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Jacobs, Hirschlocked

(08 April 1904–13 February 1970)
  • Steven P. Savage

Jacobs, Hirsch (08 April 1904–13 February 1970), Thoroughbred horse trainer and owner-breeder, was born in New York City, the son of an immigrant tailor. Jacobs graduated from public school in 1917 and worked as a steamfitter before joining Charlie Ferraro, his financial backer and the brother of Jacobs’s boss, in 1921 to train pigeons. Jacobs won most of the major Atlantic seaboard sweepstakes in pigeon racing, and in 1923 he served as racing secretary for the Brooklyn, East New York, and Queensborough Concourse clubs. In 1924 Ferraro expanded the partnership into horse racing by purchasing the horse Demijohn in a claiming race (a race in which an eligible trainer can place a “claim” to purchase an entered horse by depositing a preestablished amount before the running) and asking Jacobs to be the trainer. For Ferraro, Jacobs won twenty-eight races worth $27,515 in 1926 and fifty-nine races worth $51,580 in 1927. Jacobs then trained for Johnny Mascia and Louie Sylvestri before meeting his lifetime partner in horse racing and financial backer, Isidor Bieber, in 1928.

Not relying solely on workouts, as was customary, Jacobs raced horses into shape. He claimed his first Thoroughbred, Reveillon, for $1,500 in 1926 and raced him sixteen times in the next thirty-eight days, a virtually unprecedented frequency. Reveillon started winning in his thirteenth race. In 1933 Jacobs married Ethel Dushock, with whom he had three children.

Jacobs developed his first big stakes winner in 1936 with Action, a failed steeplechase horse, which won the Aqueduct, Edgemere, and Manhattan handicaps and a total of eleven races in thirteen starts. Later for $1,500, Jacobs claimed Stymie, which won thirty-five races and became the leading money earner ($918,485) and 1945 handicap champion. These winnings enabled Jacobs and Bieber to buy Stymie Manor near Monkton, Maryland, their new breeding headquarters. Jacobs next purchased Searching; by experimenting with different horseshoes to protect her thin hoof walls, he enabled her to win twenty-five races and $327,381. (She was elected to the Official National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 1978.) Searching and her offspring, Affectionately, Admiring, and Priceless Gem, earned the partnership more than $2 million. Jacobs saddled a record forty-nine stakes winners, including Hail to Reason (1960 Two-Year-Old Champion), Affectionately (1966 Sprint Champion), Regal Gleam (1966 Two-Year-Old Filly Champion), Straight Deal (1967 Champion Handicap Mare), and Personality (1970 Three-Year-Old Champion).

Jacobs had a prodigious memory concerning horses and an eye for fine detail, especially in noticing small indicators of a horse’s condition and emotional state. He was known for making winners of horses that failed for others. “You just got to use common sense and know when a horse feels like running.” He also used innovative training methods, in at least one instance having his horses swim in the surf for their workout. Interested in veterinary practices, Jacobs seemed to enjoy some success in devising topical medicines.

Jacobs involved his family in the horse business. His father was his stable foreman, three of his brothers trained horses, and a fourth brother managed Stymie Manor. From 1963 through 1969 his son John was his principal assistant trainer and won fifty-four races and $1,043,122. Jacobs often listed as owner of the horses he raced either Bieber or, beginning in 1936, his wife. (Ethel Jacobs led American owners in races won in 1936, 1937, and 1943.) In 1959 he began to record his daughter, Patrice, as the owner of some of the racehorses.

After a stroke in 1966, Jacobs sold two-thirds of his stable. During a Hialeah racing meeting, he died in Miami, Florida.

As trainer, Jacobs saddled a record 3,596 winners, earned $15,340,354, and led U.S. trainers in wins eleven times and in earnings three times. As breeders, he and Bieber led all other stables in earnings from 1964 through 1967 and won 3,513 races and $18,311,412. As owners, Jacobs, Bieber, and Jacobs’s family won 2,947 races and earned $15,800,545. The National Turf Writers of America elected Jacobs to the Official National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 1958. Pimlico racetrack instituted the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes in 1975.


Biographical sketches of Hirsch Jacobs include Arnold Kirkpatrick, “Hirsch Jacobs,” in Hoofprints of the Century, ed. William Robertson and Dan Farley (1976), and G. F. T. Ryall, “Profiles: Pigeon Man’s Progress,” New Yorker, 5 Aug. 1939. See also “Hirsch Jacobs Stakes,” Blood-Horse 101 (27 Jan. 1975): 506; Stu Camen, “Personality Takes Wood, Silent Screen Second,” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 19 Apr. 1970; “Hirsch Jacobs Posts 3,500th Victory of His 41-Year Career,” Daily Racing Form, 28 July 1966; “153 Horses of Bieber-Jacobs Stable Sold Thus Far for $3,074,600 Total,” Daily Racing Form, 21 Nov. 1966; “Jacobs Honored by Turf Group,” Lexington Leader, 8 Feb. 1966; “Jacobs Entry Runs 1-2-3 at Aqueduct,” Miami Herald, 15 Apr. 1965; Betty Moore, “Hirsch Jacobs Was ‘Greatest Horseman,’ ” Morning Telegraph, 10 Aug. 1970; Tom O’Reilly, “Hirsch Jacobs,” Chronicle of the Horse, 13 May 1960, p. 30; and O’Reilly, “Hirsch Jacobs ‘Winningest’ Trainer,” Daily Racing Form, 2 May 1959, p. 22D. Obituaries are in the Blood-Horse 96 (21 Feb. 1970): 652–58; the Bloodstock Breeders’ Annual Review 59 (1970): 212; and the New York Times and the Lexington Leader, both 14 Feb. 1970.