Remembering Joe
By Blinkers Off

The Daily Racing Form and New York Racing Association held a memorial service Friday morning in the north terrace at Belmont Park for the late racing columnist Joe Hirsch, who died in January after a long fight with Parkinson’s disease.

Nothing could be less appetizing then the prospect of solemn speeches and choking pauses for the recently deceased followed by a washed-out scratch-fest on a sloppy track in pouring rain.

Ah, but the beloved Hirsch got the right kind of send-off, appealing to both the highbrow and lowbrow, with those heartfelt, choking speeches but also waitresses milling about the room plying bracing Bloody Mary’s and cheap champagne mimosas; a buffet brimmed with all sorts of treats like Key lime tarts and jelly donuts.

Joe’s family was racing and family is love and no one loved racing more than Joe.

A nice touch was the napkins printed with the term, “Dessert wouldn’t hurt a baby — Joe Hirsch.”

A murderer’s row of luminaries lined up to testify to Hirsch’s special qualities, never negative, always encouraging: D. Wayne Lukas, Nick Zito, Jerry Bailey, Charlie Hayward, Jay Hovdey, Steve Crist, Sherwood Chillingworth, Bill Nack.

“Joe’s family was racing and family is love and no one loved racing more than Joe,” Zito said.

Lukas remembered Triple Crown races where clumps of reporters would be huddled outside his barn after training hours for a gang interview and Hirsch would be sitting alone inside his office waiting for a private session, which he invariably received.

Zito told a story about going out to dinner with Hirsch and not particularly liking his meal. After watching Zito poking it around the plate for a while with a fork, Hirsch leaned over and said, “The bread’s good.”

Always finding the bright side.

“This game can grind you down,” said Hayward, the NYRA president. “A lot of cynicism, a lot of negativism. Not Joe Hirsch.”

* * * * * *

Bennie “Chip” Woolley and Calvin Borel rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday morning and then briefly visited the historic Trinity Church before climbing into long limos to head back to the track.

Woolley has been a true gamer this Triple Crown, hobbled on crutches for months following a serious motorcycle accident.

“It’s taken a lot of the fun out of this whole run,” he said. “I’m wore out by the end of the day. Man ain’t meant to walk on his hands.”

The NYSE struck a medallion commemorating the event that weighed a ton. I’ve already got an appointment with a metallurgist to find out what the heck it’s made of. If gold, look for mine on e-Bay on Monday morning … unless the Belmont is good to me …

Training hours are tough enough, but they’re brutal on a New Mexico guy like Woolley when he hits New York.

“It’s only 6 o’clock here,” he said at 9 a.m.

The traders on the stock exchange floor were all over Borel, chanting his name and yelling, “Get it done, baby.”

Woolley got a lot less love. On the sidewalk, a guy walked up to him, clearly not quite sure of things, and said he had watched the Preakness. “I had the other one,” the guy said, meaning Mine That Bird.

No offense intended, I’m sure …

Best new racing cliche, courtesy a racing writer Friday after hitting a Pick 4 with a $6 investment: “Why use a machete if you can take it down with a pocket knife?”