A true gentleman of the turf, is how New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame’s chairman Chris Luoni described eminent racing journalist John Costello who passed away this week.
That is a sentiment shared by probably everyone who crossed the path of John Bernard Costello, who for the past 60 years has written about his passion the thoroughbred, and with such tremendous passion. Perhaps never more so than the last column he penned for The Informant the week he died, signing off with his career highlights and providing every other racing journalist in the country with the information for his obituary.
Such was the nature of Costello he was generous to a tee with his knowledge, advice and encouragement to his fellow writers. Many is the time that this writer has rung to check a fact, not only with the hope that I would be treated to the right answer, but with the added bonus of a witty tale and additional knowledge. Failing that I would have to resort to his wonderful legacy the Tapestry of the Turf.
During his illustrious career which began in Matamata in the 1960’s Costello, worked on daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines as both a columnist and editor and wrote 14 books, including the Tapestry of the Turf with his good mate Pat Finnegan, Galloping Greats, numerous Racing Annuals and very appropriately The Linda Jones Story. During Jones’s campaign for the licensing of women jockeys Costello had been right behind her championing for the cause.
Over the years his loquacious columns gave his wide audience of readers a passionate insight to thousands of horses and the many colourful characters associated with them. He was also actively involved in the industry owning the odd racehorse along the way and was for a number of years a steward at the Counties Racing Club.
It was his encyclopaedic knowledge that led him to his role on the selection committee of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, and later to become their patron.
“He’s our best friend,” their chairman Chris Luoni said.
“When we put the whole concept of the Hall of Fame together, he was the first person we thought of to lead the selection committee, and he encompassed the idea with his usual passion and enthusiasm.
“He believed that the concept was making the Tapestry of the Turf come alive by bringing it into the modern era with the videos and film clips. He was a very humble gentleman, with an enormous amount of knowledge, and was always so generous with it.
“Going forward he has put together notes for future inductees particularly the historical ones, and the beauty is he actually knew some of these people so it makes it very real.”
Such was the esteem he was held in by the Hall of Fame, that he became the first and only to date, journalist inducted in. Much to his surprise as he was on the selection committee at that stage and had no idea he was being considered by his peers. At a later date he was made their patron.
“He was our greatest advocate and supporter and he felt honoured to accept the role as our patron,” said Luoni.
“Not only was he a wonderful writer but an exceptional wordsmith and could verbalise and tell a story equally as well. He was a master of his craft, John was never aggressive or rude, was a man of his word, and he had strong values, values that we can all aspire too.”
Costello is survived by his wife Maryann, and in the aforementioned signing off column he paid tribute to Maryann and declared that all his writing achievements are overshadowed by his family; his six lovely children, nine beautiful grandchildren and three wonderful little great-grandchildren, such was the humility of this wonderful generous, talented man. Rest in peace Cos.- Michelle Saba