Remembering John Piesen

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TwinSpires Staff

May 4th, 2017


I grew up as a newspaper addict. Every day, the routine was to get up, go buy the papers, then, have breakfast. In fact, I don’t know how it is possible to have breakfast without a newspaper. It is my favorite condiment.

As a kid in New York City, the New York Post came out in the afternoon so the New York Daily News was the first read. Years later, the Post came out in the morning and they have been my first read ever since.

When Apple came out with the iPad, I was in on it early. My first one cost over $800 but I was able to pay for it within 18 months. The major newspapers have spectacular apps and it is better than reading the actual paper. And, a lot cheaper. For the Post and News, I pay less than $200 per year for the combined cost of their subscriptions. In no time, it saved me more money than the iPad cost. Plus, they are available around 5 a.m. and it is the late edition which has all the late box scores. Heaven.

Reading the New York Post since I learned how to read, the major writers in the paper, especially in the sports pages, became almost like family members. Jim O’Brien and Pete Vecsey covered the NBA, Paul Zimmerman covered the NFL and John Piesen and Ray Kerrison covered horse racing.

In 1988, I began to cover horse racing for the Troy Record of Troy, New York and their racing writers sat next to the New York Post writers. So there I was, sitting next to John Piesen many days in the front row of the Saratoga Press Box; the best seat in the house.

John and I got along very well. I think everyone checks out the new guy but besides my abrasive personality, at least I knew what I was talking about.

Back then, Piesen used to write a piece called “Thru the Binocs.” The next morning, you could read his account of the races but also little tidbits about what was going on at the track behind the scenes. It was must-read racing coverage and he would break stories in it. Plus, John was a regular on Harvey Pack’s “Inside Racing” television show so he had a lot of visibility.

I handicapped every day but only wrote a column twice a week during Saratoga so I would pass along any information I picked up and would give it to him. When it showed up in “Thru the Binocs,” I always got a big kick out of it.

The newspaper business was in decline and many writers were either let go or offered buyouts to leave. John left the New York Post and re-surfaced with the Daily Racing Form where he had a 10-year stint.

One of his claims to fame was picking at least one winner for 207 days straight with his public picks. As someone who does the same thing for a living, it was an amazing accomplishment. If you don’t think so, just try it.

Somewhere along the line, not sure if it was with the Post or DRF, but the end of his reporting would have little bits and pieces under the heading “Piesen Cues.”

While Piesen took care of the day-to-day racing issues, Ray Kerrison wrote about the horse racing industry. From Australia and their take-no-prisoners school of journalism, Kerrison was the ultimate in fairness and ethics. He skewered people in the industry but they deserved to be skewered and he skewered them fairly. I thought Ray was a giant and I got to know him a bit over the years. He and the late Joe Hirsch were the greatest horse racing writers.

So here it is Kentucky Derby (G1) week and as always, I was checking newspaper web sites for any updates. And there, Tuesday night around 7 p.m. Eastern time, I saw a headline in the New York Post web site that John Piesen had died at the age of 80.

Remarkably, the obituary was written by Ray Kerrison, who just turned 87 three weeks ago and apparently still lives in New Jersey. A memorial Mass will be held on Saturday in Fords, New Jersey; the First Saturday of May.