Live racing takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening this summer with first post times set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!