Memories of respect and praise are infinite for legendary turf writer Joe Hirsch, who died Friday at the age of 80 at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. Hirsch began his career with the New York Times, and in 1954 joined Daily Racing Form, where he was named executive columnist in 1974. He retired in November 2003.
“It was so much fun to work with him,” said current Racing Form writer Steve Andersen, “because he really led by example. He was the consummate gentleman. Everybody knew him and everybody wanted to be around him when he came to town. I remember in 1994, when Sam Houston Park opened, it was my first job with the Racing Form, and I had been there two weeks. Every day the track president stopped me and asked if Joe Hirsch was coming, because he knew that was the stamp of approval. If he could get Hirsch there, he knew he’d made it. Joe didn’t go.”
“He looked like a million bucks every day,” Andersen continued. “He was always turned out. He was definitely a throw back to the old gentlemen journalists of post-World War II. It was really remarkable to be a part of his dinner parties. He went to all the lovely restaurants, including some great spots here in Los Angeles.
“Watching him work the room was pretty remarkable, because everybody would come over to greet him. I only knew him the last 15 years of his life, but I was really privileged to spend some time with him.”
Added Santa Anita Publicity Director Mike Willman: “The thing about Joe was that he had an incredible memory and an incredible feel for the game. He remembered little things, minutia that was relevant. And he of course remembered people. Joe knew everyone and he listened well, and maybe that was one of the biggest keys to his success.
“Anybody who saw Joe in the latter stages of his career knew his heath was declining, but he persevered. He continued to travel all over the country and cover major stakes. How he did it the last couple of years, is just amazing, and a testament to his love of the game and the people in it. There will never be another Joe Hirsch; he was simply in a league of his own.”
O’NEILL NOT IN A ‘TIZZY’ OVER POST POSITION IN SATURDAY’S SAN PASQUAL
As if Slew’s Tizzy didn’t have enough of a challenge facing 10 rivals in a highly competitive San Pasqual Handicap on Saturday, the 5-year-old Tiznow horse drew the extreme outside post position in the 1 1/16-mile race, a major prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7.
“It’s not your ideal draw, but he’s handy enough and Joel’s on him. He knows him,” said trainer Doug O’Neill, referring to jockey Joel Rosario. “We’ll lose a little ground, but we won’t get caught up in any crazy traffic, either.”
Slew’s Tizzy won the Grade III Native Diver Handicap at 1 1/8 miles with Rosario up on Dec. 6.
The field for the 72nd running of the San Pasqual: Mostacolli Mort, Garrett Gomez, 114, 8-1; Marchfield, Patrick Husbands, 118, 8-1; Informed, Michael Baze, 113, 20-1; Cowboy Cal, John Velazquez, 117, 4-1; Noble Court, Mike Smith, 114, 12-1; Past the Point, Rafael Bejarano, 116, 5-1; Well Armed, Aaron Gryder, 121, 3-1; Magnum, Martin Pedroza, 113, 20-1; Ball Four, Christopher DeCarlo, 118, 10-1; Racketeer, Chantal Sutherland, 113, 30-1; and Slew’s Tizzy, Joel Rosario, 116, 6-1. Blue Exit was entered but scratched.
PROMISING HAKA TESTS STAKES WATERS IN SANTA YSABEL
Haka jumps from a maiden win to a Grade III stakes when she runs in Sunday’s $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
“It was the only option we had for now,” explained Nicholas Bachalard, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. “Otherwise, we’d have to wait another two or three weeks for a condition race. That’s why we’re trying her here. If she runs well, fine. If not, we’ll try her back on the grass.”
Haka, a bay daughter of Dynaformer, won by 5 ½ lengths on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track on Dec. 18. On Nov. 23, she rallied from far back to finish third in a one-mile turf race at Hollywood. “She’s trained well at Santa Anita,” Bachalard said, “so we’ll take a chance.”
Haka, a homebred owned by Claiborne Farm, has a 1-1-1 record from three starts, with earnings of $37,160.
The field for the 42nd Santa Ysabel for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles: Acting Lady, Michael Baze, 116; Haka, Garrett Gomez, 116; Jemmealey, Jose Valdivia Jr., 116; Dave’s Revenge, Victor Espinoza, 116; Century Park, Tyler Baze, 116; Lady Lumberjack, Rafael Bejarano, 114; Will O Way, Joel Rosario, 116; Crazy Tricia, Martin Garcia, 114; and Toro Bonito, David Flores, 114
MAUDLIN WINNERS’ CIRCLE AFTER RETURN OF THE KING’S VICTORY
Despite a gathering of nearly 50 people, Santa Anita’s winner’s circle was eerily quiet after Return of the King won Thursday’s second race by three-quarters of a length under Martin Pedroza.
The contingent consisted of friends of the James Ortega family of Covina, who were slain on Christmas Eve. Ortega had owned the 7-year-old gelding trained by David Bernstein before it was moved to his son, James Edward, in a living trust.
Pedroza experienced a multitude of emotions as he rode the horse to victory.
“I swear to God, I had chills when I was nearing the finish,” said the 43-year-old rider. “It was a feeling you don’t normally get. I had goose bumps all over my body. It was wonderful, almost like a spirit was in my body. “It was emotional, but I didn’t want anybody to know. You could tell from my voice I was very emotional, but I handled it pretty good. I always try very hard on every horse, but once I got the lead, I was working it.”
There will be an Ortega Family Benefit at Santa Anita on Saturday, Feb. 28, presented by the Rocha Family and Friends, with proceeds going to the Ortega Family Trust.
Cost for adults, 18 and over, is $25; children, 17 and under, $10. The price includes admission, parking, program and steak lunch. RSVP by Feb. 15 to Jerry Rocha, 626 945-6729. or Jim Rocha, 909 267-8623.
FINISH LINES: Jordan Springer registered a $50,60 upset on first-time starter Tavern trained by Bob Hess Jr. for his wife, Amy, in Thursday’s fourth race. It was Springer’s first victory in her first ride at the Santa Anita meet. “I rode one horse at Oak Tree, and before that I rode in Kentucky for eight years, including at Churchill Downs since 2004,” said the 31-year-old rider, who was raised in upstate New York. “I freelance in the mornings to pay the bills, and hopefully, this win will help.” Hess said his wife owns Tavern’s mare, Effectively Wild. “When I first met her four or five years ago, she told me she had this mare, and I said I had a breeding (share) to Gotham City (a horse Hess trained). I told her I’m not going to use it, so you might as well. It’s a good way to go broke, but in this case, it worked out.” Hess plans to send a small string this spring to Keeneland, where Springer will work for him there, in addition to trainer Eoin Harty. “Hopefully, she’ll come back to California when we come back,” Hess said . . . If by any chance the 24-1 victory by Tavern didn’t insure a two-day Pick Six carryover, Joe Talamo rode Where’s Scarlet to a front-running $94.60 shocker for trainer Bill Currin in the fifth race to clinch it. The carryover into Friday is $423,985.88. “She felt pretty good,” Talamo said of Where’s Scarlet, a 3-year-old daughter of In Excess. “I didn’t really get too many instructions, other than she was kind of a nervous filly, so in the post parade, I just tried to get along with her as much as I could. I gave her her head and kind of let her do her own thing and she relaxed pretty well. She really finished pretty well. She was able to go pretty slow, and I was really pleased with the way she kicked away.” Asked if he considered the odds of horses he rode, Talamo said: “That’s one thing I never do. Even in the program (morning line), I don’t really like to look at odds. Of course, I read the (Racing) Form, but the odds of a horse are way in the back of my mind.”. . . Legendary Santa Anita “footman” Eddie Logan, 98 years young, remained in Arcadia Methodist Hospital today, recovering from a seizure suffered last Saturday . . . Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ventura, prepping for the Grade I Santa Monica Handicap at seven furlongs on Jan. 25, worked five furlongs under Goncalino Almeida on Pro-Ride Friday in :59.60. Her trainer, Bobby Frankel, said his Triple Crown hopeful, Brother Keith, is scheduled to run in the Grade III San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 17 . . . Rail Trip, undefeated in two starts for Ron Ellis, worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride Thursday in :59.80. “He seems to like this track,” Ellis said. “I was very happy with his two works over it. I don’t plan to run him for the next couple of weeks.” . . . John Sadler passed Sunday’s Santa Ysabel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles with Alpha Kitten in favor of the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs on Jan. 17.