Nack, Graves Left Lasting Marks on Racing Coverage

Posted May 25, 2018

The world of turf writing has lost two important members of its community, Bill Nack and Matt Graves. We pause in the midst of Triple Crown coverage and reflect on their lives.

William Louis Nack

Bill Nack, a longtime member of NTWAB and a legend in the world of sports writing, died at home on April 13, 2018, with his family present.

He was survived by his wife Carolyne Starek; children Emily, Rachel, Amy and William; grandchildren  Abigail, Noah, Ayla, Autumn, Jackson and Marcus; and his sister Dorothy Nack.

A memorial service for Nack was held at St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, on May 7.

Nack won seven media Eclipse Awards and was best known for his coverage of Secretariat that included the biography "Big Red".  According to BloodHorse, the book was used as the inspiration for the 2010 Disney movie "Secretariat."

Nack was born in Chicago in 1941. After attending the University of Illinois, he enlisted in the Army where his hitch included a 1968 tour in Vietnam.

Nack began his career in earnest with Newsday, where he worked 11 years. According to the New York Times, Nack initially covered several areas of news but was primarily on the horse racing beat after he, during a 1971 Christmas party, stood on a tabletop and recited the names of every Kentucky Derby winner. The publication's editor was duly impressed.

Nack was with Sports Illustrated from 1978 to 2001. While he gave a big voice to horse racing coverage, Nack's range extended across the entire spectrum of sports, from boxing to basketball and everything between. Following his tenure with SI, he was a freelance writer for numerous media outlets, including ESPN and Gentlemen's Quarterly.

Nack was awarded NTWAB's 1992 Walter Haight Award for career excellence in turf writing. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame's Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor in 2010, and he was presented an ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing in 2017.

Memorial contributions may be made in memory of Nack to the Secretariat Foundation, which supports equine welfare through research, rescue and retirement. It's the Secretariat Foundation, P.O. Box 4865, Louisville, KY 40204, and online at

Matthew F. Graves

Matt Graves passed away on Jan. 27, 2018 at the age of 70 at the Hospice Inn at St. Peter's Hospital in Albany, New York.

Graves is survived by his wife, Debbie, whom he married in 2006; a daughter, Jennifer Graves and her husband, David Quigg; and grandchildren Westerly, Nate and Macy. In addition, Graves was survived by two brothers, John and Tim Graves; two sisters, Kathy Curley and Patty Jones; five nephews and two nieces; his stepson, Ryon Hallman and his wife Valerie; and mother-in-law Mary Lou Beauchea.

Graves, who played baseball at Ohio State, made his career covering horse racing at the Albany Times Union after starting there in 1981. He covered horse racing for the paper until 2005, when he retired. Graves also covered college and professional hockey. He loved the meet at Saratoga and reportedly led the press box in handicapping four times in his career, not an easy accomplishment at the Graveyard of Favorites.

Graves stayed busy after retirement by handicapping for Capital OTB, and he was a contributor to the Times Union. During his final summer, for the 46th consecutive year he gambled on and wrote about the horses and their connections at Saratoga.

During his career, Graves routinely  traveled to big racing events like the Triple Crown series and Breeders' Cup. He twice won the Red Smith Award for his coverage of the Kentucky Derby. He was also recognized by Associated Press as a national top 10 columnist.

"Matt was an all-around great guy," John Hendrickson, Marylou Whitney's husband, said. "He elevated everyone, as he was kind, fair and well respected. The racing world has just lost one of its best."

According to his obituary, "anyone who knew Matt knows he was quick with a story, a laugh, a Roy Orbison song if asked and a tip for the next race. Matt was a character for sure, but possessed more character than most could hope for. He was a simple man with regard to material things, whose only real desire was to be remembered."

 A funeral Mass was held on Feb. 2 at  St. Henry's Church in Averill Park. Donations in his memory may be made to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, P.O. Box 803, Elmhurst, IL 60126; and to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, P.O. Box 834, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866.

By Dick Downey for NTWAB