Though 25-year-old youngins like myself didn't get to see much of him in his heyday, seeing only swatches of memorable moments like his work at the 1972 Munich Olympics and on the Wide World of Sports, it's been nice reading through the various tributes to the man, further tinged with sadness that he passed away on one of the biggest days of the horse racing calendar, a sport for which he has a clear passion.
"Jim would have been is his glory here today," said racing journalist Bill Nack, among the more than 100,000 people at Belmont Park. "To see a dominant 3-year-old run for the Triple Crown would have been something he would have savored."
McKay's first TV broadcast assignment was a horse race at Pimlico in 1947, and it was the start of a love affair. He took great pride in Maryland racing and was instrumental in creating the Maryland Millions in 1986, a program designed to promote the state's breeding and racing industry. The series has been copied in some form by more than 20 other states.
In 1987 at Pimlico, Seans Ferrari, a 2-year-old colt named for his son, won the Maryland Million Nursery. He had close ties to trainer Bill Boniface, who campaigned Seans Ferrari and other winners for McKay.
McKay received numerous awards from the racing industry, and was elected in 1987 to The Jockey Club, horse racing's central registry. He loved to be the master of ceremonies of the Alibi Breakfast, a traditional pre-Preakness news conference, and often threw parties for horsemen and turf journalists during the week.
Pimlico also named a race for him several years ago, the Jim McKay Stakes.
There is some sparse footage of McKay working the Triple Crown races that is floating around the tubes, including at the end of this clip of Seattle Slew winning at the Preakness. To those who love the Sport of Kings, his departure was surely felt today.