Dr. Manuel Gilman, a prominent racetrack veterinarian who served in many official capacities over 46 years, died Nov. 25 at 91, according to his son Charles Gilman.
Gilman served as chief examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, as general manager of Louis and Patrice Wolfson’s Harbor View Farm, as director of the U.S. Jockey Club, and finally as Jockey Club steward at the NYRA racetracks.
He grew up on Long Island volunteering to muck out stalls and clean horses so he could learn to ride. As a teenager he earned enough money riding show horses to pay for college (the University of Maine) and veterinary school (the University of Pennsylvania, where he was awarded the Surgery Prize).
Gilman’s storied career as the examining veterinarian at the New York Thoroughbred racetracks began in 1945 and would continue for the next 32 years. He realized that the horny growths on the inside of a horse’s legs—called chestnuts or “night eyes” by native Americans—served as the homologue of the human fingerprint, and he developed the Universal Horse Identification System now used throughout Thoroughbred racing to prevent “ringers” and assure that the horses on which the public was betting were in fact the horses running in the race.
No horse was permitted to run at a New York Thoroughbred racetrack without being first examined by Gilman. His decisions to “scratch” a horse on race day to protect the animal, the jockey, other contestants and the betting public were final, and were never overturned by racing officials.
One of sports writing’s most celebrated deadline pieces, Death of a Racehorse by W. C. Heinz (published in The Sun on July 29, 1949) reported on Gilman, then a young assistant track vet, having to “put down” Air Lift, a full brother to Triple Crown winner Assault, when, in his first race, Air Lift broke his leg. Gilman was also the first veterinarian to reach Ruffian when she fractured both sesamoid bones during her July 6, 1975, match race against Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.
After leaving NYRA in 1981, Gilman became general manager of Harbor View Farm, breeder/owner of Affirmed, the last horse to win racing’s Triple Crown.
The Jockey Club’s chairman Ogden Mills Phipps asked Gilman to take over the role of director of The Jockey Club in 1983. Gilman was instrumental in creating blood typing and parentage verification for every Thoroughbred foal in the United States, organizing laboratories and rewriting The Jockey Club rules. In 1991, Gilman was awarded the Jockey Club Gold Medal.
Gilman was steadfastly against the legalization of permissive medication for racing horses. Charles Gilman said he believed it endangered horses and riders and was fundamentally unfair to the betting public. As racetracks in other states legalized pre-race medications, Gilman publicly spoke out against it at racing conferences and published on the subject.
Seventeen years after Doc Gilman retired, sports commentator John Pricci wrote for NBC Sports: “As a young journalist I had a taste for Kool-Aid. I bought into the argument that New York racing needed Lasix to compete with the rest of the country for racing stock. Dr. Manuel Gilman, who made the leap from NYRA track veterinarian to the steward’s stand, was correct when he warned that the proliferation of permissive medication would be the end of quality racing as we know it. Time has proven Gilman prescient.”
Doc Gilman is survived by his devoted wife of 63 years and former WASP World War II pilot and Congressional Gold Medal recipient, Margaret Werber Gilman, their two children, Charles and Jane, five grandchildren and four great-grandsons.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to either:
· The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, which provides private funding for equine medical research that benefits all breeds of horses. For information, see grayson-jockeyclub.org; or
· The Backstretch Employee Services Team, which provides a range of health and human services to support the workers in the Belmont Park, Aqueduct, and Saratoga barn areas. For information, see bestbackstretch.com.