The sun was starting to set over the clubhouse turn at Arlington Park on Monday. The races had ended hours ago, but I was finally finished with my writing, finally finished posting photos. I was ready to catch the train that comes once every two hours. The grandstand had long since been cleared, the gates locked, and the chain draped across the opening in the paddock fence.
Even so, I wasn’t trapped. I knew the location of the one door anywhere near the Metra station that was still open. But, as I was turning the latch to let myself out of the racetrack after my first late writing night of the summer meet, it finally hit me.
Janine passed away.
Two summers ago, the first time I ever stayed at Arlington for so many hours after closing time, Janine Starykowicz was the one who showed me where that door was. She had tried to explain to me where it was, but when I was still confused, she went out of her way. Janine waited until I finished my stakes recap, left at the same time as I did (a little after 10pm!), showed me where the door was, and then went to her car.
That wasn’t the first time she had gone out of her way to help me, back when I was a mostly-clueless railbird trying to dip their toes into writing about Chicago horse racing.
The first time I saw her in the Hawthorne press box, during the spring of 2014, she asked me what I did. I sheepishly admitted that I had been keeping a horse racing blog for a few months, and she immediately asked me for the link. She wanted to put it on the bloggers page of Barn to Wire, to make sure my articles were syndicated. I wasn’t sure why Barn to Wire, such a fixture on the Chicago circuit, wanted to link to my writing, but I was grateful.
Even though she passed away in April, I still catch myself waiting for her to arrive upstairs. I saw Janine at the racetrack just about every weekend when there was live racing at Arlington or Hawthorne. Whether it was a stakes weekend or not, she was there. We’d talk horses: who we liked at the local track that day, where the big stakes were, who was on the Derby trail. Sometimes she would tell stories about her horse. Always, she’d be able to point me in the right direction if I had a question about racing, or about how things worked at the track.
Beyond my tiny sliver of experience, Janine did a lot for Chicago racing and for racehorses. She ran Barn to Wire — a place to read about Chicago racing, and for those inclined toward Internet forums (those with thicker skins than I) to talk about it. She did interviews and edited stakes releases on big days, helping the press box staff release information to the rest of the media quickly and accurately. And, beyond the racetrack, she was active in the campaign against horse slaughter.
Rest in peace, Janine. The track isn’t the same without you, and I can only hope to be as helpful to an aspiring racing writer someday as you were to me.