08/02/2001 11:00PM

Racing museum spreads the word


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Monday's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for trainers Richard Mandella and Tom Smith, jockey Earlie Fires, and those crack horses Holy Bull, Paseana, and Maskette serves as another reminder that this industry is fortunate to have an outstanding National Museum of Racing.

The impressive ceremonies, which have drawn crowds of increasing size, depict racing in the best possible light, and the response by the honorees is always moving and frequently uplifting.

But the museum is much more than a showcase for the Hall of Fame and its activities. Well-conceived and skillfully presented exhibitions, such as the superb current display on Seabiscuit, help to tell racing's story to the public. Seminars, panel discussions, and lectures on a variety of racing topics, held throughout the year, are educational and entertaining. Museum-organized tours to important racing events, such as the Triple Crown classics and the World Thoroughbred Championships, do much to bolster the bonding process between the museum and the Saratoga community.

The museum has made extensive efforts to spread its presence and messages beyond the geographical bounds of Saratoga. Portable interactive displays are sent to tracks in all parts of the country, and a traveling van with multiple displays plies the highways on an appointment basis. The museum has developed an excellent library of books and audio-visual tapes and has become a major research source for scholars and others with a requirement to know more about racing.

Headed by president John von Stade, a vital staff is constantly seeking out new avenues along which to fulfill its mission. Its success and progress has been recognized by museum groups with a number of awards and grants that enhance its prestige.

One of the most enjoyable features of the museum's historical records is the opportunity to learn more about interesting racing personalities of the past. Eighty trainers have been installed in the Hall of Fame, for example, and among those least known to current generations is a man who was, at one time, an international hero, acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic. I am alluding to Jacob Pincus, who saddled tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard's Iroquois to win the 1881 Epsom Derby, the first victory in that classic by an American horse.

News of the triumph touched off celebrations in cities throughout the U.S.

Pincus, a native of Baltimore, was a 13-year-old factory worker in Louisville, Ky., when he met Dr. J.W. Weldon, who trained a stable of horses at the Crab Orchard course. Small of stature at the time, Pincus was invited to try his hand as an exercise rider. He had the knack and accepted his first mount in New Orleans in 1852, when he was 14. He rode for six years, became a top jockey, but got heavy and had to give it up.

He began training horses in the early 1860's. In 1865, he saddled Richmond to win the second running of the Jersey Derby and the following year was hired by R.A. Alexander, one of America's premier sportsmen. Pincus's reputation grew.

He subsequently trained for August Belmont, one of racing's leaders; for John Chamberlain, whose Tom Ochiltree was a sensation in that era; and for William Astor, whose Vagrant won many stakes under Pincus's direction.

In 1879, Pincus became head trainer of the American division of Lorillard's large stable and in 1880 was sent to England to train the Lorillard horses in that country. One of the promising 2-year-olds was named Iroquois. He was beaten in the 2,000 Guineas the following spring by Peregrine but got his revenge in the Derby at Epsom, a victory that earned he and his trainer a place in racing history.