For the better part of 20 years, Bill Mooney was the point person for publicity for the West Virginia Derby, which he chronicled through its rise to a major graded stakes on the national Thoroughbred racing calendar.
The two-time Eclipse Award-winning writer, who also was recognized as one of the top racing historians, died Jan. 28 of this year after a two-year battle with renal cell carcinoma. His work on promoting the West Virginia Derby—and all of racing at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort for that matter—will be recognized Aug. 5 with a race named in his memory.
“The Bill Mooney Memorial Purse,” the first race on the Saturday afternoon program, is appropriately a West Virginia-bred allowance race. Mooney loved his time in West Virginia, and for several years would come to Mountaineer five or six times to publicize meet openings, closings, stakes, and other racing events.
“Bill played a major role in promoting the West Virginia Derby, particularly in the Tri-State area, where multiple local daily newspapers published his stories in the lead-up to the race as well as his race reports,” said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer. “He loved coming here, even if it was just for several days to wrap up one of our meets in late fall, and we loved having him here.”
Mooney, a Rhode Island native who lived in Lexington, Ky., spent much of his time at the Keeneland Library, where he wrote and did research. He was a noted author and in 2015 the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters named him the inaugural recipient of the Bill Mooney Courage Award.
“Bill Mooney made many things clear during his courageous battle with cancer—not the least of which was how much Mountaineer and its people meant to him,” said Alicia Wincze-Hughes, racing editor for Blood-Horse and president of the NTWAB. “As was his trademark, Bill wouldn't dare take on a task without bringing his standard of accuracy and dedication to the table, and his duties in handling publicity for the West Virginia Derby were no exception.
“He could rattle off the race's history as easy as he could the pitching stats for his beloved Chicago White Sox. And even when he was critically ill last August, he still made the six-hour trek to oversee Cupid's triumph in the 2016 edition. His body racked with disease, Bill nonetheless made his annual trip to Mountaineer a priority. For those fortunate enough to call him a colleague, mentor and friend, we weren't the least bit surprised.”
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