‘They’re Off!’ author Ed Hotaling dies at age 75
SARATOGA SPRINGS Ed Hotaling, a Saratoga Springs native who became a network news correspondent and wrote a definitive history of horse racing in Saratoga, has died.
Hotaling was the author of “They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga,” perhaps the most widely quoted history of racing in the city and the great social forces that swirled around the sport over the years.
Hotaling, who was 75, died Monday at a Staten Island nursing home, where he had lived since a devastating auto accident in 2007.
This year is the 150th anniversary of thoroughbred racing in the city. Since its publication in 1995, Hotaling’s book has been one of the most-cited sources on that history. He called Saratoga “America’s first national resort.”
“They’re Off!” covers racing’s connections to everything from George Washington’s interest in the local mineral springs to the pre-Civil War kidnapping of free black man Solomon Northup to the Roaring Twenties era of notorious gangsters and famous entertainers together in the local casinos.
Hotaling was considered an authority on the history of African-American jockeys. As a WRC-TV reporter in 1988, it was his question to “Jimmy the Greek” Snyder — in which Snyder linked black athletic achievement to the breeding of slaves — that caused a controversy that cost the famed sports oddsmaker his television job.
Hotaling donated papers to both the National Museum of Racing and the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
“The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ed Hotaling,” said Brien Bouyea, the museum’s communications officer. “Ed wrote some of the finest books on the sport of racing, including ‘They’re Off! Horse Racing at Saratoga,’ ‘The Great Black Jockeys,’ and ‘Wink.’ He was one of the foremost authorities on the early history of Saratoga, and his work chronicling African-Americans in racing no doubt helped lead to the Hall of Fame inductions of Jimmy Winkfield, Shelby ‘Pike’ Barnes and Anthony Hamilton in recent years. He will be missed.”
Jimmy Winkfield, whose life is chronicled in “Wink,” was a black jockey who had success in the United States until white jockeys took over the sport, then went on to have a successful riding career in Europe.
“All jockeys up to about the 1920s or so were black. It was a lower-level occupation,” said Murray Zinoman of Washington, a fellow member of the Saratoga Springs High School Class of 1955 and lifelong friend of Hotaling. They co-edited the high school yearbook, Zinoman said.
“He was second or third in our class. He was an exceptional guy,” Zinoman recalled Tuesday.
“He grew up right near the track. He used to sell the Pink Sheet at the track,” recalled Ellen deLalla, another classmate and retired local historian at the Saratoga Springs Public Library.
“He was a very bright person. He had a large collection of Saratogiana.”
After high school, Hotaling attended Syracuse University on a scholarship and was editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Orange.
For years after college, he led the life of a peripatetic newsman. According to his website, in his early 20s, Hotaling settled on the edge of the Persian desert outside Tehran, and traveled throughout Iran. Hotaling then spent several years in Texas and worked for the Paris Tribune. Later, as a radio reporter, he covered a coup in Greece and the Six-Day Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
As a CBS network producer and correspondent, he worked in both Manhattan and the Middle East, collecting the information that led to the book, “Islam Without Illusions: Its Past, Its Present, and Its Challenge for Our Future,” which came out in 2003.
For many years Hotaling lived in Washington, where he worked as an NBC affiliate television correspondent. He was predeceased by his wife, Marthe. They had two sons, Greg and Luc.
But locally, Hotaling will remain best-known for his racing book, written in a lively style The New York Times called “deliciously readable.”
“He was a big researcher, He did a lot of things, and he wrote books about Saratoga,” said Mike Kane, a racing writer and former Gazette sportswriter who has covered the Saratoga track and major races for decades.
An image from one of the historic postcards Hotaling donated to the library’s local history room adorns the cover of “150 Years of Racing in Saratoga,” a new book by Kane and racing historian Allan Carter.
Services are expected to take place later this week in Washington.