01/08/2002 1:00AM

John Schapiro dead at 87


John Schapiro, a former owner of Laurel Park in Maryland and the winner of the Eclipse Award of Merit in 1980, died on Saturday, Jan. 5, at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 87.

Schapiro's most lasting contribution to racing was his inauguration in 1952 of the Washington D.C. International, a race that became the first international horse racing event in the United States. By offering to pay for transportation costs for competing horses, Schapiro was able to draw a large number of foreign horses and dignitaries to Laurel, including Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II.

Schapiro's father, Morris, purchased Laurel in 1950. The elder Schapiro immediately installed his son, a 1936 graduate of Stanford and a Maryland native, as the track's president.

For his achievements in Maryland and especially with the D.C. International and its impact on American racing, Schapiro was called Thoroughbred racing's Man of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 1961.

Schapiro sold Laurel Park to Frank De Francis and John and Robert Manfuso in 1984. The group combined Laurel with Pimlico under the Maryland Jockey Club, which is today headed by De Francis's son, Joe.