"I don't care about watching races. I don't even like horses. This isn't a sport. It's a business." That is the opinion of Howard (Buddy) Jacobson, who is not a disgruntled horseplayer but the leading trainer in the U.S. Jacobson leaned against the cement-block wall of Barn 10 at Aqueduct recently and continued: "It's a tremendous way to make a living. You have a healthy life, a chance for advancement. You have Florida in the winter and New York the rest of the year. Your time is your own, and the job is mechanical. What else could you ask for?"
Buddy Jacobson is the 33-year-old son of a Brooklyn hat merchant, and he runs his public stable like a hat factory, heedless of the "sport" and long-cherished traditions. June has just begun, and Jacobson already has handled more than $l million in operating a 35-horse establishment. Each animal under his shed row is there to make money for one of his 16 owners and to make as much money as possible as fast as possible.
"I like to trade horses," Jacobson says. "You've got to be active in this business to do well. You can't sit still. You've got to run your horses, and a man has got to wheel and deal in those claiming races. You can't have an attachment to a horse. Except for rare cases like Kelso, no horse holds valuable form more than six months. He may be worth $6,000 in January and only $2,500 in the fall."
Because nearly two-thirds of all races run are claimers (in which any horse can be claimed for a specified price), and Jacobson sees them as "the backbone of the business," he has concentrated his efforts in this field. Since January 1 he has claimed 30 horses worth $182,750 and has had 35 others, valued at $268,000, claimed from him. Thus Jacobson's stock is constantly changing. There is a 75% turnover in the merchandise every five months.
All this trading back and forth assures the smart operator of having fresh, active stock able to win races regularly. Horsemen complain that the Jacobsons of racing claim a man's horse when it is just fit and ready to win and then discard the horse when it is no longer useful. Jacobson replies, "They claim as many horses of mine as I do of theirs. It's a game any number can play."
Last year he started 688 horses, won 140 races and $730,418. He led the country in winners and was second to Mesh Tenney (who trained only 40 winners but won six $100,000 races) in the money-earned standings. So far this year Jacobson has won 60 of 258 races and $345,-300. "A trainer's value to racing," Jacob-son says, "should be judged by the number of horses he sends to the post. If you don't run I don't think it's fair to the people in the business, the owners. They foot the bills. The sporting thing to do in this business is win money, whether in claiming races or in The Futurity. If you go fishing the sporting thing to do is catch fish. If you race it's to win cash." This is Jacobson's reason for being in racing, and he follows established custom only when it benefits the bank account. "If they put on kangaroo racing, I'd claim some kangaroos," he says. "I go along with the association. Whatever kind of horses they write races for, that is the kind that will be in my barn. I claim different horses in Florida than I do here. Down there the valuable horses are distance or turf runners, the better-class animal that runs for around $10,000. Up here the best horses you can have in the spring and late fall are cheap $3,500 claimers and 3-year-olds who go three-quarters of a mile. In the summer in New York you have to have half a stable of 2-year-olds to be successful. The races then are all made for 2-year-olds. I don't make the rules. The association does. I've got to play it their way. You know, my horse Bupers won The Futurity here last year [Jacobson had bought him privately for $16,500 a month before]. He took home $91,000 in that one race, $20,000 more than Kelso won in the Woodward a week later. Now, if you think my horse deserved to win more than Kelso, you're screwy. He should have been winning a $10,000 purse. But that's the way the business works."
The chart opposite analyzes two typical weeks of racing and claiming activity by Jacobson. In that period he entered horses in every type of event that racetracks offer, from stakes to $3,500 claimers, and he raced stock every racing day but one (he has had only four blank days since moving north from Florida). What is more, every day he had a starter the stable won money. Jacobson used eight different jockeys. He claimed seven horses worth $41,500 and had six taken from him valued at $43,750.
Now that he is established as a trainer and has a ready supply of owners interested in investing money, Jacobson does not limit himself to claimers. Last January he bought Treasure Chest, a full sister to the 1959 2-year-old filly champion My Dear Girl, for $70,000 in the Hialeah 2-year-old sale. "There are very few horses worth $30,000 or $40,000," he says. "They are usually worth $20,000 or $100,000. There's not much in between. I want to shoot for that better type of horse. If she's the fourth or fifth best 2-year-old filly in the country, she'll be a bargain." What Jacobson also has in the barn is the fastest 2-year-old colt seen this year—the four-time stakes winner Golden Joey, a fat butterball of chestnut that has broken two track records without even trying. Jacobson also has the stakes winner Charspiv, which he claimed for $16,000 nearly two years ago and with whom he has won $80,000. Since mid-March he has won five stakes, a handicap, an allowance race and a maiden event. He has had nine wins with claimers valued between $10,000 and $16,000, nine wins with $6,250-to-$9,500 horses and nine with $3,500-to-$5,000 runners. "I like to have a diversified barn," he explains. "Not too many horses of the same caliber. You'll rarely see me running entries. Why run against yourself? I don't see any point in it. I usually claim horses that the fans like. Often I pick a horse that's a big favorite. But I consider the time of the year and the potential for the horse at the time. There's no Christmas. Those big stables don't sell you a horse unless they think he's all through."
Jacobson does not limit his claiming activity to flat horses. He also takes steeplechasers. "But that's seasonal," he says. "Steeplechasing is the best game there is. There ought to be more of it. That's what horse racing is—through the fields, over a fence, across a creek." Jacobson believes that steeplechase horses and jockeys are superior to the merry-go-round performers on the flat, and it is ironic that the steeplechasing fraternity does not appreciate his enthusiastic endorsement. In 1959 he claimed his first steeplechaser, Sinn Feiner, and thereby shocked the tweedy set, who had been entering their horses in jumping claimers for years but, in gentlemanly fashion, never claiming each other's horses. They now watch nervously to see when Jacob-son will sweep down and seize the horses they have nurtured and schooled carefully for years.
Jacobson is suspect also simply because he has been too successful. But, as Aqueduct's racing secretary, Tommy Trotter, says, "He's smart. He picks his spots and he reads the condition book more carefully than other trainers. When he claims a horse, he already has a race picked out for him, and Buddy does not abuse his horses. He does not run them every other day. If they train off, he ships them out to his farm and freshens them."
Sixteen years ago Jacobson was walking "hots" for his uncle, Trainer Eugene Jacobs, for $25 a week. Last year he cleared $100,000. He takes a stand at the end of his barn at 7 a.m. and watches his horses walked around the barn by exercise boys and hot walkers. The night before, he has mapped out the morning work for each horse. "You can run through the whole lot in two hours in the morning if you have an idea of future plans," he says. "Of course, you have to be flexible. A horse walks by, I check him out. I can't see any more in 10 minutes than I can in 10 seconds. If the horse looks all right, he does what is scheduled. If you get too close to the situation, you can't see. You only get a clear picture if you stand away. I don't get too involved. I treat it like a business."
Jacobson treats his owners in the same disinterested manner. They pay him $21 per day to board, train and care for each horse, and they give him full discretion in racing, buying and selling their stock. Jacobson is responsible. "When a horse doesn't win, it is because I made a mistake," he says. "And I make a lot of mistakes. It's up to me to make the decisions. A jockey may lose a race for you, but he can't win one for you. That's my responsibility."
Jacobson's assortment of owners is representative of the new men in racing. Among them are a stockbroker, a dentist, a motel proprietor, a shoe manufacturer, two electronic industrialists, and a builder. The builder is Sam Lefrak, the 46-year-old owner of one of the largest apartment-construction firms in the world. Lefrak, nattily attired and well-perfumed, showed up at Jacobson's barn a few mornings ago. A reporter asked him why he raced horses. Immediately he replied, "For the improvement of the breed." Then he paused. "And to win the Kentucky Derby," he continued. Jacobson had commented a little while before, "When new owners first come into the business they always say to you, 'I'm only interested in that good horse. I just want to win the Derby. I'm not interested in cheap horses.' But if you buy them horses and then don't run them, they complain. Winning keeps them happy.
"Racing is an entertainment show put on for the public. The amount of money bet affects what races are run. And the bookkeeping! You spend more time with your bookkeeper than with the horses." Businessman Buddy Jacobson looked up and grinned. "It must have been great," he said, "in those days when you sat behind a table with a pile of money and paid each guy off in cash."
Jacobson rarely gets this close to his horses, either physically or emotionally. He prefers a detached approach.