When Hirsch Jacobs raced pigeons around the block and over the rooftops in Brooklyn 50 years ago, he never had to worry about losing his birds. After all, every homing pigeon wants to come home. Now the trouble is that Hirsch races a horse who doesn't like to come home, a long-nosed dark bay named Priceless Gem. "She's a problem," Hirsch says. "She jumps and kicks and worries you. You get her out on the track, and then you think you'll never get her back in her stall again." Priceless Gem might be enough to make Hirsch wish he were back in the pigeon business, except for the fact that no 2-year-old pigeon ever won $85,000 in an afternoon.
Last Saturday at Aqueduct, Priceless Gem jumped and kicked and worried a lot of other horsemen considerably more than Jacobs as she coasted to an easy win in the Frizette Stakes, beating the best 2-year-old fillies around. A fortnight before, the tall, prancy filly had been the only girl to take on the boys in The Futurity, and none of them—not even the fastest colt in the land, Ogden Phipps's Buckpasser—had been able to catch her. Unless they can in the mile Champagne Stakes on Saturday, this daughter of Hail to Reason and Searching may well be the 2-year-old champion.
It is pertinent to pause and consider the plight of poor Ogden Phipps. Ten years ago he got annoyed with Searching because she did not seem capable of winning, and he sold her to Jacobs for $15,000. This now seems like the worst mistake since France sold Louisiana to James Monroe. Searching won 25 races and $327,381, which is a 2,000% return on her purchase price. Retired from competition, she has had three foals, and Ogden Phipps will thank you if you do not mention their names around him either. They are: Affectionately, winner of more than half a million dollars and six stakes this year; Admiring, who has won $151,524; and Priceless Gem, who has been averaging $40,000 for every mile she races. Ogden Phipps has not sold a horse to Hirsch Jacobs since. (He did sell one to Jacobs' nephew Buddy Jacobson, the colt Bupers, who promptly won the 1963 Futurity.)
Jacobs believes his 2-year-old is even better than her older sisters. "This one has more to her," he says. "She is bigger, and not speed-crazy like Affectionately was at 2. She has learned to relax and wait for the opposition to come to her."
Last week the opposition never appeared, not that many in the crowd of 43,644 expected it would. Priceless Gem went off the 2-to-5 favorite. Of the $158,793 bet on the field for show, $144,071 was on the filly. She had won four of her five races, having lost her first when she ducked from the whip, looked into the grandstand and was hit in the face by mud.
She had beaten Buckpasser in The Futurity by half a length and Advocator, winner of last week's $50,000 Cowdin, by 10½ lengths. She had won the fastest 2-year-old race at Aqueduct this year (1:09[4/5]) by eight lengths
In the Frizette, Priceless Gem out-looked and outdid her opposition—and not only on the racetrack. While the rest of the field walked calmly and dully around the paddock, Jacobs' filly tiptoed around, swishing her tail and slashing out with her hind hooves. She looked into the eye of a television camera and wheeled, whereupon Jacobs took her by the bridle and looked into her eye. He has a notion that you can hypnotize a horse and it will behave. But when you are a little man like Jacobs and the top of your red head is on a level with your filly's snout, it sometimes is hard to get her attention. Off went Priceless Gem, wiggling her ears, her head held high.
In the race, breaking from No. 3 post position in the field of seven, she rushed into the lead. The others were bunched behind her. She went the first three-quarters of the mile in 1:10⅗ and by then Jockey Walter Blum had her three lengths in front. In the final turn Lady Pitt, a daughter of Sword Dancer, began to close ground. But Blum saw her coming and Priceless Gem heard her, and the two drew away again. They finished a length and a half in front of Lady Pitt, but the winning margin is not a true measure of the ease of Priceless Gem's victory. She was not extended, and Blum never even shook his whip at her—which is probably just as well. Priceless Gem does not take kindly to whips and, as Blum said after the race, "Mr. Jacobs does not want you to use one on her." She is a game, competitive filly who gives her best even when her shins are hurting. She came out of The Futurity a little sore, and Jacobs fully expected to see her walk out of her stall the Sunday morning after the Frizette looking like a churchgoer who has knelt for an hour on a rough wooden board.
But if Priceless Gem was sound by midweek Jacobs planned to put up $10,000 to make her a late entry in the Champagne. And if Buckpasser is to beat her this year and win the 2-year-old title that once seemed to be his, it will have to be in that race. The Champagne will be his final start of the season.
As for Priceless Gem, Jacobs is making no long-range plans. "I have to see how she is, and sometimes I have dreams or premonitions and I won't run a horse. One time I was talked into starting Stymie when I felt I shouldn't, and that was the day he broke down." Chances are, though, that the big filly will start in the Gardenia Stakes at Garden State on November 6, where she will meet an unbeaten filly named Moccasin, a full sister to Ridan. Moccasin left New York in mid-September after having won four races for Breeder A. B. Hancock Jr., including the prestigious Spinaway and Matron Stakes. She will start in this week's Alcibiades Stakes in Lexington and then will be shipped north.
No matter how tough the competition gets the rest of the year, however, Hirsch Jacobs has obviously come up with quite a pigeon.