Teresa Genaro is a high school English teacher and freelance turf writer whose work has appeared in a variety of turf publications. A former and erstwhile resident of Saratoga Springs, she lives in Brooklyn and writes about New York racing at Brooklyn Backstretch.
Marshall Cassidy’s is the first voice that I remember at the racetrack.
My family and I moved to Saratoga in 1978, and I attended my first Thoroughbred race either that year or the following one. The first race I remember attending was General Assembly’s Travers
, in 1979.
That was the year that Marshall Cassidy became the voice of the New York Racing Association. He’d worked at NYRA since 1967, beginning as a Pinkerton, one of those private security guards.
His first assignment? To guard Damascus.
“My job,” he said recently from his home in Saratoga, “was to make sure that no bad guys got to him.”
He lasted a year as a Pinkerton before moving on to be a horse identifier and then to work in the racing department. He became the assistant announcer to Dave Johnson in 1972.
“I never considered,” he said, “doing anything except working at the racetrack.”
And given his pedigree, that’s hardly a surprise.
The Cassidy family has worked at New York tracks since the 19th century, when the current Marshall Cassidy’s great-great-grandfather Mars Cassidy was a starter at tracks like the old Aqueduct and Gravesend from 1894 – 1929. Mars’s son George took over then, starting races until about 1981.
Mars also had a son named Marshall, who also had a son named Marshall, and that is the Marshall of whom we speak today. He called his first Belmont in 1979.
“We all thought Spectacular Bid was going to be a Triple Crown,” he recalled. “We all thought that until they hit the top of the stretch.”
He acknowledged that he can have two levels of awareness as he calls a race, particularly if he’s got a rooting interest. He’s not a gambler, but he admitted that he did attach himself to horses emotionally, listing Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, and Easy Goer among his favorites.
“As Sunday Silence and Easy Goer came racing around the turn,” he said, “it looked like they were going to hook up. I had my fingers crossed behind my back, and holy cow, he came on and beat him.”
Cassidy left the booth in 1990 and worked as a NYRA steward for six years before leaving the track to work with the Jockey Club in developing the official race program for Equibase.
“I enjoyed starting up a brand new enterprise,” he said, “trying to make things efficient, to achieve accuracy with other people’s work, working with the print shop and a whole new technology.”
“It was exciting,” he said, “but not like announcing.”
He named Fred “Cappy” Caposella, Harry Henson, and Joe Hernandez as race callers he admires, though saying with a tinge of regret, “Cappy would be considered boring by today’s standards.”
Since 2005 Cassidy has worked as a placing judge during the Saratoga meet. None of his children has followed him into the racing business… “at my insistence,” he says (jokingly?). They are teachers, information technology technicians, business people.
But he says, “I had an awfully good time in the business, and I enjoy stepping back in occasionally now. The racetrack is a wonderful place to work with animals, to smell them, to be around them.
“I’m privileged to spend my life with them.”