Joe Hirsch, considered the dean of American turf writers, died early Jan. 9 at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City, according to the Daily Racing Form, where he was a long-time columnist. Hirsch was 80.
The Form reported Hirsch, who fell and broke a hip at his midtown Manhattan apartment last spring, had been living in a long-term care facility before being transferred to St. Luke's earlier in the week. He had suffered for many years from Parkinson's disease. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
A funeral service will be held Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. at Plaza Jewish Community Chapel, 630 Amsterdam Ave. at 91st Street in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in honor of Joe Hirsch to Columbia University Center, Parkinson's Disease research, 630 West 168th St.; att: Dr. Thomas Q. Morris.
A graduate of New York University, Hirsch began his writing career with the New York Times, leaving that publication after a short period to join The Morning Telegraph, then a companion paper of the Form. He joined the Form in 1954, and in 1974 was named the paper’s executive columnist, a title he kept until his retirement in November 2003 at age 74.
“As his countless friends and colleagues in racing will attest, Joe’s contributions to the sport he genuinely loved go far beyond the columns he began writing in 1954,” DRF chairman and publisher Steven Crist said at the time of Hirsch’s retirement. “He has been a teacher and mentor to generations of writers, and a tireless advocate for racing on an international scale. His absence from these pages will be devastating, but we all look forward to years of his continuing counsel and friendshio.”
Hirsch was founder and first president of the national Turf Writers Association and at least two press boxes–at Saratoga Race Course and Churchill Downs–have been named in his honor.
Among his numerous awards were the Eclipse Award of Merit, the Big Sport of Turfdom Award, and the Jockey Club Medal. He was also the honored guest at the 1994 Thoroughbred Club of America’s Testimonial Dinner and he is the only writer to have received the Eclipse Award for outstanding writing in North America, as well as the Lord Derby Award from the Horserace Writers and Reporters Association of Great Britain.
Hirsch’s reputation and contributions to the industry went well beyond the written word, as he was a widely respected authority on racing who was able to call upon and share information with leading owners and breeders. He was also well-known for his willingness to help budding young turf writers, so it was fitting that in 2005 the University of Kentucky and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association established the Joe Hirsch Scholarship program to assist students interested in pursuing careers in Thoroughbred racing journalism.
Plans for a memorial service where his many friends, colleagues and fans can celebrate his life currently are being formulated and Daily Racing Form will announce the details once these plans are finalized.