John Costello, doyen of racing journalists and a member of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, passed away in the early hours of Friday morning.
Costello’s more than six-decade life in journalism began in his late teens, when fresh out of high school he was mentored by Matamata-based racing scribe Frank Wilson.
He went on to full-time roles with the racing departments at first the New Zealand Herald and then the Auckland Star/8 O’Clock, where he became racing editor in the late 1970s and at the same time developed a distinctive Runyonesque style to his writing.
On top of his daily journalism duties he also made a huge contribution with a series of books, the first of them Galloping Greats in 1973. Others followed, including more than a decade as editor of the New Zealand Racing Annual, and the Linda Jones story of the fight for female jockeys to be fully licensed.
The standout work in the Costello library was Tapestry of Turf, the monumental and definitive history of New Zealand racing that he and Pat Finnegan produced as a labour of love in 1987.
Costello’s other roles included the editorship of New Zealand Blood Horse, and even into his eighties he continued to write a weekly column for The Informant. Extraordinarily, the last of those was published in this week’s edition, less than a day before his death.
Thus he reflected on his life: “How I have enjoyed writing so many columns for you over the past 60 years in numerous publications. I have been part of the world of racing for that number of years and consider myself the most fortunate of men.
“I have been able to earn a living and raise a family by combining two of my great loves; thoroughbred racing and writing.”
Costello’s massive contribution led to his induction in 2016 to the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, something that humbled him but that was celebrated by all who recognised his input, not just to journalism but to all of racing and breeding in this country.
John Costello’s funeral service will take place at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Papakura, on Monday at 11am. – Dennis Ryan, The Informant
Video: New Zealand Racing Hall Of Fame Inductee John Costello