Joe Hirsch, 80, the longtime columnist for the Daily Racing Form who was known as the dean of American turf writers, died Friday at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, said Steven Crist, chairman and publisher of the Daily Racing Form. A lifelong resident of New York, Hirsch had Parkinson's disease and was recovering from a broken hip suffered in a fall last spring.
Hirsch's career spanned more than 50 years, and he chronicled the road to the Kentucky Derby with his detailed reports -- called "Derby Doings" -- on prep races in Florida, California, Kentucky and New York. He retired in 2003.
Hirsch was also known for helping new racing writers learn the sport and was the first president of the National Turf Writers Assn. in 1959. He had the respect of horse owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and track owners, as well as fellow journalists and the racing public.
A general sports fan, Hirsch was famous for being Joe Namath's roommate for three years in the 1960s when the star quarterback played for the New York Jets.
Hirsch was born Feb. 27, 1928, and studied journalism at New York University. He was hired by the Morning Telegraph, a publication affiliated with the Daily Racing Form, in 1948 and moved to the Daily Racing Form in 1954. He served four years in the Army.
When the new press box at Churchill Downs in Kentucky was completed in 2005, it was named the Joe Hirsch Media Center. In 1994, the Thoroughbred Club of America honored him for his distinguished service to racing.