There were so many good stories being told, and re-told, in memory of Joe Hirsch June 5 at Belmont Park, it is hard to know which one Joe would have liked most. Well, Hirsch always saw the positive in everything, so he would have liked all the stories, equally.
Hirsch, the longtime dean of Turf writers and executive columnist for decades for Daily Racing Form, died in January at age 80. Because so many of his friends and colleagues were unable to attend his funeral, they gathered for a memorial in his honor at Belmont Park the day prior to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Among the comments from speakers at the memorial:
Retired Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey: "One night Joe invited my wife, Suzie, and I to dinner. The waitress said the dessert that night was strawberry soufflé. I had to ride the next day, so I said no thanks. Joe said I needed to have dessert and again I said no. Joe said, "It wouldn’t hurt a baby."
Those at the memorial laughed loudly, that saying being one of Hirsch’s favorites.
Steve Crist, publisher of Daily Racing Form, who moderated the memorial, informed those in attendance that the cocktail napkins at the event had, "Dessert wouldn’t hurt a baby," on them.
Former Sports Illustrated writer Bill Nack: "If Joe wrote it, you could take it to the bank. He was an inspiration for every reporter who covered the sport."
Oak Tree Racing Association director and executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth: "Joe always looked for the positive in everything. I will remember him for his wit, that he never felt sorry for himself (Hirsch suffered from Parkinson’s Disease), how thoughtful he was, and that he was a great friend."
Everyone has restaurant stories of Hirsch, who was a genuine foodie. "I will always remember going to Joe’s Stone Crab (in Miami) and when Joe would walk in, there might be 50 people waiting for dinner, and it was like the Red Sea parting for Moses."
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas: "Joe at any race was like Tiger Woods with an eight-foot putt to win a major or (Michael) Jordan with a clear look to win a championship. He always made the game look special."
"With all the problems today in racing, if there is a God, he better consult Joe."
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito: "I was at dinner with Joe and I wasn’t exactly enjoying my meal. Joe kept looking at me and he finally said, ‘The bread’s good, ain’t it.’ "