“Tapesty of Turf” author John Costello dies at 81

John Costello. 
John Costello. © Trish Dunell / NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

Leading New Zealand racing journalist and author John Costello died late last year at the age of 81.

Costello, who was a member of the New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame, died in the early hours of Friday, December 21 at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital.

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 the large-format hardcover Tapestry of Turf, the monumental (8kg) 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 magazine and even into his 80s he continued to write a weekly column for The Informant. The last of those was published just a day before his death.

“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,” Costello said.

“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 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 Bernard (Cos) Costello is survived by Maryanne, his wife of 60 years, six children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His death notice in the NZ Herald newspaper said he was “Now reporting to his new editor”.

Reporting: Dennis Ryan / NZ Thoroughbred Marketing

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