Equine Passion: The Cohen Family at Pimlico Race Course Pt. 5

Posted on May 23rd, 2018 by

generations 2004 copyArticle by Robin Z. Waldman. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Sidebar Two: A Racing Dynasty
Missed the beginning? Start here.

Jewish Marylanders have long been involved in horse racing, but only one family can claim a racing dynasty. The Schapiro family of Baltimore and Monkton has been involved in racing for 65 years, through three generations, as owners, breeders, and riders.

Morris Schapiro, the leading scrap metal tycoon of Baltimore, was the first of his family to get involved. In 1939 he invested in a Florida racetrack, an experience that “got my interest in racing. I bought up stock in the Maryland Jockey Club. I didn’t go out looking for it, but I was the only one buying…The club got into a jam and ended up selling me the Laurel racetrack, which I bought for fun and profits – fun first, profits second.” Just before he bought Laurel, Morris Schapiro arranged to sell the Pimlico Race Course to Ben and Herman Cohen.

Laurel Park race track in 1929 and 2007. (Left) Washington Handicap race at the Laurel Racetrack, October 23, 1929. Photo by Harris & Ewing; courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Right) Horse racing at Laurel Race Track, March 31, 2007. Photo by Keith Allison, via Wikimedia Commons.

Laurel Park race track in 1929 and 2007. (Left) Washington Handicap race at the Laurel Racetrack, October 23, 1929. Photo by Harris & Ewing; courtesy of the Library of Congress. (Right) Horse racing at Laurel Race Track, March 31, 2007. Photo by Keith Allison, via Wikimedia Commons.

Shortly after buying the Laurel Race Course in 1950, Morris named his son John David Schapiro as president of the track. Although John Schapiro was relatively young and inexperienced he quickly took charge, invested millions in track improvements and, just two years later, established the first important international thoroughbred race, the Washington D.C. International.

In 1952 no one could imagine an international race, let alone one that would bring together the best horses from each country. But John Schapiro saw that jet planes made it possible to transport horses quickly and safely from one continent to another. By establishing a quarantine station at Laurel he enabled trainers to work out their horses for a week before the International was run. And for several years Mr. Schapiro subsidized travel costs in order to build up the field for what became the model for later international races at tracks around the globe.

The International drew the attention of leading sportswriters. Among the dignitaries who attended the International were Sir Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II. And John Schapiro himself was received, and received well, by the royalty of racing around the world. The Washington D.C. International was run from 1952 through 1985. In 1961 Sports Illustrated named John Schapiro “Man of the Year in Thoroughbred Racing.”

John Schapiro’s step-son, Joseph Davies Gillett, became the third generation of the family to take a leading role in Maryland racing. Joe Gillett (now known as Joe G. Davies) is an outstanding jockey who has competed in steeplechase races in Russia, England, Ireland, and France, as well as the U.S. Joe is widely known as a two-time winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup, the premier American steeplechase race that is run each year over a four-mile course in Glyndon, MD.

~The End~

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Equine Passion: The Cohen Family at Pimlico Race Course Pt. 4

Posted on May 21st, 2018 by

generations 2004 copyArticle by Robin Z. Waldman. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Sidebar One: The Preakness at Pimlico
Missed the beginning? Start here.

 

The Derby is a race of aristocratic sleekness,

For horses of birth

To prove their worth

To run in the Preakness.

– Ogden Nash

The Preakness Stakes, the second of the fabled Triple Crown races for three-year-old thoroughbreds, determines if any winning Kentucky Derby horse, always run two weeks previous, will have an opportunity to win the Crown.

The story of the Preakness begins in 1868, when Maryland Governor Oden Bowie was among the guests at a dinner party hosted by Milton Sanford, after the races in Saratoga, New York. One of the guests proposed that a stakes race be held in 1870, in honor of that evening, to be known as the Dinner Party Stakes. Governor Bowie suggested a purse of $15,000, requested that the race be held in Maryland, and promised to build a new racetrack to host the new event.

With Governor Bowie’s help, the Maryland Jockey Club purchased land known as Pimlico, the name given the area by English settlers in colonial times. Pimlico Race Course was built, and on October 25, 1870, the first Dinner Party Stakes was run as its opening event. Milton Sanford’s horse, named Preakness, won the event. The Dinner Party Stakes became known as the Dixie Handicap. Today it is called the Early Times Dixie and is the eighth oldest stakes race in America.

In 1873 Pimlico introduced its first spring-season race, which Governor Bowie named Preakness in honor of the first Dinner Party Stakes winner. The Victorian clubhouse and the violet-painted stands were both decorated with the Maryland Jockey Club blue and white pennants. A crowd estimated at 12,000 came to see the first Preakness. The race was run successfully at Pimlico for the next 17 years, but following some financial difficulties the 1890 Preakness moved to Morris Park in New York, and later to Gravesend in Brooklyn. The Preakness did not return to Baltimore until 1909. Since then the Preakness has been run every year at Pimlico.

The Woodlawn vase, 1922. Photo by Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Woodlawn vase, 1922. Photo by Harris & Ewing, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The winner of the Preakness is presented with the Woodlawn Vase, a 34-inch solid silver trophy created by Tiffany & Co. in 1860 and acquired by the Maryland Jockey Club in 1917. Today it is considered by far the most valuable award in American sports. Traditionally the property of the winner for one year, it is considered too valuable for personal safekeeping, and actually lives year-round in a locked safe. It is brought out only for the Winner’s Circle presentations, and a half-size replica is given to the winner to keep.

Continue to Sidebar Two: A Racing Dynasty

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Equine Passion: The Cohen Family at Pimlico Race Course Pt. 3

Posted on May 14th, 2018 by

generations 2004 copyArticle by Robin Z. Waldman. Originally published in Generations – 2004: Recreation, Sports & Leisure. This particular issue of Generations proved wildly popular and is no longer available for purchase.

Part III: Into the Home Stretch
Missed the beginning? Start here.

Other members of the Cohen family were also involved in Pimlico and horseracing. As vice-president and director Nathan Cohen, Herman’s only child, oversaw the practical details of running Pimlico for many years.[1] When Nathan became ill in the 1980s Ben and Herman agreed to sell the racetrack. Politics in Maryland horseracing were making it difficult to operate the track, public attitudes toward racing and gambling were changing, interest in spending a day at the races was declining, and there was nobody in the family who was interested in stepping into the daily management of the enterprise. In 1986 Ben and Herman sold their beloved racetrack.

With their great success, throughout their lives the Cohens were meticulous in their generosity to the community. Shortly before selling Pimlico they donated a $1 million Tiffany window to the Baltimore Museum of Art, a piece they had owned since their days of store liquidations. It had been stored for years under the grandstand at the racetrack. Both Ben and Herman were major contributors to THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore; Herman was an honored member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation, and Ben was an honorary trustee of Temple Oheb Shalom. Though they gave very generously they did so with no need for recognition. Ben once commented, “Fact of the matter is, I think I contributed as much to the temple as anyone. Most of them put their name on this or that. But I never even bothered. Why? I’m not interested…”[2] Quietly Ben had also once loaned $100,000 to Golda Meir, interest-free, to fund the new State of Israel when she came to Baltimore to meet with a few members of the Phoenix Club.[3] His commitments were numerous and often unheralded.

Herman Cohen died in 1990 and Ben Cohen passed away in 1994. He had been married to Zelda for 66 years. She lived until 2003 when she died at the age of 99. Together their passion for horses enhanced Baltimore’s spot in racing’s history and legacy.

This poem and caricature of Ben Cohen was presented to him by Bill Koras on the occasion of his 85th birthday. Gift of Zelda Cohen, JMM 1994.100.3.

This poem and caricature of Ben Cohen was presented to him by Bill Koras on the occasion of his 85th birthday. Gift of Zelda Cohen, JMM 1994.100.3.

A fitting tribute to Ben Cohen’s passion and dedication to the sport of horseracing was voiced by Chick Lang, who had worked for the Cohens at Pimlico for 27 years. The occasion was the 1991 Maryland Million race, in which Ben Cohen had entered a two-year-old horse named Coolin It who would become the day’s big winner. Jokes about a 91-year-old and his two-year-old winner abounded, but Lang, filled with admiration, declared: “It gives you a good feeling to see Ben have success like this, at his age, especially when you consider his contributions to Maryland racing…if anyone had done more for Maryland racing than Ben Cohen, I haven’t met him.”[4]

This dedication to the sport is acknowledged at Pimlico by the running of the Ben Cohen Stakes. In recent years Ben’s great-grandchildren have presented the winner’s prize in the memorial race.

Speaking once before state lawmakers while trying to get approval for a new piece of racing legislation, Ben Cohen commented, “Gentlemen, I’m a four-time loser: I breed horses, own horses, own a racetrack and bet horses. I have no chance to make it in this game…And, by the way, if I didn’t have to leave the track to come here to talk to you, I would have had the Triple in the last race.”[5]

Ben Cohen was a multi-millionaire, a talented businessman, a quiet philanthropist, a dedicated family man – and, at heart, a fellow who loved the races.

Continue to Sidebar One: The Preakness at Pimlico

[1] Acton, “Preakness,” p. 22.

[2] Siegel, “Pimlico’s Cohen Brothers,” p. 42.

[3] Oral history of Ben Cohen, p. 21.

[4] Bill Tanton, “Ben Cohen still Coolin It at 91,” Maryland Horse, November 1991, pp. 34-35.

[5] David Micahel Ettlin, “Ben Cohen dies, co-owned Pimlico,” The Baltimore Sun, March 23, 1994, p. 5B.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Next Page »