Bill Mooney, the award-winning Turf writer who ranks among Thoroughbred racing's premier historians of any generation, has been recognized by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and the Kentucky Senate for his contributions to the horse industry and courage in the face of a devastating two-year battle with cancer.
The Senate proclamation on the motion of Sen. Reggie Thomas read in part that Mooney “has worked tirelessly to preserve for posterity horse racing's illustrious history, using details and descriptions which, for the reader, bring to life the colorful world of horse racing, both today and throughout history.”
Mayor Gray in his commemoration declared December “Bill Mooney Month in Lexington,” in part stating that the Lexington writer “is a kind, loving person who goes out of his way to help others in need; who has been a role model for journalists; and who has taught us all how to face overwhelming adversity with great strength, courage, grit and class; and … has made incredible contributions to horse racing that will last in perpetuity.”
The full text of both commendations can be found at NTWAB.org, the website of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Mooney last year was the inaugural winner of the NTWAB's Bill Mooney Award for the racing participant displaying courage in the face of tremendous adversity.
Mooney is a two-time Eclipse Award winner, in 1985 for the quintessential story about Ellis Park that ran in Thoroughbred Record and in 2007 for a poignant story about the euthanization of champion Precisionist at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Ky., that ran in Post Time USA. The native New Englander was awarded the 2012 Walter Haight Award by the NTWAB for career excellence, co-authored multiple editions of The Complete Encyclopedia of Horse Racing: The Illustrated Guide to the World of the Thoroughbred and is author of the Tony Ryan Book Award-winning Keeneland's Ted Bassett: My Life. He also has been a racetrack publicist of note.
However, Mooney's greatest legacy could be his painstaking research and colorful descriptions of long-forgotten subjects such as the end of racing in Texas in 1938 before being banned for 50 years and short-lived Tri-State Fair Grounds in Huntington as the site of the first West Virginia Derby in 1923. The latter story was published in the Paulick Report in August when Mooney was critically ill but still drove the six hours each between his home in Lexington to Mountaineer Park to handle publicity for the West Virginia Derby.
“One of the things that bothers me about the illness is that there are so many other stories that I wanted to write about,” Mooney said. “There was a great racetrack in Charleston, S.C., back in those days where something like four Kentucky Derby winners raced there. I so much wanted to write about that racetrack. There are a lot of lost racetracks out there that people don't know about. It's our history and our heritage.”
Mooney — whose magnificent and voluminous history and story-telling have been typed with one finger (a byproduct of being in a horrific auto crash at age 15) — sounds befuddled by the tributes, saying, “I'm an ordinary guy.”
That might be the one fact that Mooney has gotten wrong.
“I've never met a more diligent reporter,” said Michael Blowen, president and founder of Old Friends after being a critic for the Boston Globe. “I never met anyone, regardless of what their beat is, who is as good a fact-checker as Bill Mooney. On top of all that, we just owe him everything at Old Friends. Because he was one of the first people who had a reputation at stake who thought this was a good idea…. He's just been a tremendous friend. We're going to name a street after him. There's nobody I've met more courageous than Bill.”
“Bill Mooney has been a mentor and, most importantly, an invaluable friend to the Thoroughbred racing industry and the Bluegrass community as a whole,” said NTWAB president Alicia Hughes. “The courage he has shown in his battle with cancer and the perspective he has maintained have further solidified his status as an inspiration to all.”
Tributes to Mooney from his colleagues can be found here. Also on the NTWAB website: The definitive story about rather than by Mooney, the son of two circus performers, including a world-class aerialist, and his distinction with the Walter Haight Award for Career Excellence In Turf Writing.
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