Beloved NYRA Oddsmaker and Jockey Donald LaPlace Dies at 85
Beloved NYRA Oddsmaker and Jockey Donald LaPlace Dies at 85 by Francis LaBelle: Donald LaPlace showed up at Hall of Fame trainer Hirsch Jacobs’ barn at Jamaica Racetrack looking for work. Fresh out of Brooklyn Prep, he was dressed in blazer and tie, slacks and well-polished shoes.
He didn’t get the job.
“Mr. Jacobs took one look at him and said, `I can’t use you,’” said Don’s wife, Joan. “He was disappointed, but as he was leaving, he saw Mr. Jacobs’ father. He asked Don if he had a pair of dungarees. Don told him he did, and the man told him to come back the next day and to wear the dungarees and an old shirt, too.”
The next day, 16-year-old Don LaPlace joined the Jacobs barn and his life as a racetracker began.
Don’s life ended on Wednesday afternoon, November 4, 2015 when he died at his home in Schuylerville, NY following a long illness. He was 85.
Respected and well-liked as the long-time morning line oddsmaker and handicapper for the New York Racing Association, Don was born in Brooklyn, NY on January 20, 1930. He always dreamed of working with horses – he used to cut pictures of favorites like Seabiscuit out of newspapers and magazines for his own scrapbook– and he quickly settled in at Jacobs barn.
With grooms named “Cream Puff” and “Mickey Who” as his teachers and with no less a champion than Stymie as the barn’s star, Don learned the racing game from the straw up. It was about a year before Jacobs trusted him to get on horses, and Don wasn’t allowed to carry a whip.
Don rode his first winner in 1949 at Narragansett Park, RI, and the congratulatory telegram he got from Jacobs would be among his treasures. Don returned to New York to be leading apprentice at Jamaica. While he never won any major stakes races, Don did gallop such stalwarts as Stymie and the “Mike” Freeman-trained Shuvee, the only filly to beat colts in the then two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in 1970. She would duplicate the feat one year later..
Don stopped riding when he began to fight weight. Once, he was caught trying to fool the Clerk of Scales by sliding his saddle slightly over the edge of the scale prompting The Boston Globe to dub him “The Butcher Boy from Brooklyn.”
After his riding career ended, Don briefly trained a three-horse stable.
“Net Ball won twice and Mr. Patrick won once, with Eddie Arcaro aboard,” Don said in an interview. “I was 3-0 and no one will ever
beat my percentage of training horses.”
An argument with a partner soon ended his training career and Don then joined the NYRA’s mutuel department in 1962 and eventually was chosen to make the morning line. In this capacity, it was his responsibility to set the odds on the races before betting opened.
Don continued in that role, and in 1991, he was named recipient of the New York Turf Writers Association’s “Red” Smith Good Guy Award. He retired in 1995, then came back in 2000 before leaving for good on Christmas Eve, 2004.
LaPlace is survived by his wife, Joan, who he first met in 1972 and married in 1986. They successfully bred and showed Jack Russell Terriers for many years.
Viewing will be Sunday, November 8 from 2-4 p.m. At Flynn Brothers Funeral Home, 13 Gates Ave., Schuylerville. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at the Church of Notre Dame Visitation,18 Pearl Street, Schuylerville, NY, on Monday, November 9. at 10 a.m. Rev. David J. Kelley, O.S.A, LaPlace’s cousin and pastor at St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Waterford, NY, will officiate.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the General Schuyler Emergency Fund.