Daily Racing Form columnist Joe Hirsch dies
NEW YORK — Joe Hirsch, the longtime columnist for the Daily Racing Form known as the dean of American turf writers, has died. He was 80.
Hirsch had Parkinson's disease and was recovering from a broken hip suffered in a fall last spring. He died at St. Luke's Hospital on Friday, said Steven Crist, chairman and publisher of the Daily Racing Form.
Hirsch's career spanned more than 50 years, and he chronicled the road to the Kentucky Derby with his detailed reports — called "Derby Doings" — on prep races in Florida, California, Kentucky and New York. He retired in 2003.
"He had a giant heart and was a friend to all," said Jim Gluckson, publicist for the Breeders' Cup. "In the second part of the 20th century, he was the most important writer in thoroughbred racing history. He chronicled the game on an almost daily basis."
Hirsch also was known for helping new racing writers learn the sport and was the first president of the National Turf Writers Association in 1959. He was the rare journalist who had the respect of horse owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and track owners, as well as fellow journalists and the racing public.
"Joe was a friend of the Breeders' Cup, an inspired advocate for the sport he loved and, most importantly, a true gentleman," Breeders' Cup president Greg Avioli said in a statement.
Horse racing wasn't Hirsch's only love. He was a big sports fan and was famous for being Joe Namath's roommate from 1965-1976 when the quarterback played for the New York Jets. During that time, Jets owners Sonny Werblin and Leon Hess hoped Hirsch would be a positive influence on the star quarterback.
"Joe learned a lot about women from me over the years, but I learned so much more from him," Joe Namath wrote in a 2003 tribute to Hirsch in the Daily Racing Form. "He always tried to help point me in the right direction, to teach me about life. Because of him, I learned some things about respect, a little about discipline and a whole lot about people."
When the new press box at Churchill Downs was completed in 2005, it was named the Joe Hirsch Media Center. Also, the New York Racing Association renamed one of its top grass stakes the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.
In 1994, the Thoroughbred Club of America in Lexington, Ky., honored him for his distinguished service to racing. Among other honors he received was an Eclipse Award of Merit and the Lord Derby Award from an association of racing writers in England.