01/16/2009 12:00AM

Letters to the Editor

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Hirsch served international role as ambassador

"You know, Bjorn, there are not many of us old-timers left now," Joe Hirsch confided in me when we met during my last visit to the United States, during Florida Derby week at (old) Gulfstream Park in 2003.

He insisted that we sit together at the media breakfast. He was laboring from the illness that plagued him visibly, but that he seemed to disregard completely. He also showed keen interest in my son, whom I had invited along for the trip.

The same night he had us for dinner at a fine restaurant together with some of his dear friends. How lucky can you get?

I took his "old-timers" remark as a compliment, much as I had when he introduced me to friends and colleagues almost 20 years earlier during the first Breeders' Cup week at Hollywood Park in 1984, with something like: "Oh, Frank, have you met Bjorn Zachrisson of the Jockey Club of Sweden? He takes care of practically everything over there."

I felt safe because no one else from my small nation was present.

I first met Joe Hirsch in the summer of 1960, at the Morning Telegraph offices in New York City. I had this scholarship from the Jockey Club of Sweden to study U.S. racing, and it came with a letter of introduction. As I came from a printing family, the object was to learn about the composing, printing, and other techniques behind the assembling of past performances for the benefit of horseplayers. (The American way of doing this was in my opinion far superior to the European model, still in existence and still running second.)

The Racing Form's formidable editor/publisher, J. Samuel Perlman, graciously received this 25-year-old Swede and immediately summoned two of his team, Pierre Bellocq (Peb) and Joe Hirsch, and took us all to lunch. I was thrilled. I look back on this first meeting with such champions of images and words as one of the most wonderful moments in my racing life.

The contacts with the Telegraph and particularly with its successor, the Daily Racing Form, soon brought me to the DRF headquarters at Plymouth Court in Chicago, where the bureau chief, Mel Schreier, showed me around the vast composing room with all past performances (meticulously housed in Linotype metal pieces).

Back in Sweden I started a sort of "pirate" Racing Form in 1962 that became the embryo for the present program for the Stockholm racetrack, which we still produce today, now all "legit."

I received the sad news of Joe's demise within hours of the fact ("Class of field, Joe Hirsch dies," Jan. 11). It first came on my screen via the National Thoroughbred Racing Association website, and as I write my own lines the next morning, comments and accolades are spreading rapidly around the world. Reading everything already put forth, I cannot say any better.

During my two years in Chicago, I regularly watched "The Naked City" on television. It always ended with a somber voice saying: "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This was one of them."

If I may paraphrase:

"There were literally thousands of friends of Joe Hirsch's. I count myself one of them."

Bjorn Zachrisson, Scandinavian Racing Bureau - Djursholm, Sweden

Writer was as great a champion as any

To me, Joe Hirsch was the Secretariat of turf writers.

Secretariat was extremely talented. So was Joe Hirsch.

Secretariat was all class. So was Joe Hirsch.

For what he accomplished, Secretariat earned numerous awards and the respect of jockeys, trainers, owners, breeders, turf writers, track publicists, and fans. And so did Joe Hirsch.

Jon White - Monrovia, Calif.