Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bylines, Books & Blogs

                                                                     Copyright Milton C. Toby
Memories of a first byline, like those of a first love, tend to linger.

My first job out of college found me as the number-two staff writer in a two-person sports department at the Standard, a small daily newspaper in Aiken, South Carolina. We covered the Masters golf tournament because it was next door in Augusta, Georgia; high school sports; the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the local community college teams; an astonishing number of bowling leagues—and, thankfully, horse racing. Aiken was a major winter training center before the advent of year-around racing, and good horses like Palace Malice still show up there from time to time to recover from a hard campaign.

Early on a Thursday, my fourth day on the job, the sports editor motioned with a hand in my direction.

“We need an article about the horses running in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, the ones that wintered in Aiken,” he said. The deadline was 10:00a.m., three hours away. I had no clue which horses those might be or how to track down their trainers on the backstretch of a race track that in pre-Internet days was so far away from Aiken that it might as well have been on another planet. My problems were compounded by a couple of obvious shortcomings for a reporter: I had not the slightest idea how to write a newspaper article—I’d heard of the “Five Ws,” the basics of information gathering, but my undergraduate degree was in animal science, not journalism—and I lacked even a basic ability to type.

Against all odds, things turned out okay.

The article with my first byline ran on page 1 that day, albeit below the fold; Greentree Stable’s Ruritania, an Aiken-trained longshot, ran a creditable second in the Belmont, seven lengths behind winner Riva Ridge; and 44 years later I’m still writing about Thoroughbred racing. With the help of, a research tool I use almost daily, I tracked down the article. It’s good, not great, but better than it had any right to be.

I left Aiken the next spring for a 12-year run at The Blood-Horse magazine, where I covered racing in the United States and made trips abroad for the Grand National Steeplechase, the Japan Cup, and the Caribbean Classic in Panama. My first of 125 magazine covers for The Blood-Horse was an image of Secretariat’s first foal.

Bill Straus photo
I wrote about racing in Asia (I was at Sha Tin in Hong Kong for Lester Piggott’s last ride) and Latin America during six years living abroad, and I continued freelancing after a return to the States for law school. My eight nonfiction books include national award winners Dancer’s Image and Noor, a biography of the champion filly Ruffian, and The Complete Equine Legal & Business Handbook, which is used in several college undergraduate equine law courses, including the one I teach at the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program.

After a break from three years’ weekly blogging about equine law at, I’m excited about joining my colleagues, and learning from them, at Horse Crossings. I’ll be sharing my thoughts about writing nonfiction (because that’s what I do, and because editors and agents haven’t recognized the merits of the two novels gathering dust on a shelf in my office), new projects, research, publishing contracts, copyright, finding an agent, racing, and horses.

And, no, I still haven’t learned how to type without staring at the keyboard.


  1. Fascinating post--thanks for sharing your start in journalism. Love reading the background story of racing legends, so I'm going to look up a few of your books!

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Lisa. My next project is a cultural history of performance enhancing drugs in Thoroughbred racing, so I'm not reading much fiction these days. I'm going to add False Gods to my reading list for breaks in the research.