Robert T. Manfuso, 82, Maryland Owner-Breeder And Industry Leader, Dies

by | 03.21.2020 | 7:28pm
Robert T. Manfuso (Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Assn. photo)

Robert Tyree Manfuso, for decades a major figure in the Thoroughbred industry in Maryland and nationally, died on Thursday at the age of 82.

An owner, breeder, racetrack owner and contributor to numerous industry organizations, Mr. Manfuso owned and operated Chanceland Farm in West Friendship, Md., with his longtime partner, Katy Voss.

Born Sept. 1, 1937, Mr. Manfuso grew up in the horse business. His father, John Manfuso Sr., was a former president of the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and also led the Maryland division.

“Racing is something I've been interested in all my life,” Mr. Manfuso told the Maryland Horse magazine in 2017. “My father had horses before I was born, and I grew up hearing about them.”

His first success as a Thoroughbred owner came in 1973 when he was a member of Fourbros Stable, which included his brother Tom and Jeff and George Huguely, two brothers who were longtime friends of the Manfusos. The Bernie Bond-trained filly Crackerfax gave them their initial stakes winner. They also owned stakes winner Shelter Half, who went to stud in Maryland and is the sire of the third dam of Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia. The latter, bred in Maryland by Mr. Manfuso, was produced by another of his homebreds, the Mineshaft filly Sheave, the latter a daughter of the Manfuso homebred Unbridled filly Belterra, winner of the G2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Cathryn Sophia was voted Maryland-bred Horse of the Year in 2016, the same year Mr. Manfuso was named Maryland Breeder of the Year.

In 1986, along with brother Tom, Bob Manfuso teamed with Frank J. De Francis and Martin Jacobs to purchase Laurel Park and Pimlico. The partnership helped engineer a renaissance of Maryland racing that saw attendance and handle grow significantly for several years. The Manfusos eventually sold their interest after the death of Frank De Francis in 1989.

Mr. Manfuso purchased nearly 200 acres in Howard County west of Baltimore in 1987 and turned Chanceland into a successful breeding farm and training center where numerous stakes winners were foaled, raised and/or trained, among them millionaire International Star and and his half brother D C Dancer, winner of the Maryland Million Sprint.

But Cathryn Sophia was his crowning achievement as a breeder.

“It's top of the game for me,” Mr. Manfuso told the Paulick Report shortly after the Kentucky Oaks. “She's a special filly and I'm proud of what John Servis has done with her. We've come a long way in terms of the state recognizing and hopefully supporting the Thoroughbred industry, from breeders to the racing game. This was huge. Maryland has an agricultural land preservation program, and that's the property she was raised on. Having a Maryland bred and raised horse is such a plus for what we are trying to do.”

Mr. Manfuso served on numerous boards, including the Breeders' Cup. Under his leadership as chairman of the Racing and Nominations Committee, the nomination process was dramatically changed, permitting owners to nominate to the Breeders' Cup at different points of a horse's career – and not just as weanlings as had been the case.

Mr. Manfuso is the father of Robert Tyree Manfuso Jr. and Elizabeth Manfuso Pothier and grandfather of Alexandra, Sydney, Margaret and Elizabeth Pothier.

A celebration of life will be announced at a later date.

Witzke Funeral Homes in Columbia, Md., is handling arrangements. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Beyond the Wire, 500 Redland Court, Suite 105, Owings Mills, MD 21117, or to Howard Hospital Foundation, 5755 Cedar Lane, Columbia, MD 21044 (www.hopkinsmedicine.org).

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