RIP Jack Wilson, Daily Racing Form’s Premier ‘Trackman’

by | 12.30.2014 | 9:33pm

During my years on the editorial desk at Daily Racing Form's Los Angeles office in the 1980s, my favorite edit was executive columnist Joe Hirsch's Monday column, in which he took questions from readers on a variety of racing subjects.

How many feet in a length? What's the difference between a workout done “handily” or “breezing”? How long is a furlong?

It seemed like every week at least one of the questions was answered with the phrase “according to Jack Wilson, trackman for Daily Racing Form…”

When I first met Jack, I told him how much I enjoyed the information he provided in Joe's Q&A column.

Jack laughed and his eyes twinkled. They always twinkled.

“Every week, as I'm leaving the track, someone would always mention something Joe wrote in that column, using me as a reference,” Jack said with a chuckle. “I always had to read the paper before I left the press box to make sure I knew what I said.”

Hirsch didn't make up Wilson's quotes, he just went deep into his memory bank of the thousands of conversations the two men shared over decades working together at New York and Florida racetracks as two of Daily Racing Form's most prolific writers.

Hirsch, who died in 2009, was the lead national reporter and columnist for the paper. Wilson, after working his way up the ladder, wrote tens of thousands of chart footnotes from New York and Florida racetracks, along with news stories and columns from whatever track he was working. He charted and wrote the footnotes for Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races for decades until his retirement. At one point he was asked to supervise the Form's national track and field operations.

Footnotes in Daily Racing Form charts told a story. Succinctly. Jack Wilson told that story as good as anyone ever did. And he did it with a smile and an appreciation for the game.

Old-timers, and I'm close to putting myself in that category, will remember that Jack was the nicest guy you'd run into at the racetrack. A big, warm smile and a ready handshake. His story-telling went beyond the chart footnotes he wrote: he was a raconteur of the highest order. He loved horse racing and got to witness some of the greatest Thoroughbreds in history, from Secretariat, Affirmed and Seattle Slew to Cigar.

Jack died Tuesday at the age of 80 from congenitive heart failure, according to his longtime employer, Daily Racing Form. He took countless stories and memories of great horses and races with him.

According to the Form, his survivors include his wife, Patricia; brothers Bob and David; sons John and Jim; daughter Patti; and grandchildren Katie, Kristie and Lakota. A memorial service is scheduled Jan. 12 from 7-9 p.m. at Stanfill Funeral Homes, 10545 South Dixie Highway, Miami, Fla. 33156.

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