A Genuine Gentleman

by David L. Heckerman

The Blood-Horse
August 28, 1999

Jack Dreyfus leads in Beau Purple after defeating Kelso in the 1962 Man o’ War Stakes.

If you were a racing fan in North America, particularly in New York, in the 1960s and 1970s, you probably recall the heyday of Jack J. Dreyfus Jr.’s Hobeau Farm. You probably remember the green-and-leafy advertising campaign undertaken when Dreyfus was chairman of the New York Racing Association, with television spots and posters on buses urging fans to spend a day in the park at Belmont and cheer on the fastest animal in the world.

In those years, the soft-spoken Wall Street financier, founder of the Dreyfus Fund, world-class bridge and gin rummy player, club champion in golf and tennis, and professed admirer of the common man, would wander the grandstands at Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, hang out with his trainer friends, and watch such Hobeau runners as Beau Purple, Blessing Angelica, Group Plan, Hand-some Boy, Never Bow, Onion, and Prove Out compete against, and more than occasionally defeat, the best of the breed. Of course, Hobeau’s orange and blue colors are still seen atop a string of New York-based runners, now as then saddled by Dreyfus’ longtime friend, Hall of Fame conditioner H. Allen Jerkens. Currently, Hobeau owns about seventy thoroughbreds, including twenty broodmares on its Ocala, Fla., farm and seventeen runners at the track with Jerkens. Among those competing at the moment are standout sprinter Kelly Kip, recently returned to Jerkens after recovering from a hock infection, and 1998 Withers Stakes (gr. 11) winner Dice Dancer.

Nevertheless, Hobeau’s inventory of thoroughbreds is down from an early 1970s peak of 300, when the farm annually ranked among the continent’s leading breeders and the racing stable occupied a similar position among leading owners. Dreyfus, who celebrates his 86th birthday Aug. 28, has put 2,100-acre Hobeau Farm on the market (at an asking price of $15 million) in order to concentrate his resources on his principal life pursuit of the past thirty years.

That would be his all-out promotion, some would call it proselytizing, for the drug Dilantin (generic name phenytoin), which helped Dreyfus recover overnight in 1963, at the age of fifty, from a five-year bout with a debilitating depression. The drug is used in other parts of the world to treat numerous disorders but is approved in the U.S. only as an anticonvulsant.

Since the original patent on the drug has expired, there is little economic incentive for pharmaceutical companies to promote its use, which Dreyfus long ago concluded is a gross disservice to the American people. In an attempt to rectify the situation, the Dreyfus Medical Foundation, funded entirely with its founder’s personal fortune, has for more than three decades underwritten research and disseminated bibliographies, books, and other information to every physician (now more than 600,000) and every public library in the U.S.

The thirty-five-year effort has absorbed much of Dreyfus’ time and thoughts and substantially depleted his personal fortune.

“I’ve spent $90-to-$100 million on this, and so much more needs to be done,” Dreyfus said recently in his Manhattan office, which overlooks Plaza Square from windows on 58th Street near Fifth Avenue. “I hate to sell the farm and I won’t say I’m broke, but I need the money for the most important thing in the world to me.”

Sincerely sincere

           

Dreyfus’ friends have long since become accustomed to such statements from him, as did Presidents Nixon and Reagan and numerous cabinet secretaries, senators, and congressmen to whom he personally pled his case in the past thirty years. Needless to say, this circumstance has given him a bit of a reputation.

More than a few people who have known Dreyfus during his crusade concede to having two firm impressions of him. One is that he is a genuinely nice man. The other is that he has become a bit of an eccentric.

“He’s a very, very good guy,” said Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson. “You never would know he was a man of means, except that his chauffeur used to carry his betting money around the track in a satchel.

 
Great Hobeau Farm Upsets
Date
Race
Site
Winner/Favorite
Oct. 27,1962 Man o’ War Stakes Belmont Park Beau Purple (20.65-1) defeated Kelso (1.05-1)
July 22, 1967 Brooklyn Handicap Aqueduct Handsome Boy (5.30-1) defeated Buckpasser (.70-1)
Aug. 4, 1973 Whitney Stakes Saratoga Onion (5.60-1) defeated Secretariat (.10-1)
Sept. 29, 1973 Woodward Stakes Belmont Park Prove Out (16.20-1) defeated Secretariat (.30-1)

“Years ago, he would hang out with us trainers around the paddock when they led the horses out to the track. He had all of us—Woody (Stephens), Allen (Jerkens), me, and several others—on that drug for a while. Even now when I see him, he asks me if I`m still using Dilantin. I’ve learned to tell him, ‘Yes,’ and he says, ‘Good, you’ll live a long life.’ ”

Though retired from the NYRA board, Dreyfus has requested on occasion to appear before current trustees with an appeal, which usually has three elements. One is to argue the case for elimination of exotic wagers, which Dreyfus believes perpetually reduce pari-mutuel churn to the detriment of all of racing. Another is to give bettors a break by reducing pari-mutuel takeout. And the third is to inquire if anyone needs any Dilantin.

Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps, also a former NYRA chairman and longtime friend of Dreyfus’, welcomes his continued participation.

 
Leading Hobeau Farm Runners
Beau Purple  
Handsome Boy
Blessing America
Kelly Kip
Canal
Onion
Dice Dancer
Never Bow
Duck Dance
Peace Corps
Garland of Roses
Prove Out
Group Plan  
Step Nicely

“He’s a great guy,” Phipps said. “He always calls me ‘Dinsmore.’ ”

“Jack Dreyfus is a sincerely sincere man,” wrote Sports Illustrated in an affectionate 1964 profile that appeared soon after Beau Purple, the first horse ever bred by Hobeau Farm, began advancing Dreyfus to racing prominence. He remains a quiet, polite, likable man to this day, by acclamation.

Dreyfus still calls Beau Purple’s upset of Kelso in the 1962 Man o’War Stakes his greatest moment in racing. He still recalls with pride his decision to stand Beau Purple and Handsome Boy’s sire Beau Gar, perhaps the only decent stallion son of Count Fleet, at Hobeau Farm.

He also admits to a personal fondness for Blessing Angelica, a daughter of Beau Gar and winner of consecutive Delaware Handicaps in 1971-72. “What was that mare with the religious name?” he has asked visitors over the years, testing to see whether they remember her as well as he does.

Also dear to Dreyfus’ heart are Jerkens (“Allen’s a nut and I’m a nut, and we’ve shared many good things in our lives,” he said); the works of Mark Twain, which he has delighted in discussing with all manner of writers who have visited him over the years; and his own book, six years in the writing, entitled A Remarkable Medicine Has Been Overlooked, available in public libraries for anyone interested in understanding his consuming passion.

Through it all, Dreyfus remains a purist about racing and breeding.

“Horse racing should be a sport, without so much emphasis on gambling,” he said. `You breed and train these wonderful animals, and it`s a beautiful game to watch.”

As parting words to a visitor, he adds: “Thanks for coming to see me. Keep on with your love of racing. And take Dilantin—you’ll live a long life.”  

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