New York Times horse-racing reporter Joe Drape keeps alive a newspaper tradition.
"I’m saying this bittersweetly: I’m one of the last ones to stand,” the Times' "turf writer" told colleague Terence McGinley in a "Times Insider" interview Friday.
Once newspaper columnists like the Herald Tribune and Times' Red Smith religiously covered horse racing, a sport that has declined in popularity, although the Kentucky Derby and other "Triple Crown" races still attract fans for at least a day.
Drape, who succeeded Times reporters Steve Cady and Joe Druoso on the horse racing beat, has been covering the Derby since 1998, only missing the run for the roses in Louisville for his son's first communion.
In the "Times Insider" column, Drape recalls going to horse races as a child with his family, and the intellectual pleasures of reading the racing form, which gives fans at the race track detailed information on each horse running that day.
Each year, I love reading Drape's Derby coverage. On Saturday morning of the race, I can't wait to peruse his "tout sheet" of the Derby field, listing the odds for each horse and its chances of making the winner's circle. Times editor Melissa Hoppert also comments on each ccontender.
Along with the "Times Insider" interview, Drape wrote an expansive front-page article about how championship horses make millions as breeders, cutting short their racing careers.
Drape, while loving the romance of horse racing, has covered the sport's doping scandals and horse deaths. This year, four horses have died at Churchill Downs before the race.
Along with horse racing, Drape covers football, e-sports and the gambling industry for the Times. He has also written several well-received books on horse racing, high school football and Catholicism.
On a personal note, I fondly remember Joe from when he was one of my colleagues at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Joe was always an encouraging presence in the newsroom, quick with a smile and a word of praise.
I've enjoyed following Joe's career at the Times. On Saturday morning, I'll again drink my coffee and read which horses he and Hoppert think "can do."