01/03/2005 12:00AM

Joe Durso, writer, dies at 80

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Joe Durso, a retired sportswriter, editor, and author who covered Thoroughbred racing for The New York Times, died Friday at University Hospital in Stony Brook, N.Y. He was 80 and had battled cancer for four years.

Durso worked for the Times for 51 years before retiring in 2001. In addition to covering the Mets and Yankees, Durso covered 20 Kentucky Derbies and in the 1990's was the Times' regular horse racing writer.

Durso is a member of the writers' and broadcasters' wing of baseball's Hall of Fame. He also wrote 14 books on sports history, including biographies of Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig.

Durso is survived by his wife, Margaret, three sons, two stepchildren, a sister, a brother, and nine grandchildren.

A funeral Mass and burial service was scheduled for Wednesday at St. James Roman Catholic Church in Setauket, N.Y.