The Preakness And 'TMA:' A Winning Combination

Published By: 
Phil Janack
Published: 
May 12, 2013

There are no spires or spas, mountains or beaches near the track at Pimlico, but the old place has something that Churchill or Saratoga or Santa Anita or Del Mar don't. Pimlico has the Preakness.

Lesser known but equally significant, it also has the Toughest Man Alive.

Otherwise known as Matt Graves, TMA is a retired full-time turf writer who began covering horses, as he likes to say, "when Secretariat was a baby." Yeah, he's been around that long.

In a tongue-in-cheek 2009 interview he granted his daughter, who followed him into the newspaper business despite his many warnings, TMA offered this perspective on Big Red.

"He was a horse. I asked him a lot of questions. He ignored me. And a lot of times, he just pooped in my path."

Such is life with TMA. Quick with a line, and even quicker with a story. Is said to have never missed a deadline. Of course, he's the one who said it.

TMA spent more than four decades at daily newspapers, over half of it at the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, where he came by his nickname, so the story goes, on a summer afternoon at Saratoga.

Jockey Eddie Maple was riding then, and after getting a leg up in the paddock, Maple and his mount walked past the assembled crowd, including Graves, on the way to the track.

"There goes the toughest man alive," someone said, to no one in particular.

"Second toughest," answered TMA.

And the legend was born.

TMA has kept busy in retirement. In addition to covering Division I college hockey in the winter, he continues to handicap and still makes the occasional appearance at high-profile events, such as the Breeders' Cup and, of course, the Preakness.

Recruited by Mike Gathagan, the MJC publicity man extraordinaire, to join the crack Preakness notes team in 2006, TMA has been a valued contributor, both in and out of the press box, ever since.

For the past several years, TMA has left Old Hilltop with the same parting words. "This is my last year," he says.

Year after year, much to the delight of his fellow award-winning co-workers, Ed Gray and Mike Kane, he comes back.

TMA and I flew in to Baltimore late this morning, and were chauffeured to the track largely on TMA's celebrity. We'll spend the next several days offering our own contributions to coverage of the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

It is my 11th consecutive Preakness, and fourth in a row working for the MJC. As always, it is a thrill and a privilege to be back in Baltimore.

I'm proud to have called TMA my competitor, colleague and friend for over 20 years. But, mostly, I just call him sir.

Welcome back.

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