11/09/2001 1:00AM

Ethel Jacobs, owner, dead at 91


Ethel D. Jacobs, a three-time leading owner, the wife of Hall of Fame trainer Hirsch Jacobs, and the matriarch of a propitious racing family, died on Friday in Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach, Florida, of pneumonia. She was 91.

The Jacobs family was one of the most well known in racing in the 1940's and 1950's. Hirsch Jacobs dominated the training ranks, taking 11 training titles from 1933 to 1944, while Ethel Jacobs took the owner's title in three of those years: 1936, 1937, and 1943. Her husband trained most of her horses, who raced under salmon pink, and green silks.

In fact, Ethel Jacobs's victory total of 149 wins in 1936 set a record that was not broken until 1953. In 1937, her 102 wins again led the country, and in 1943, she took the owner's title with 81.

Stymie, the champion handicap horse of 1945, provided four of those 81 wins in 1943 during his 2-year-old season. Six years later, Stymie retired with a career record of 35 wins from 131 starts and record earnings of $918,485. He was probably the greatest horse Ethel owned or that Hirsch trained, and "may have embodied the sport better than any horse of the decade," wrote Joe Hirsch in the book "Champions," calling Stymie "a warrior with the utmost courage."

Ethel owned two other horses that were elected to the Hall of Fame: Affectionately and Searching.

Hirsch Jacobs died in February, 1970, after saddling a record 3,569 winners. Later that year, John Jacobs won the Preakness and Belmont with two different horses - Personality in the Preakness and High Echelon in the Belmont. John's mother was also his boss. Ethel owned both horses.

"There wasn't a story about horses you could tell her that she hadn't heard already," said her son John, a retired trainer who is now a boodstock agent, on Friday. "My father told her everything."

High Echelon, in fact, was bred by Hirsch and his friend and partner, Isidor Beiber. The confluence of family connections made for an emotional winner's circle ceremony.

"I think the day I won the Belmont was probably the happiest day of my mother's life," John Jacobs said. "That's the person she was. She rooted for everyone."

A daughter, Patrice, also had success in the racing world. In 1978, Affirmed, bred and owned by Patrice and her husband, Louis Wolfson, took the Triple Crown and was voted Horse of the Year, a title he took again in 1979. Their Harbor View Farm was named the Eclipse Award-winning breeder in 1978.

Besides High Echelon and Personality, who finished third and eighth in the 1970 Derby, Ethel Jacobs had two other horses in the Derby: Dr. Miller, who finished fourth in 1961, and Exhibitionist, who finished third in 1966. As always, it was a family affair. Her son trained Dr. Miller, and her husband trained Exhibitionist.