(b. 8 April 1904 in New York City; d. 13 February 1970 in Miami, Florida), Thoroughbred trainer and owner-breeder who won more races than any other trainer.
Jacobs's father, an immigrant Jewish tailor who worked for twenty-eight years at Arnheim's on Broadway, and his mother raised ten children. The family moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, where, at age eight, Jacobs began raising and racing pigeons. He graduated, at thirteen years old, from public school in 1917 and became a steamfitter's assistant. In 1920 his boss's brother, Charlie Ferraro, and Jacobs formed a partnership for racing pigeons. With Jacobs training the birds, the two won most of the major Atlantic seaboard pigeon-racing sweepstakes. In 1923, Jacobs served as racing secretary for the Brooklyn, East New York, and Queensborough Concourse pigeon-racing clubs.
In 1924 Ferraro invited Jacobs to vacation with him in Havana. There, at Oriental Park, Ferraro used $1,500 of wager winnings to purchase a horse named Demijohn in a claiming race and asked Jacobs to be his trainer. Working with claimed horses, Jacobs and Ferraro won twenty-eight races and $27,515 in 1926 and fifty-nine races and $51,580 in 1927. In 1928 Jacobs left Ferraro and trained for Johnny Mascia and Louie Sylvestri before forming a partnership with lifetime friend and financial backer Isidor Bieber.
Jacobs had some unusual training and racing philosophies. He carefully examined his horses each day for soundness of body and behavior and often raced his horses into shape. "Why run a horse five furlongs at 6 a.m. for laughs when you can run him six furlongs at 3 p.m. for $10,000," he reasoned. Studying his horses and learning their personalities and individual conditions, he made a special point of daily examining their legs and devising a variety of remedies for their ailments. He also used innovative training methods and once exercised his horses by having them swim in the ocean over a two-week period.
On 28 October 1926, he claimed Reveillon, his first Thoroughbred, for $1,500. Jacobs raced him sixteen times in thirty-eight days. Reveillon finally won the thirteenth race on 29 December. In the spring of 1930, Jacobs claimed Sun Mission for $6,000. That horse won nineteen races, including Jacobs's first stakes victories, the 1930 Marianoa Handicap and Melrose Claiming Stakes, and $29,425.
Jacobs made a reputation for developing winners when he purchased Action, a lame steeplechase horse with a bowed tendon, for $1,000 in 1936. Action won eleven, and took one second, in thirteen starts and earned $22,435. His wins included the Woodmere Claiming Stakes, and the Aqueduct, Edgemere, and Manhattan Handicaps. Jacobs's reputation was enhanced in 1943 when he claimed the two-year-old Stymie in his third race for $1,500. Stymie won for the first time in his fourteenth race. He raced 131 times, won thirty-five races and a then record $918,485 for Jacobs. These winnings enabled Jacobs and Bieber to buy Stymie Manor near Monkton, Maryland. This farm became their breeding headquarters, and their mares are in the bloodlines of Seattle Slew, Sunday Silence, Skip Away, Spectacular Bid, Hail to Reason, and Personality. Another of Jacobs's successes was Searching, a mare with problem feet purchased for $15,000. Jacobs experimented with different shoes to protect her thin hoof walls. The future Hall of Famer won twenty-five races and $327,381. Her off-spring, Affectionately, Admiring, and Priceless Gem, earned Jacobs and Bieber more than $2,000,000.
Jacobs, a stocky, blue-eyed redhead, married Ethel Dushock, the daughter of a Yonkers manufacturer, in 1933; they had three children. The older son, John, was Jacobs's principal assistant from 1963 to 1969. After his father's death, he won the Preakness Stakes with the 1970 three-year-old champion, Personality, and the 1970 Belmont Stakes with High Echelon. Starting in 1959, Jacobs listed his daughter, Patrice, as the owner of several of his horses. On 30 December 1972, she married Louis Wolfson of Harbor View Farm. They raised and raced Affirmed. Ethel Jacobs, who had been listed as the owner of some of the Jacobs's horses starting in 1936, led American owners in victories in 1936, 1937, and 1943. Several other members of the Jacobs family were involved in this business. Jacobs's father, after retiring from the garment business, was the stable foreman, three of his brothers trained horses, and another brother managed Stymie Manor.
Jacobs suffered a stroke in 1966 and sold over half of his stable through public auctions and private sales. At least fifty-five horses plus two shares of Hail to Reason sold for a total of $2,260,700. Jacobs died at age sixty-five of a cerebral hemorrhage during the 1970 Hialeah race meeting and is buried at Valhalla, New York.
Known for claiming inexpensive horses and developing them into winners, Jacobs trained horses that won a record 3,596 races, including 49 stakes races, earning a total $15,340,354. He also developed five great champions in his forty-five-year career: 1945 Handicap Horse and Hall of Famer, Stymie; 1960 Two-Year-Old Colt and the leading sire of 1970, Hail to Reason; Hall of Famer and 1965 Sprinter, Affectionately; 1966 Two-Year-Old Filly, Regal Gleam; and 1967 Handicap Mare Straight Deal.
Jacobs led all trainers in victories a record eleven times (1933–1939, 1941–1944), set a record in 1936 winning 177 races, and led trainers in earnings three times (1946, 1960, and 1965). The breeding partnership of Bieber and Jacobs led all breeders in earnings from 1964 to 1967 and won 3,513 races and $18,311,412. The Jacobs family and Bieber as owners won 2,947 races and $15,800,545. In 1958 the National Turf Writers elected Jacobs to the National Racing Hall of Fame. Pimlico honored him with the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes in 1975.
G. F. T. Ryall's "Profiles: Pigeon Man's Progress," New Yorker (5 Aug. 1939), describes Jacobs's life before Stymie. Howard M. Tuckner describes Jacobs's training philosophy and some of his success stories in "Man with Horse Sense," New York Times Magazine (21 May 1961). Gerald Holland focuses on the partnership of Jacobs and Isidor Bieber in "Sex, Slaughter, and Smoke," Sports Illustrated (26 June 1961). There are obituaries in Blood-Horse (21 Mar. 1970), Bloodstock Breeders ' Annual Review (1970), New York Times (14 Feb. 1970), and one by Arnold Kirkpatrick that was reprinted in William Robertson and Dan Farley's Hoofprints of the Century (1976).
Steven P. Savage