12/28/2016 2:00PM

Legendary handicapper Russ Harris dies at 93

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Russ Harris was an athlete and a scholar, but he will always be remembered for being a terrific public handicapper. Harris died Wednesday at the age of 93 at his home in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

“He basically died of old age. He didn’t have a long, drawn-out illness,” said Harris’s son, Craig Donnelly, who followed his father’s footsteps into the field of handicapping.

Harris began handicapping in 1958 for the Akron Beacon Journal under the nom de plume Phil Dancer. Harris told Bill Finley in a 2005 column for ESPN that Phil meant “friend of horses” in Greek, and Dancer came from Native Dancer, one of his favorite horses.

Harris worked for the Miami Herald, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Daily Racing Form before arriving at the New York Daily News in 1977, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2008. He was selected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor in 2011.

On May 8, 1981, Harris selected all nine winners on a card at Belmont Park and, according to Donnelly, was most proud of his selection of Coastal, who upset Spectacular Bid’s Triple Crown attempt in the 1979 Belmont Stakes.

“He wrote a lot, but he loved the handicapping aspect of it because he was very competitive,” Donnelly said. “They kept score how many winners everybody was picking, and he always prided himself on picking more winners than everybody. It was important to him.”

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“I take it very seriously,” Harris told DRF’s Jay Hovdey in 2008. “If you’re looking for hunches, don’t come to me. I try to pick every race like it’s the ninth, and I’ve just won eight.”

Harris wanted to be a pitcher, but his fledgling baseball career was disrupted by World War II. Still, in 2002, he was selected for the Greater Akron Baseball Hall of Fame.

According to Donnelly, Harris was also an academic, getting degrees from four universities, including a master’s in American history from Lehigh in 1999 when he was 76 years old.

Donnelly said he caught the racing bug from his father.

“The first time I went to Hialeah and saw how beautiful the animals are and handicapping the races and you get paid if you win,” Donnelly said, “I thought, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this.’ ”

Visitation will be held at Chadwick & McKinney Funeral Home in Ardmore, Pa., on Monday from 10-11 a.m.

In addition to Donnelly, Harris is survived by sons Stephen and Michael and daughter Janine.

– additional reporting by Jim Dunleavy

Blaine MacMillan 10 months ago
R.I.P. to one of the great handicappers. Russ Harris....
Togo Travalia 10 months ago
Just seeing this. Russ was absolutely the best: a consummate handicapper, horse lover and gentleman. Rest in peace, my friend. Growing up back in heyday of the NYRA circuit, I'd finish working up a card at the Spa, Belmont or the Big A, and then I'd look at all the papers: John Pricci in Newsday...John Piesen and Ray Kerrison in the Post...and always Russ Harris in the Daily News, beholding the no-nonsense, matter-of-fact headshot topping his analysis. If I was clicking with Russ, I knew I could take it to the bank. Somewhere in my choices, I had my finger on some winners.
Chad mc rory 10 months ago
Here's to your Dad, Craig.
Van Cushny 10 months ago
After handicapping a race, the first thing I did was look to see who THE MAN, Russ Harris, picked.  If Russ picked a horse that I hadn't given much chance, I knew that I missed something.  His consistent ability to pick winners demanded your RESPECT.  God bless you, Russ Harris, may you rest in peace.
Van Cushny 10 months ago
After handicapping a race, the first thing I did was look to see who THE MAN, Russ Harris, picked.  If Russ picked a horse that I hadn't given much chance, I knew that I missed something.  His consistent ability to pick winners demanded your RESPECT.  God bless you, Russ Harris, may you rest in peace.
William Taylor 10 months ago
We missed the competition ever since he retired. Russ Harris was the dean of handicappers. He was the odds-on favorite to win the handicappers title each year at Saratoga. The path to that title went through him.
He's picking straight  tris now for the trinity and hitting every race. Condolences to the family and rest in peace.Russ.

 
George 10 months ago
Google Craig Donnelly or Parx Picks and you will find him...makes picks every day for Parx
Dale Tillotson 10 months ago
Take The  Man's top pick and build an exotic ticket with his pick on top.
Bob Pandolfo 10 months ago
Russ Harris was a machine. No one picked more winners. May he rest in peace. 
Brian Taylor 10 months ago
RIP Russ Harris.One of the greats.