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."