May 27, 2008

Hirsch Jacobs


When a track names a stakes race in honor of a trainer from days gone by it might be enlightening to the new generation to learn what feats made the man so worthy. At the Preakness, Pimlico offers up the Hirsch Jacobs stakes annually. It was televised as part of the undercard but a video witness would still be in the dark when it comes to Mr. Jacobs.

In the second half of the 20th century he ranked alongside John Nerud as the most versatile and successful horsemen in the nation. Each man could have merited Hall of Fame status singly as an owner, a trainer, or a breeder.

Jacobs name will be forever linked with Hail To Reason, as Nerud with Dr. Fager.
The current debate about our less hardy contemporary stock often invokes Hail To Reason as Exhibit A.

Hail To Reason merely won nine of his l8 starts in a juvenile campaign which began in January-at three furlongs around a turn at Santa Anita-and culminated in lopsided tallies in the Hopeful at Saratoga and the rich World’s Playground Stakes at Atlantic City.

That arduous assignment found him still sound for more in September when it was said that he broke sesamoids when stepping on a racing plate lost by another horse at Aqueduct. In any event, Jacobs was known to say, “when they’re good, run em”, as chronicled by Daily Racing Form ace Joe Hirsch.

At stud, Hail To Reason’s reputation went up and down. Breeders tended to downplay the son of Turn-to as suspect in the soundness department.

History became his judge after son Roberto won the Epsom Derby and great-grandson Barbaro took the Kentucky Derby. Hail To Reason sported an Average Earnings Index of outlandish proportions, 4.47.

Prior to his heyday with Hail To Reason, Jacobs generally raced all the stock bred in Maryland with partner Isidore Bieber. But it was a famous claim of a horse named Stymie that was big news in the l950s. Stymie was haltered for $l500 and went on to win numerous stakes and more than $900,000.

And therein lies another tale, although one much less savory. My first encounter with Stymie came in l964 at the old Jefferson Downs in suburban New Orleans. I liked to play the ponies a bit in those days in hopes of landing some walking around money. As a varsity member of the Loyola University golf team I hung out in the athletic department which was full of more seasoned turf enthusiasts.

They let me tag along to “JD, as it was known, while we waited expectantly for major league racing to return at Fair Grounds on Thanksgiving
One of my brethren, a baseball player named Tiger Brupbacher, breathlessly told us one day about a caper about to unfold at JD, involving a son of Stymie named Putting Fool.
Tiger’s eavesdropping got the word out that Putting Fool was going to race three times at JD and he would be ridden by jockey Roberto D. Gonzales in each of the no-go preps for the betting coup to come.

Sure enough, we would venture out to the track and watch Putting Fool and Gonzales canter around the bullring that was Jefferson. Finally, round four arrived and the regulars surely felt something odd was brewing when a dozen or so really big college athletes arrived, beers in hand, to root home Putting Fool.

Putting Fool’s 20-1 morning line melted to 6-l by post time. The horse hadn’t been within l0 lengths of the lead in over a month. That night the starting gate opened and Gonzales and Putting Fool were gone! They cruised around the two-lap course with nary a care in the world and the payoff was $l5.00. The crazed college kids headed for the French Quarter.