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Nine years ago Louis E. Wolfson was in federal prison near Pensacola, Fla. serving nine months and a day for selling unregistered stock, a conviction that, to this day, he is fighting. He remembers watching the 1969 Triple Crown races, the duels between Majestic Prince and Arts and Letters, on a black-and-white television set. With him was a variety of con artists, thieves, bootleggers and draft dodgers, hardly the sort of company a multimillionaire financier and thoroughbred horseman is used to, even one who likes to say, "There are more crooks per capita on Wall Street than in any other segment of American society." Besides costing Wolfson his freedom and his honor, the conviction almost ruined him in racing. He had to sell most of his horses to pay debts, the earnings of his Harbor View Farm dwindled to virtually nothing and his flamingo-and-black racing silks disappeared from view.
Now, though, thanks to a golden colt named Affirmed, Wolfson and Harbor View are back stronger than ever. The son of Exclusive Native (also bred and raced by Wolfson) has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and become a millionaire quicker than any horse in history. His spirited rivalry with Alydar is already part of racing legend. And if Affirmed can once more withstand Alydar in the Belmont Stakes on June 10 and thereby become the 11th Triple Crown winner, Wolfson's comeback will be complete. It is a prospect that leaves this son of a struggling Jewish junk dealer strangely indifferent. "I know where I came from," he says. "I still feel more comfortable with the average working American than I do with the so-called society people."
Wolfson doesn't mean to sound mean or angry. To the contrary, he says that, at 66, he is "as contented as I've ever been in my life." He gives most of the credit for this to his wife of five years, Patrice, the only daughter of the late Hirsch Jacobs, the winningest trainer in American history. At 41, Patrice is sort of the Doris Day of racing, a blonde bundle of smiles and nerves. She screens her husband's phone calls and she deplores the fact that the excitement over Affirmed has given the press the chance to exhume the old "unpleasantness," as she calls it. He, in turn, dotes on the wife young enough to be his daughter. When they're alone, or in the company of close friends, the tall, silver-haired financier likes to tease Patrice about her affinity for Affirmed.
"Affirmed, Affirmed, Affirmed, that's all I hear," Wolfson says. "My wife even talks about Affirmed in her sleep. I'll be glad when this Triple Crown is over so she'll stop waking me up."
"Oh, he loves Affirmed just as much as I do," she says.
For all his acumen on Wall Street, Wolfson is decidedly unbusinesslike when it comes to Affirmed. He steadfastly refuses to sell the colt, even when offered a blank check. "I wouldn't sell this horse for racing if I were broke," he says. He also refuses to participate in any commercial schemes like the ones concocted last year by Seattle Slew's owners. And he fully expects to race Affirmed at 4, if he stays sound, instead of retiring him to stud after the Belmont when, if he wins, his market value will be at its peak.
"Money stopped being real important to me after I had made enough," Wolfson says. "I've never really sought power, never sought to be a wealthy man. My wife's father and I felt the same way about our philosophy of life. Hirsch Jacobs never knew what his horseflesh was worth, never measured things from the standpoint of money. He liked the challenge of seeing his opinions confirmed."
Wolfson sees in Laz Barrera, who trains Affirmed, many of the same qualities he saw in Hirsch Jacobs. He hired Barrera in 1974 to replace his ailing trainer, Burley Parke, mostly on the strength of an incident that took place years earlier. As Wolfson tells it, Barrera had a horse, Grid Iron Hero, that he was interested in buying. Barrera's share would have been $20,000—peanuts for Wolfson, big money for Laz in those days. Yet, when Wolfson came around to look at the horse, Barrera said, " Mr. Wolfson, I respect you too much to let you waste your money. This horse is not sound." Wolfson thanked Barrera for his candor and made a mental note to watch his career.
"He's my kind of man," says Wolfson. "When I was looking for a trainer, I remembered Barrera. I asked him to train exclusively for Harbor View Farm, but he told me he had one owner he didn't want to give up. The man had a malignancy. Laz was afraid he might die if he dropped him. I was so impressed with his loyalty and his feeling. I told him to take part of my horses, if he wanted them, and he did."