Turf Writer Joe Agrella Dead

Joe Agrella, a retired correspondent for The Blood-Horse and Turf writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, died March 11 at his home in Elmwood Park, west of Chicago. He was 93.

Agrella, whose writing appeared in The Blood-Horse as early as the 1950s and up to 1994, served as president of the National Turf Writers' Association and was honored with the organization's Walter Haight Award for distinguished writing.

Agrella's regular job was as a sports writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he not only covered racing and handicapping, but also football and other sports.

As a handicapper under the nom de plume Bud Doble, Agrella pulled off a "one-in-a-million" surprise. He picked the winners of the first eight races one day at Calder Race Course and a then-record $5,266 Big Perfecta. The Miami Herald called it "the most amazing feat of this or any other season."

A native of Italy, Agrella had started as a copyboy for the Chicago Times in 1931. The following decade, he saw action in the Pacific as a member of the Navy during World War II.

Agrella covered Chicago racing when it was among the best in the country. "There were important races held previously," Agrella told The Blood-Horse in 1998, "but the real heyday of Chicago racing started in the middle 1930s. It picked up steam when Ben Lindheimer took over Arlington and Washington Parks, and it continued at a very high level in the 1970s.

"For most of that period, the summer racing calendar was much different than it is today. Before construction of Aqueduct (in 1959) and the new Belmont Park (in 1968), the New York tracks were in trouble. Saratoga had a very short meeting. Major California racing was over early. The Kentucky summer meetings were strictly minor league.

"This all combined to make Chicago the place to race in the summertime. We got all the big stables from all over. Many of those outfits went on from Arlington, which used to race 30 days, to Washington, for another 30 days, then to Lincoln Fields and Hawthorne. The entire Chicago season for many years, including the Sportsman's Park meeting, was seven and a half months."

Agrella's survivors include his wife of 66 years, Jane, and four daughters.