RETIRED Daily Racing Form executive columnist Joe Hirsch, 74, the
dean of turf writers. Hirsch is among the most popular figures in
American racing, beloved from the backside barns to the owners'
boxes for his fairness and his gentlemanly ways. In 49 years with
the Form he covered the sport on four continents, bore witness to
every significant champion of the last half century and enjoyed a
life most sportswriters only dream about. He roomed with jockey
Bill Hartack at the 1956 Kentucky Derby and with Joe Namath
during the quarterback's first three seasons with the Jets. But
after battling Parkinson's disease for 15 years, Hirsch felt it
was time to quit. "I can't do it anymore," he says, "so I'm just
going to try to do nothing now."
Though never a ladies' man, Hirsch found himself at the center of
Manhattan nightlife in '65. As a favor to his friend Sonny
Werblin, who owned the Jets and Monmouth Park, he became the
unofficial minder of Broadway Joe. Hirsch and Namath shared a
Manhattan apartment. "Joe and I used to double-date," says
Hirsch. "I always said midnight was time to get home. He put up
with that for five games, and the Jets lost them all. Finally, he
said, 'Screw it,' and we started staying out all night."
It's the memories of horses and courses that Hirsch cherishes
most. He calls Secretariat's three track records in the 1973
Triple Crown the most amazing feat he's seen and names the great
Nashua, who won 22 of 30 races in the '50s, as his favorite
horse. A graceful writer, Hirsch cofounded the National Turf
Writers Association in 1959 and was a mentor to countless racing
journalists, including former SI senior writer William Nack. "I
love racing," says Hirsch, who plans to drop by the track
occasionally. "I love the people in racing. It was easy to be
enthusiastic." --Mark Beech
B/W PHOTO: BILL STRAUS/KEENELAND (HIRSCH) EASY WRITER Hirsch: chronicled Nashua, prowled with Namath.
COLOR PHOTO: MYRON DAVIS/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES(NASHUA) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: AP (NAMATH) [See caption above]