Sports

Beloved Thoroughbred racing figure passes away

Joe Pirone - Courtesy photo
Joe Pirone
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Joe Pirone, one of the most recognized and well-loved figures in Washington horse racing and breeding, died Thursday after a brief illness. He was 64 years old.

Originally from Albany, N.Y., Pirone began his career in Washington Thoroughbred racing in the 1970s as a groom in the Wayne Branch barn at Longacres. During his experience at the Renton track, he worked on the starting gate for Art McCready, who eventually hired Pirone to assist with the annual WTBOA horse sales.

Pirone met and married his wife, trainer Mary (Dufala) Pirone.

Pirone joined the staff of the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association full-time in 1986. While his last official title was advertising sales and administrative executive, Pirone was an important cog in the wheel of every special project, summer and winter-mixed sale and other events. He was the liaison between the horsemen and breeders, understanding all aspects of the industry. He was the front office person – the face of the Breeders – welcoming new folks and old friends alike, with his customary broad smile and a compassion that made visitors feel at ease.

Pirone was the behind-the-scenes guy, intuitively knowing when and where his assistance was most needed. He often enlisted the help of his sons, Kenny and Paul, who were fixtures at the WTBOA offices and sales and part of the extended family.

Pirone is survived by his wife Mary, two sons, a daughter and grandchildren.

Memorial information is pending.

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