JC / Railbird

Miss Mary, Licensed Trainer

Noted in today’s TDN:

July 7, 1934 … Mary Hirsch became the first female to be licensed as a Thoroughbred trainer, in Illinois. Hirsch subsequently was licensed in Michigan that year and two years later, on April 9, she was licensed by The Jockey Club to train in New York.

Hirsch, known as “Miss Mary” and described as a “frail-looking, sad-eyed” young woman with modest hopes by Time Magazine in April 1935, was the daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch, who conditioned Sarazen, 1924-25 Horse of the Year, and Assault, the 1946 Triple Crown winner. He’s also known for losing Stymie, eventual champion and winner of almost $1 million in earnings, as a juvenile in a $1500 claiming race.

Nothing so dramatic, won or lost, would mark Miss Mary’s career, but she did have the distinction of being the first female trainer to saddle a horse in the Kentucky Derby. No Sir, a well-bred stakes-winning gelding owned by Hirsch, finished 13th in the 1937 run for the roses, which was won that year by War Admiral. She also became the first female trainer to win the Travers, with a horse named Thanksgiving, in 1938, a year in which she won 18 races and $26,210, “a record not equaled by scores of men trainers,” wrote Charles B. Parmer in “For Gold and Glory,” a history of American thoroughbred racing published in 1939. The author not only admired Hirsch as a trainer, but for what a good sport she could be, as exemplified by this story:

A standing alibi on the race track, when a good horse loses, is for the owner to announce: the jockey didn’t give my horse a good ride. Mary Hirsch endeared herself to the jockey colony one day, when she climbed the stairs into the press box. One of her horses had lost a race the day before: the newspapers said the jockey had given him a poor ride. Mary said: “You chaps are all wrong. The boy rode to my orders — the horse just couldn’t make it.”

In 1936, Hirsch helped her father win his first Kentucky Derby by sending 18-year-old Ira Hanford, her apprentice jockey, to ride Bold Venture. The colt paid $43 to upset; Hanford was suspended 15 days for rough riding.