01/28/2017 2:58PM

Eclipse Award-winning writer Mooney dies at 69

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Bill Mooney, a two-time Eclipse Award-winning turf writer, died Saturday in his Lexington, Ky., home after a long battle with renal cell carcinoma. He was 69.

Born in New England to a circus executive father and an aerialist mother, Mooney was introduced to horse racing at age 7 while visiting the Great Barrington Fair in Massachusetts. His interest developed into a passion at age 15 during a six-week hospital stay following a car accident, when an orderly tutored him on the sport’s intricacies.

The crash left Mooney with limited use of his left hand for the rest of his life, but that did not stall what would become one of turf writing’s most prolific careers. He became known for the depth of research put into his stories and his attention to corners of the industry that otherwise went overlooked.

Mooney went on to earn his undergraduate degree from North Texas State University and his master’s and doctoral in English at Michigan State University, where he accepted a job to teach that subject. He earned MSU’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 1976 and later taught journalism at the University of Georgia.

All the while, Mooney developed an extensive freelance résumé and eventually took a job with The Thoroughbred Record. He earned his first media Eclipse Award with that publication in 1985 for a magazine piece on Ellis Park.

After leaving The Thoroughbred Record, Mooney held positions with Thoroughbred Times and The Blood-Horse and wrote pieces for publications including The New York Times and the Paulick Report. He also held racetrack publicity positions at Fair Grounds, Thistledown, Mountaineer, Presque Isle Downs, and Detroit Race Course and worked as a press liaison for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Mooney earned his second media Eclipse Award in 2007, when his piece “Final Days for a Hall of Famer,” documenting the death of Precisionist at Old Friends Equine Retirement, earned the honors for news/commentary writing. The story appeared in Post Time USA.

Among his other credits, Mooney earned the 2010 Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award for co-authoring “Ted Bassett: My Life” with the book’s namesake and co-authored “The Complete Encyclopedia of Horse Racing: The Illustrated Guide to the World of the Thoroughbred.”

The National Turf Writers and Broadcasters honored Mooney in 2012 with the Walter Haight Award for career excellence.

In 2015, the NTWAB created the Bill Mooney Award for displaying courage in the face of tremendous adversity and named Mooney the inaugural winner. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray honored him last December, declaring it “Bill Mooney Month” in Lexington, and he received a separate proclamation from the Kentucky Senate.

Mooney never fully left his teaching background behind, serving as a mentor to many in the horse-racing journalism field. He was a consistent presence in the Keeneland Race Course press box, working through his illnesses and making one final visit during the most recent fall meet after returning home from extended stays in care facilities.

A celebration of Mooney’s life will take place at the Thoroughbred Club of America in Lexington on Saturday, Feb. 18, at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

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