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Robert T. Manfuso, Maryland thoroughbred breeder and former Pimlico and Laurel Park co-owner, dies

Bob Manfuso, pictured, operates the Chanceland Farm with a partner in West Friendship and bred Cathryn Sophia, this year's Kentucky Oaks champion.
Bob Manfuso, pictured, operates the Chanceland Farm with a partner in West Friendship and bred Cathryn Sophia, this year's Kentucky Oaks champion.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Robert Tyree “Bob” Manfuso, who helped revitalize Maryland thoroughbred racing and who was a past co-owner of the Pimlico and Laurel Park racecourses, died Thursday at his West Friendship home in Howard County. He was 82.

His longtime partner, Katharine Voss, said he died of natural causes related to a suspected heart condition.

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Born in Washington, D.C., he was the son of John A. Manfuso Sr., a president of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and his wife, Zelma Tyree. His family owned the Burton Parsons pharmaceutical firm, maker of a contact lens solution.

Mr. Manfuso was a graduate of the Landon School and Princeton University.

He worked in the family pharmaceutical business as marketing and sales director and was a founder of Fourbros Stable, a partnership of two sets of brothers who owned and raced thoroughbreds.

In the mid-1980s, after years of breeding horses, he joined Frank J. De Francis and Martin Jacobs to purchase Laurel Park. Several years later they acquired Pimlico Race Course from longtime owners Herman and Ben Cohen.

Then-Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park co-owners Robert Tyree “Bob” Manfuso, left, and John A. “Tom” Manfuso are pictured in 1993 in their offices in Chevy Chase.
Then-Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park co-owners Robert Tyree “Bob” Manfuso, left, and John A. “Tom” Manfuso are pictured in 1993 in their offices in Chevy Chase.(ROBERT K. HAMILTON)

In a 1989 Los Angeles Times story, he said: “I loved horses, I loved racing. I loved the backstretch. I knew that Maryland racing was in trouble and I knew we were rapidly deteriorating to a very mediocre product in terms of the sport.”

His role in reviving Maryland thoroughbred racing was widely acknowledged.

Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association said: “Bob loved the racing industry. He also loved running a good racetrack. He was tough, but he dedicated his life to breeding horses.”

Mr. Manfuso and his partners were widely credited with bringing fresh enthusiasm and ideas to the sport. Seen as an innovative track owner, he worked to rejuvenate the Washington, D.C. International Stakes and improve the physical condition of the aging tracks.

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Mr. Manfuso also championed the Maryland Million, a day of racing that showcases the state’s breeding industry and its farms.

“Bob was a part-owner of Laurel at the time and he loved the idea of the Maryland Million,” Ms. Goodall said. “He worked hard on the first one in 1986 and it was a real risk for him.”

Robert Tyree "Bob" Manfuso is pictured in May 2016 at Chanceland Farm, where he helped breed Cathryn Sophia, voted Maryland-bred Horse of the Year.
Robert Tyree "Bob" Manfuso is pictured in May 2016 at Chanceland Farm, where he helped breed Cathryn Sophia, voted Maryland-bred Horse of the Year.(Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)

After Mr. De Francis’ 1989 death, Mr. Manfuso dropped his ownership stake in the tracks.

“The Manfuso name is synonymous with Maryland racing. Bob along with his brother, Tom, grew up around the tracks alongside their father, John A. Manfuso Sr., who began breeding and racing horses in Maryland in the 1930s,” said a statement from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

“Bob was in charge of the racing operations [at the tracks he co-owned]. The ownership group of De Francis and the Manfusos is widely credited with bringing back both tracks and restoring the reputation of the Maryland racing industry," the statement said.

Mr. Manfuso also established Chanceland Farm in West Friendship near the Howard County Fairgrounds with Ms. Voss in 1987. The property had been a wheat and barley farm, and he transformed it with a training track and breeding stables.

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“We were able to lay out the farm efficiently. It was a blank canvas when we acquired it,” Ms. Voss said. “The boarding stock was on one side of McKendree Road and the racetrack and training barn were on the other.”

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

Ms. Voss said, “Bob was very proud that in 2019 he and I bred two Maryland champions, Las Setas and Cordmaker.”

Among his successful thoroughbreds were Cathryn Sophia, voted Maryland-bred Horse of the Year in 2016. Mr. Manfuso was named Maryland Breeder of the Year at that time. He also owned Belterra and International Star.

Mr. Manfuso served on the Breeders’ Cup board and chaired its Racing and Nominations Committee.

“Bob Manfuso walked through one of the stables at his 191-acre Howard County farm like a proud papa — or, more accurately, a doting grandpa — as he watched his newest foal, a bay colt born the previous night, bond in a stall with his mother,” said a 2016 Baltimore Sun story.

Mr. Manfuso was a member of the Howard County General Hospital board of directors from 2003 until 2013 and is a former vice chairman of Breeders’ Cup Ltd.

He also is served on the board of directors of the Thoroughbred Charities of America.

He was a director of Hollywood Park from 1991 to 2002, and a former secretary-treasurer and member of the executive committee of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

Plans for a celebration of life are pending.

In addition to his life partner, survivors include a son, Robert Tyree Manfuso Jr. of Bethesda; a daughter, Elizabeth Manfuso Pothier of Chevy Chase; two sisters, Claudia Knudsen of Dallas and Ann Paras of San Francisco; and four granddaughters. His brother, John A. “Tom” Manfuso, died in 2006.

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