Remembering Hirsch Jacobs

Mar 30th 2010 08:33 am |

Hirsch Jacobs and Walter Blum, 1964

Last week, legendary racing man Chick Lang died at the age of 80. A number of wonderful tributes have been posted online and it has been a great lesson for me to learn all he did for racing in the state of Maryland. The Maryland Jockey Club, to honor Lang, has renamed the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes on Preakness day.  Lang deserves to have a race named for him, but so does Hirsch Jacobs. It’s logical they would rename a race on Preakness day for Lang but the Preakness day card also includes the Maryland Sprint Handicap. That seems like a better candidate for a change, right? Renaming the Hirsch Jacobs is unfortunate, and hints at a level of ignorance by the people at the Maryland Jockey Club, who thought it appropriate to paint over the name of one of racing’s great trainers.

Jennie Rees, in her thoughtful tribute to Chick Lang, wrote, “He was one of my go-to guys whenever I needed historical perspective for a story…No matter what, his passion for the sport came through loud and clear.” Speaking to Lang’s sense of history, Steve Byk, on his Sirius satellite show, remarked on the renaming of the Jacobs: “Lang, if he were alive, would be mortified by [the name change], because he was there [at Pimlico] when the decision was made in 1975 to create the Hirsch Jacobs.”

So, it looks like Jacobs will join Lady Secret, Sir Barton, and Leonard Richards, whose names have recently been stricken from the record of American stakes races. Would it be too much to ask the decision-makers to put a little more thought into re-naming races? Their are some things that are sacred, and should be treated as such. Naming races to honor legendary figures is a great tradition — removing these names from races spits in the face of this tradition and those figures they honor.

It’s not too late for the Maryland Jockey Club to reverse their decision to rename the Hirsch Jacobs, especially with the Maryland Sprint Handicap standing prominently as a more reasonable option.


For those who aren’t familiar with Hirsch Jacobs, I found some easily accessible sources and included links at the bottom of the page for your reading pleasure. I also found a few gems that I wanted to share here.  Like we always do on this site, I hand it over to the experts to tell the story:

Audax Minor, who covered racing from his home base in New York for over 50 years, wrote a brilliant tribute in the New Yorker after Jacobs died.  Here is Minor on Jacobs from 1970:

“This department notes with great regret the death of Hirsch Jacobs in Miami last week. In the course of his forty-five years in racing, he saddled 3,596 winners – a record unapproached in the annals of what we used to call the sport. He also led the list of winning trainers eleven times, from 1933 to 1944 – something no other horseman in this country has done.

“Although in his later years he bred some top notchers (among them Hail to Reason, the durable Straight Deal, and Palestinian), much of his success was with horses bought out of claiming races – an outlet for animals unwanted by their stables. Jacobs had the gift of seeing things in horses – the potential or lack of it – which most of us do not have.

“Year after year, he won race after race with dogs he brought out of cheap claiming races when other trainers couldn’t get anywhere with them. The most notable such find was Stymie, the darling of the Saturday horseplayers, whom he took out of a claimer for $1500 and with whom he won many of the leading handicaps and $918,485 in prize money.

“Jacobs also had a sympathetic touch with other creatures, including pigeons. As a boy, when he lived in Brooklyn, he kept pigeons, and later he raced them. For years, he was known around the race track as the Pigeon Man.

“I remember sitting near him at the old Empire City track on a sunny afternoon when a pigeon fluttered down with a broken wing. He caught it, tore a handkerchief into strips for bandages, and, with matches for splints, set the fracture, and took the bird to his stable. Weeks later – I’d been out of town – I asked him how it was getting on. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘It was able to fly away yesterday.’

Jacobs never won a Triple Crown race but, three months after he died, the colt Personality, who was trained by Jacobs’ son, won the 1970 Preakness. The Associated Press included these quotes in their Preakness report on May 9th 1970:

“John Jacobs tossed aside accolades for accomplishing ‘something his father never did.’

“‘He did acheive it,’ Jacobs said, tears welling in his eyes, ‘He bred him. In fact, he bred Personality’s sire and dam, we raced both of his grand-dams, and we even bred one of this colts great-grand-dams. So this line goes back four generations.’

“‘This one’s for Hirsch Jacobs,’ said John’s brother, Tom. ‘My father masterminded it all, He was the genious who put the stable together.  He won this Preakness for his family.”

Finally winning a Triple Crown race in Maryland, the home base for his breeding operation, was a fitting epilogue to one of racing’s all-time great trainers.

Audax Minor, “The Race Track,” New Yorker, 21 February 1970

“Late Hirsch Jacobs Masterminded Personality’s Preakness Win,” Kentucky New Era, 9 May 1970

“Chick Lang was one of racing’s great men,” Courier Journal, 23, March 2010

Read more on Jacobs:

Racing Hall of Fame Page

International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame

Article from Sports Illustrated archive

“Pigeons to Platers”, Time Magazine, 26 October 1936

Edward Bowen included a chapter on Hirsch Jacobs in Masters of the Turf and Legacies of the Turf — two outstanding sources for racing history, they are available in preview at Google Books

The Hello Race Fans site is up and running — be sure to check it out and let us know what you think.


Filed in thoroughbred racing history

2 Responses to “Remembering Hirsch Jacobs”

  1. Teresa says:

    I learned about Jacobs when I was researching a piece on Searching–who was 0-20 before she came into his barn. She went on to win 12 stakes races, including the Diana, Correction, and Gallorette twice each.

    I share your distaste for the evisceration of racing history when stakes races are re-named. Pimlico’s now for 0 for 2, doing away with the Hirsch Jacobs and the Sir Barton.

  2. thanks for the memories Hirsch, we both shared the love of racing pigeons & tbs. Your friend Louis Finochio.