01/09/2009 12:00AM

Memories of Joe Hirsch

Hirsch with jockey Ron Turcotte before the 1973 Belmont Stakes.

Jerry Bailey

Retired Hall of Fame rider

We used to have dinner down here [in Miami] at least once a winter. In the late 80's Joe invited Suzee and I to Cafe Chevron one night and tried to talk me into eating the chocolate souffle for desert. 'Wouldn't hurt a baby,' he said. I told him I had to do light the next day but he talked me into it anyway. And I'll never forget I ended having to spend an extra 45 minutes in the hot box the next day.

But I still love Joe Hirsch. He was the greatest and very instrumental, I believe, in getting me in the Hall of Fame as early as I did. I don't know that for a fact. I just had that feeling. He was always very kind to me and always treated me with respect no matter what I did, right or wrong. He always handled things very tactfully.

James E. Bassett III

Former Keeneland chairman of the board

To many the image of Joe Hirsch was racing's national journalist, with his trademark dark glasses, the deliberate walk, and the diminutive notebook in his left hand documenting irrefutable quotes. He redefined the role of sports journalist, becoming the most widely read turf columnist in the world, respected by his peers, revered and admired by his colleagues, truly one of racing's treasures and one of its finest ambassadors.

David Donk

Trainer, former assistant to Woody Stephens

Woody and Joe were very close, there was a mutual respect between the two. Joe was so respectful to me because I did work for Woody. Whenever he'd call you up, he'd apologize if he was bothering you, but you knew when he called it was for the right reason. You wanted Joe to do an article on you. When Joe wrote about you, people read it.

Allan Gutterman

Santa Anita marketing director

I had been working at the Meadowlands. Even though it's six miles across the river, at Meadowlands, you're not part of the New York scene. I got to know Joe. He made me feel like an insider early on.

Because I lived in the city and he lived in the city, I'd get to have lunch with him sometimes at some of the great watering holes. There were places he'd go in and he'd be like a king. Everyone was, 'Mr. Hirsch Mr. Hirsch.' It was really a privilege that he considered me a friend.

One year I sat with him at the Eclipse Awards and it was funny because he'd say things under his breath that he'd never write.

Russ Harris

Handicapper for the New York Daily News

I've known Joe since November 1958. Joe was the best ambassador the game ever had and you couldn't find 2 percent of the racing world that would disagree with that. I wish he was born 25 years later because we need him now.

He was a positive thinker. I think that was the key to his success. He was always looking to advance racing and people's interest in racing. I think he would have been a success in any business he tried because of his energy and his positive outlook.

I really am sorry that he had to spend so long in retirement. I think everybody admired his courage these last few years.

Allen Jerkens

Hall of Fame trainer

He called me up one time and he says a lot of trainers are resenting the fact they have to report their horses to the clockers - this is when they first started with gap attendants - and I said to him it seems like the public likes to know it and the public makes the purses so anything the public wants we should try to help. He thought that was great, he always gave me a good mark for that.

When you were going into a stakes race and he called, you could bet you were one of the contenders. It was always good to talk to him because you thought you had some chance, anyway.

Dave Johnson

Track announcer

When I came from Cahokia Downs to Hialeah he was like a mentor. And when I got the job in New York, one of the first days in New York, he took me to Pietros on the corner of 45th and 3rd. He was a celebratory kind of person, he reveled when you had good luck and he was there for the fun. Yet when I saw him on the other side going to Kentucky Derby parties, he was so exhausted from running those reams of material. . . . I just have this wonderful memory of this hardworking, good-hearted mentor who always had time for you.

Tim Layden

Senior writer, Sports Illustrated

I get sent to Saratoga [in 1976] by my boss at the Schenectady Gazette to do the daily racing story. I can't read the program. Joe is sitting alone at his table in the back, facing away from the track. He looks like somebody important, so I ask for help. He tells me to sit down next to him and teaches me - in painstaking detail - how to read the program.

In 1986 I write this investigative piece for the Albany paper on a horse controversy. Joe stops me in the press box the day it runs. 'Your story should win the Eclipse Award.' Which it does. And that gets me a job at Newsday. I always figured Joe might have rigged the Eclipse voting for me.

Richard Mandella

Hall of Fame trainer

I always thought he was a great writer. He'd seen so much history, he was able to put a big picture together. His love of the game was obvious and his ability to go back in the history book in his mind and piece things together made his articles interesting.

Shug McGaughey

Hall of Fame trainer

He was a special guy. I was always flattered whenever he wrote an article about me and quoted me because he always made me sound a lot better in print. He'll be missed by me, and more importantly, by horse racing.

Richard Migliore


He wrote about racing in such a passionate, articulate, thorough way, and it was always a pleasure to read his thoughts and interpretations on what was going on in the game. Then, when I started riding and you'd get the call that Joe Hirsch wants to interview you, it was so special and humbling that he'd pick you as a topic"

Steve Sexton

President of Churchill Downs

One of Joe's most memorable sentences came in a Daily Racing Form piece on five-time Horse of the Year Kelso in which he wrote: 'Once upon a time there was a horse named Kelso . . . but only once.' Let us borrow Joe's brilliant phrase and proclaim today that once upon a time, there was a special journalist and man named Joe Hirsch . . . but only once.

Sonny Taylor

NYRA placing judge

He was the greatest, that Joe Hirsch. He and Charlie Whittingham used to use this expression - 'where Molly hid the peaches.' I'd always ask him what it meant and he'd never tell me. Guess now we'll never know.

Billy Turner

Trainer of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew

He had such a wealth of knowledge about the history of the game, and it was always fascinating to listen to him talk. When I was on the Triple Crown trail with Seattle Slew, he'd come around and interview me. I'd pick his brain, and after about a half-hour he'd say, 'Wait a minute - I'm supposed to be interviewing you!' He put so much color into his stories. He expected things to be done first class, and that's the way he wrote. He will be irreplaceable.

John Veitch

Retired Hall of Fame trainer, chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

Back when I had Alydar at Hialeah in 1978, Joe brought his good friend Joe Namath out to the barn one morning. Namath brought along a little dog, and one of my grooms was supposed to watch him while we all went out to watch the horses train.

Joe Hirsch and I came back to the barn first, and the little dog is nowhere to be found. Joe almost had a heart attack. He said, 'I've got to sit down! Joe loves that little dog more than football!'

Well, it turns out the grooms were just playing a trick on him. When Joe Namath came back, they brought the dog out of one of the stalls like nothing had happened. Joe [Hirsch] and I had a few laughs about that over the years.

Tom Werblin

Son of Sonny Werblin, former racing executive and co-owner of the New York Jets

I remember my parents telling me that they were [in Paris] with Joe for the Arc and they were driving up the Champs Elysees on a beautiful, bucolic October morning and Sonny says to Joe, 'How would you describe this?' And Joe, the man of many words, says, 'It's just so French.' They all broke out laughing in the back of the limousine."