Bob Manfuso, Maryland racing mainstay, passes at 82

by | Mar 20, 2020 | Breaking, Business, Maryland, MD Business, Top Stories

Bob Manfuso

Bob Manfuso. Photo Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Robert T. Manfuso, who wore many hats in his racing career, passed away March 19. He was 82. 

At the time of his death, Manfuso, who was by turns gruff, outspoken, and charming, operated Chanceland Farm in West Friendship, MD, with his partner, Katy Voss. Both Manfuso and Voss also served as members of the board of directors of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. His death was first reported by the MTHA.

But those roles merely scratched the surface of Manfuso’s long involvement in the industry.

His father John helped found the Maryland Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the MTHA’s predecessor organization, giving young Bobby early exposure to the industry.

In 1986, Bobby and his brother Tommy, along with Frank J. De Francis and Martin Jacobs, purchased Laurel Park and Pimlico and helped engineer what the Baltimore Sun called the “Maryland miracle.” Attendance – back when tracks kept attendance figures – jumped 50 percent at the tracks between 1985 and 1990, and handle grew even faster, by 65 percent.

But Mr. De Francis’ untimely death in 1989 – at age 62 – and acrimony between the Manfusos and De Francis’ son Joe, who took over day-to-day operations of the Maryland Jockey Club, eventually led to De Francis’ buying out his minority partners in 1994.

That was hardly the end of Manfuso’s career in the Thoroughbred industry, however. He served for several years on the Board of Directors of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. and was a director of Pinnacle Entertainment when it owned California’s Hollywood Park. Manfuso also served on the board of the Thoroughbred Charities of America.

And from his Chanceland Farm base, he bred – by himself or in partnership with others — numerous good horses over the years. While many of those with flashy pedigrees were bound for the sales ring, he also kept and raced a number of runners.

Among the best of those he kept was the Unbridled filly Belterra, who earned over $324,000 in her brief career. She won the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2001, and five months later was third in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland.

Manfuso hung on to Belterra and bred her, and while she’s been productive – top runners include the stakes winner Taketheodds and the stakes-placed Mine Not Mine – it’s one of her daughters that most notably carries on the family name. Though Sheave, by Mineshaft, was unraced, she is the dam of 2016 Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia, who earned over $1.2 million.

Closer to home, Manfuso and Voss bred four Maryland Million winners, with Manfuso breeding two others himself. Most recently, they bred and, in partnership with Wayne Harrison, owned 2018 Maryland Million Classic winner Saratoga Bob.

In addition, Manfuso and Voss bred, and in partnership with Harrison owned, 2019 Maryland-bred three-year-old champion filly Las Setas. Her full-brother, Cordmaker, also bred by Manfuso and Voss, earned 2019 honors as Maryland-bred champion older male.

Manfuso and Voss also made a habit of winning the Grand Champion award at the Maryland Horse Breeders’ Association’s annual yearling show. Five times they sent out the show’s champ, most recently in 2019, when their homebred Midshipman filly took top honors.

Yet, while Manfuso was certainly no stranger to the racetrack – and advocated for improving owners’ experience of it – it was the sales grounds where he seemed most at home. In the days before a sale at Timonium, as the sales grounds grew busy, Manfuso could often be found holding court out front of the Chanceland consignment, wearing a baseball hat he favored that said “Big Bad Bob” on it.

Manfuso sent many good horses through the sales rings at Timonium and elsewhere, among them Cathryn Sophia, who brought a top bid of $30,000 as a yearling in 2014 and went on to earn 40 times that amount.

No word yet on arrangements.

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