He was a man of the old school who loved horse racing, baseball and the cocktail hour. His writing style was a throwback, too, featuring long, complex sentences rarely seen on sports pages. When Paul Moran was at the top of his game, there was nobody better.
He got a million laughs with his often acidic wit, and had a knack for creating memorable images. He described jockey Angel Cordero waiting to pounce on a rival as "a wasp poised upon a leaf." When Ireland-based Go and Go pulled a runaway upset in the 1990 Belmont Stakes, Moran began his story: "On St. Patrick's Day in June, the wind was always at his back, and the road rose up to meet him."
Moran, Newsday's racing writer from 1985-2007, died Saturday afternoon in a Saratoga Springs hospital, surrounded by his brother James and friends, after a 3 1/2-year battle with lung cancer. He was 66.
Newsday sports editor Hank Winnicki praised Moran as "an authority on horse racing recognized around the country for his award-winning work."
Moran was a political conservative with fixed opinions. As former Newsday handicapper and longtime friend Mark Berner said, "Paul had a lot of his own ideas." He would berate anyone cheering loudly for a bet in the press box. He was merciless in columns to trainers he thought abused horses and to racing executives he considered guilty of mismanagement.
Former Newsday handicapper and columnist John Pricci spent 29 years sitting next to Moran at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga racetracks. "I wish I had the proverbial dollar for every time I called my wife and read her one of Paul's pieces," Pricci said. "I always thought 'I wish I'd written that.' "
"Paulie was so smart and funny, even though sometimes his jokes would make you wince. I'm going to miss him so much," Pricci said.
Moran, an animal lover, was fond of cats. He adopted brothers Felix and Oscar, and grieved when Felix died in July. He recently gave Oscar to a friend because he could no longer care for him. In recent years he owned thoroughbreds trained by H. James Bond.
He attended what was then SUNY Buffalo in his hometown, served as an Air Force sergeant from 1967 to 1971, then covered sports for the Tonawanda News. He joined Newsday in 1985 after 10 years at the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. He covered his first Kentucky Derby in 1973 and chronicled the next 40 Triple Crowns.
While at Newsday he won two Eclipse Awards for outstanding coverage of thoroughbred racing: in 1985 for his profile of Daily Racing Form columnist Joe Hirsch, and in 1990 for his moving account of the fatal breakdown of champion filly Go for Wand in the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park.
Moran left Floral Park to retire in Saratoga Springs, writing for espn.com and working six Saratoga meetings for The Associated Press. A colleague once told Moran he had "the best job in North America." He agreed.
Five days before his death, Moran sent a group email expressing resignation and gratitude: "All fights end, and you always lose the last one. I have enjoyed a wonderful life full of great people, places and animals. Everything else is secondary to the places I've seen, the horses I've covered and the moments I've witnessed."
In addition to James, of Hardwick, Mass., survivors include his mother, Frances, of Buffalo; three brothers, David and Francis, also of Buffalo; and Robert, of Stewartsville, N.J.; three nephews, two nieces and a grandnephew.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Moran wished to be cremated and have his ashes scattered over Go for Wand's grave in the infield at Saratoga.