09/11/2003 12:00AM

Dreyfus has tonic for success


ELMONT, N.Y. - One of racing's most remarkable men recently celebrated his 90th birthday. But, typically, Jack Dreyfus was too busy to celebrate the occasion. He was at his desk at his office at Columbus Circle in New York, directing the activities of the Dreyfus Medical Foundation, which for the past 40 years has been totally devoted to telling the world about the wonders of phenytoin.

Phenytoin (brand name: Dilantin) is a medicine usually prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy. Dreyfus, overwhelmed by depression, took the medication one night and awoke refreshed. In a matter of days his depression was history. Investigating further, he found that phenytoin was helpful in dealing with a number of disorders. He resolved to make the information widely disseminated.

When Dreyfus focuses in on a subject, he makes a major effort. As a young man recently discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard, he landed a $12,000-a-year job on Wall Street as a customer's broker. With the financial assistance of some relatives and friends, he purchased a seat on the stock exchange and did business as Dreyfus & Co. A few years later he organized the Dreyfus Fund, and his investment decisions were mostly on target. He took a strong position in a new camera company named Polaroid, and when he left Wall Street to lead his medical foundation, the Dreyfus Fund was managing $1 billion.

His racing career was similarly successful. He started as a fan with a winning day at old Jamaica Race Track, and quickly began to appreciate the subtleties of handicapping. Through a friend he met Laudy Lawrence, MGM's representative in Europe and a breeder with exquisite tastes. Dreyfus bought 25 percent of Lawrence's Count Fleet colt Beau Gar for $7,000, later acquired the other 75 percent and turned him over to trainer Maje Odom.

Beau Gar had ability, but was not the soundest horse in the world. He was retired to stud in Kentucky and Dreyfus bought a mare named Water Queen to breed to him. The foal, Beau Purple, won the Derby Trial of 1960 but fractured a bone in his leg and was out of action for more than a year. He came back better than ever, set five track records on dirt and grass, and beat five-time Horse of the Year Kelso in three of their six confrontations.

Many of Beau Purple's signal victories were directed by Allen Jerkens. He was New York's leading trainer in 1962, and that spring, when Dreyfus decided to make a change, Jerkens was recommended by turf writer Pat Lynch. The two men met for lunch in New York and formed an association that lasts to this day. Another at that luncheon was Elmer Huebeck of Ocala, Fla. He built Hobeau Farm in Ocala for Dreyfus and supervised the breeding of many outstanding homebreds.

One of the best of these was Handsome Boy, another son of Beau Gar, who won the Brooklyn Handicap of 1967 by eight lengths, defeating the brilliant Buckpasser. Dreyfus has always had good horses in his stable, some of them purchased by the perceptive Jerkens. Lilah, a current star and a model of consistency, is a good example. Dreyfus thinks he may have another good one in the 2-year-old Smokume (by Smoke Glacken), an impressive winner of his only start last month at Saratoga. Hobeau Farm has some 25 mares on the production line and breeds to a wide variety of stallions.

Several years following his entry into racing, Dreyfus was elected a trustee of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. He led a workplace action against the New York Racing Association in a bid for higher purses, and shortly after was invited to become a trustee of the NYRA by its chairman, James Cox Brady. In 1970, when Brady stepped down, Dreyfus succeeded him as chairman. During his tenure, he had Aqueduct's backyard turned into a fan-friendly garden that proved quite popular. Taking a leaf from the Dreyfus Fund's prize-winning ad campaign featuring a lion on Wall Street, he organized a successful NYRA campaign with the emphasis on horses as among the fastest animals on earth.

Dreyfus resigned as NYRA's chairman in 1971 to deal with problems confronting his medical foundation, but in 1975 felt free to accept another term, and is the only man to hold the chairmanship twice.