Jan 4, 2008

Tom Gilcoyne: 1916 - 2008

I'm not sure whether Tom Gilcoyne ever technically lived -- as in held an official residence -- in Saratoga Springs. Regardless, he did, in fact, live some of his greatest personal moments of joy in the Spa City.

Gilcoyne, known to thoroughbred interests and fans far and wide as the National Museum of Racing's in-house historian & librarian since 1989, passed away yesterday (January 3) at the age of 91.

The RPI grad had his retirement from the chemical and abrasives industry interrupted into that volunteer endeavor, fatefully brought about by his recognizing an error in the museum's silks collection during a visit, resulting in a conversation with a staff member and an invitation to join in the fun. From there, the Troy and (later)Latham native found a spot where he could share his virtual fountain of knowledge of his beloved passion -- horse racing -- with the expanding museum, its visitors and researchers from around the globe.

Gilcoyne became The Man within the racing world for data and facts on the sport's history. Whether it was a reporter inquiring about a long-forgotten stakes race, a preservationist seeking information on the past look of a certain race course, or an author seeking background information on a horse named Seabiscuit for a book she was writing, the friendly gentleman was always eager to dive into his beloved collection of books up on the top floor and find the answers -- if he didn't know those answers off the top of his head.

His passion was built on personal experience; of his first being brought to the local track in the early years of the 20th century. Of later watching the great legends in action, animals with names like Citation and Whirlaway, Carry Back and Damascus. Of visiting dozens of tracks waround the nation during his business travels.

Mr Gilcoyne knew the game of horse racing. Check that; he loved it, and was ready, willing and more than able to lend his hand in passing on its glorious past to others. He played a key role over the past eighteen years in promoting both Saratoga and the thoroughbred industry.

In this new century of demographic shifts within the rapidly changing boundaries of Saratoga Springs, the new influx of city dwellers arrives with little appreciation for the Sport of Kings, despite its regional economic importance. Why would they: they weren't exposed to its magninficence as children, with their first glimpses of it taken while in the hands of -- and its traditions passed down from -- their parents and grandparents. Or of sneaking into the track as teenagers and asking strangers to place bets because of the age restriction. Or of wandering the backstectch on a chilly early morning just to catch a glimpse of a horse you watched on TV. The way it used to be around here. The way it was in Tom Gilcoyne's time.

No, Mr Gilcoyne may or may not have ever had that address in Saratoga. But that doesn't mean he shouldn't be honored as if he did.

Are there any new streets or buildings around here that need a name?


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