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A Day at the Races

Welcome to the race track, where the enthusiast, the owner, the trainer, the jockey and even the bugler, are Jewish

by Charlotte Hildebrand

February 17, 2000 | 7:00 pm

From the first question, the interview sank like a rock.

"Jews in horse racing. What kind of story is that?" the famous- person's voice bellowed over the phone. "You're 20 years too late!"

"There was Maxwell Glick and Sam Rubin and Hirsh Jacobs and Eugene Kline. A guy like Maxwell Glick made $8 million in one race!"

The famous-person paused momentarily, speaking to someone over his shoulder; by the time he returned, what was left of his good manners had flown out the window.

"But why am I educating you?" he barked into the phone.

I squirmed in my chair, my ears burning red. The famous person had posed a very good question, indeed.

It was true, I didn't know a lot about horse racing (although, I did grow up downwind of Churchill Downs), but I knew enough to know that Jews liked horses. Up until the 1950s, East Coast horse racing was dominated by Jews, along with small time gangsters, who found intellectual and financial rewards at the races. Kline, Jacobs and Rubin -- East Coast Jews -- had all been big-time thoroughbred owners, and winners, at one time.

But on the West Coast, when it came down to the track, old wealth ruled.

"What you've got to understand is that Santa Anita was the quintessential WASP bastion," says Nathaniel Friedman, an attorney and horse racing enthusiast, who has been going to the track for over 40 years. According to Friedman, during the '30s, under Charles B. Strub, founder of Santa Anita, Jews were not exactly welcomed at the Turf Club.

"Common sense said you invited in people who could afford it... So, in 1937, a man named Mervyn LeRoy [ a Hollywood director] and Louis B. Mayer incorporated Hollywood Park." Thus, Hollywood Park was created, Friedman says, in part as a place where Jews could go and have a Turf Club of their own.

"There were no bones about it: Jews had plenty of money, they were willing to spend it and they loved horses," Friedman says.

Today, at Santa Anita, you'll find the most diverse crowd anywhere in Southern California. Under new ownership, the Club House has had a facelift, welcoming in a whole new generation of horse fanatics. And today, Jews have a bigger presence than ever in the sport of horse racing.

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