For years, as Midwest editor of the Daily Racing Form, John McEvoy organized detailed coverage on horse races and industry happenings that gamblers and racing insiders lapped up with enthusiasm.
From his office in Printer’s Row just south of the Loop, McEvoy oversaw reporters who — peering through binoculars from press boxes high above race ovals — sent in dispatches on how horses performed during morning workouts.
”But it was more than that,” McEvoy’s daughter, Julia McEvoy, said. “The Form was for horse racing what the Wall Street Journal is for financial markets.”
Put simply, the publication was known as “the bible of thoroughbred racing,” said Neil Milbert, who covered racing for the Chicago Tribune and considered McEvoy a friend.
“Racing was a much bigger deal back then and John was the man — he really had his finger on the pulse,” said Milbert.
The Form in its heyday was sold at grocery stores and news stands all over Chicago.
“At that time the racing programs handed out at individual tracks just contained thumbnail information that was very, very limited, but the information in the Form was really a comprehensive overview on each horse,” he said.
McEvoy, a longtime resident of Evanston, died Monday from heart failure at North Shore University Evanston Hospital. He was 83.
“I met John in the room adjacent to the press box at Arlington Park where we sat around and drank beer after the races,” Milbert said, recalling a different era of journalism. “We’ve been friends ever since. I always had great respect for his writing. He was just a prince of guy.”
Ira Kaplan, senior editor at the Form — which remains a daily publication — recalled how his old colleague, after studying data for hours, loved placing $3-dollar wagers.
“And then he’d say ‘I won!’ and have a beer. For him it was about the satisfaction of solving a puzzle,” Kaplan said.
For more than a decade, McEvoy worked his way up from reporter before serving as editor from 1979 to 1994, when the publication closed its Chicago office.
McEvoy later wrote feature stories on jockeys, trainers and industry executives as senior correspondent for the Form before reinventing himself as an author. His niche: horse racing mystery novels.
Jack Doyle, the main character in a series of four books, was a sort of a heroic version of himself — an amateur sleuth, former boxer and failed ad-man who gets mixed up in misadventures in the world of thoroughbred horse racing, according to friend Joe Hoy.
Other characters are based on the colorful personalities he came across in the horse-racing world. He also wrote non-fiction books on horses.
”He didn’t know how to ride a horse, but he always found beauty in equine athleticism and carried a romantic notion of the Irish and horses,” said Julia McEvoy.
Covering horse racing was a welcome outlet from his first inroads into journalism, which, after a stint as a reporter at his hometown newspaper in Kenosha, Wis., landed him on the overnight crime beat for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
”It was just gruesome and after a while I think he just said ‘OK, I’ve had enough,’” his daughter recalled.
McEvoy’s love of the written word was boundless.
He was a published poet. After surviving esophageal cancer in 2007, he wrote “Poem for Radiology Ladies.” He also enjoyed copy editing his children’s and, later, his grandchildren’s school work.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Judy, as well as two other children, Michael and Sarah, and 10 grandchildren.
A funeral service is planned for June 29 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 1012 Lake Street, Evanston.