Friday, December 28, 2018

Remembering Bill Nack - Prolific Sports Writer Who Loved Racing

The history of horse racing is one of my many loves and no one covered it better than the late William Nack who died in April 2018. Many may know the name as he wrote what is considered to be the best biography of the great Secretariat.

He loved his craft, following horse racing from an early age, from his home base in Chicago.  His uncle was a well-known photographer and took him to the Kentucky Derby in 1958 where he witnessed Tim Tam edging out long-shot Lincoln Road.  But what he adored more than witnessing his first Derby in person was his meeting with Hall of Fame and legend Ben Jones who was the force behind Calumet Farm before handing the reins over to his son Jimmy.  Jimmy Jones was Tim Tam's trainer that day.  Tim Tam would go on to win the Preakness but suffered a career-ending injury in the Belmont (where he finished second). 

When he met Ben Jones that weekend, he was riding Gen Duke, the Derby favorite a year earlier.  This was back in the day when stallions didn't go to to stud after six races.  Sigh.   He asked the famed trainer who his best horse was fully expecting him to reel off one of his two Triple Crown winners - Citation?  "Armed"  he replied.  "He could do anything."  Nack was stunned but heard it from the great man's mouth.  Armed was a Calumet gelding who ran in the 40's.

 His experience in Louisville that May lead him to follow his passion for writing and he graduated from Journalism school to take a job at Newsday where he found himself writing not of horse racing but of politics.  But like fate overtaking a mediocre horse to win a great horse race, Nack's passion eventually became fact, and Newsday named him to be their first writer to cover horse racing. (He was able to recite every Kentucky Derby winner from memory at a Christmas party and the editor was impressed - so the story goes).  

Lucky for us that Bill Nack captured the love, the passion and the excitement of horse racing and we have his work to remember these moments. There's something that the written word, from a passionate soul like Nack can convey - watching those videos on YouTube - well, I'll always prefer to read Nack.

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