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Texas | Columns

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Max Hirsch
Wizard of the Race Track

Michael Barr
Max Hirsch, the dean of American horse trainers, sat in the clubhouse at Belmont Park on Long Island, New York and reminisced about his first race as a jockey. It was a Sunday afternoon match race down Main Street in Fredericksburg, Texas - from Maier Corner to the Buckhorn Saloon (where Security State Bank now stands). The horses and riders had to dodge the Vereins Kirche that at the time was in the middle of the street.

"Sundays were something in Fredericksburg in those days," Hirsch recalled. So many people "you couldn't stir 'em with a stick."

Maximillian Justice Hirsch was born in Fredericksburg, Texas on July 3, 1880. His parents were Jacob and Mary Neffendorf Hirsch.

Max Hirsch loved horses, and at age 12 he became an exercise boy at Morris Ranch, 12 miles southwest of Fredericksburg on the Pedernales River. At the time Morris Ranch was one of the premier thoroughbred training facilities in the country.
TX - Old horse barn at Morris Ranch
Old horse barn at Morris Ranch
April 2016 photo © Michael Barr
By age 14 Hirsch was a jockey. Over the next six years he rode 123 winners.

At age 20, Hirsch switched to training horses. In his storied career he trained three Kentucky Derby winners: Bold Venture (1936), Assault (1946), and Middle-ground (1950). His horses also won the Preakness once and the Belmont Stakes four times.

The Klebergs, owners of the King Ranch in South Texas, hired Hirsch to train their horses, and he built the King Ranch stables into a world racing powerhouse. Assault, a three-year-old owned by the King Ranch and trained by Max Hirsch, won the triple-crown in 1946.
Max Hirsch holding Assault. Eddie Arcaro aboard.
Wikipedia photo
Hirsch's career spanned seven decades, and his ability as a horse trainer brought him fame throughout the world. His horses won 1,933 races and over $12 million.

His knowledge of horses was legendary. Anyone headed to the betting window sought his advice.

On July 4, 1921, Hirsch entered Sidereal, a horse that had never won, in a race at Saratoga. In a casual conversation with Arnold Rothstein, the mobster who fixed the 1919 World Series, Hirsch predicted that his horse was ready to win.

Betters did not agree. Odds makers put his chances of winning at 30 to 1.

But Rothstein knew a tip from Max Hirsch was gospel. Sidereal won, and Rothstein picked up $770,000.

Hirsch was inducted into to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1959. Sports Illustrated Magazine called him "inestimable, incomparable, and indescribable."
Max Hirsch
Max Hirsch
Courtesy Fredericksburg Standard
Max Hirsch was still training horses when he died on April 3, 1969.

Even at the height of his fame, Hirsch returned to Fredericksburg to see his family whenever he could. His brother, Henry Hirsch, was the County Judge of Gillespie County.

His relatives still live in Fredericksburg and the Texas Hill Country.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" May 1, 2016 Column

Sources:
New York Times, July 13, 1956."Max Hirsch, 76, Honored at Dinner." pL+15
Fredericksburg Standard, February 6, 1946, p1. "Max Hirsch, Noted Horse Trainer, Here for Brief Visit with Local Relatives."
Sports Illustrated Magazine, June 29, 1959.

Related Articles:
The Ghosts of Morris Ranch by Michael Barr
Max Hirsch, Healer and Winner by Clay Coppedge

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