Looking Back: Eddie Cobb and ‘Jerry the First’

By John Leland - For the Record-Herald

Harold Laymon jogging 2-year-old Jerry the First at the Fayette County Fairgrounds.

Harold Laymon jogging 2-year-old Jerry the First at the Fayette County Fairgrounds.

Eddie Cobb in the 1960s (Courtesy USTA)

Eddie Cobb rushes Jerry the First (1) up on the outside to win the $50,000 Golden West Pace at Hollywood Park on Nov. 12, 1949.

Eddie Cobb, a 25-year-old, third-generation horseman from Whitesville, New York, came to Washington Court House in 1945 and began training horses at the Fayette County fairgrounds. In November 1945, he married Janet Kirk, the daughter of McKinley Kirk, a local horseman, farmer, and successful businessman on many fronts. The couple made Washington C. H. their home for the next dozen years.

In 1946, Eddie Cobb purchased a 2-year-old chestnut pacer named Jerry the First from local horseman Harold Laymon.

Jerry the First was a Fayette County home-bred racehorse in every sense of the word. His dam was Laymon’s mare Jane S., whose sire was Peter S., a stallion owned by the venerable Fayette County horseman, Os Briggs. The dam of Jane S. was Liberty Loan, a mare developed by Val McCoy, another longtime Fayette horseman. Liberty Loan’s sire was Oliver Evans, a stallion bred and owned by McCoy.

On the paternal line of the pedigree, Jerry the First was a son of Jerry M., a crippled pacer Laymon had nursed back to top racing form in 1944. As for Jerry M., he was a son of Bert Abbe, the sire of many notable Ohio pacers in the 1930s and 1940s. Bert Abbe belonged to W. J. “Jack” Galvin, a resident of Clinton County, who owned the Record-Herald and several other Buckeye State newspapers. And Ruth M., the dam of Jerry M., was another daughter of Val McCoy’s stallion, Oliver Evans.

Eddie Cobb campaigned his horses extensively at the night tracks that opened in New York, Illinois and Michigan in the 1940s. Jerry the First did not race as a 2-year-old. All 16 of his races as a 3-year-old in 1947 were single dashes at Roosevelt Raceway, a half-mile night track on Long Island near New York City. Jerry’s sophomore summary showed eight wins and one second-place finish.

In 1948, as a 4-year-old, Jerry the First demonstrated the ability to compete successfully against America’s swiftest pacers. After three victories in June at Maywood Park’s twice-around oval in Chicago, Jerry won races over the mile tracks at Fairmount Park (Collinsville) and Du Quoin in Illinois, and the state fairground mile tracks at Springfield (Illinois), Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

Jerry the First paced his fastest lifetime mile in 1:59.4 at the Wisconsin State Fair on Aug. 26, 1948. He was one of only three pacers in 1948 to gain admission to the charmed two-minute list in competitive events. In 1948, he won 13 of 18 races and finished second three times. The Harness Horse magazine, the most widely read Standardbred journal of the day, proclaimed that “from every imaginable angle, Jerry the First justly deserves to rank as one of the top racing pacers of the current season.”

Eddie and Jerry won the $9,400 Aurora Pacing Derby at Aurora Downs near Chicago on June 17, 1949. Then, after several second and third-place finishes in the summer of 1949, Cobb took Jerry in October to Hollywood Park in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood. At Hollywood Park 70 years ago, Jerry the First was always in the money when racing against America’s top pacers. The Record-Herald reported weekly on the California doings of “Eddie” and “Jerry,” the horse it delighted in calling the “sensational pacer from Fayette County.”

At Hollywood Park on the afternoon of Oct. 29, 1949, Eddie Cobb and Jerry the First won a $2,500 Free-For-All pace at a mile and a sixteenth. The pair set a new world’s pacing record for the distance when the stopwatches showed a time of 2:07.3.

The world record performance was but a prelude, however, to an even greater triumph at the California track two weeks later. On Nov. 12, 1949, Jerry the First won the $50,000 single-dash Golden West Pace at a distance of a mile and a quarter in a track-record time of 2:31. In 1949, only three harness races had purses greater than $50,000 and only four races offered purses of $50,000.

The 13 rivals that Jerry vanquished in this high-profile event included such eminent sidewheelers as Grattan McKlyo, Dr. Stanton, Indian Land, Jimmy Creed, and Gene Abbe. Also in the field were Hodgen and Royal Man, two other hard-hitting horses from the Cobb stable; they finished fifth and eighth respectively.

The Harness Horse believed that Eddie Cobb’s reinsmanship had been a critical factor in Jerry the First winning the “50-grander.” Cobb “saved his mount throughout the killing clip,” the magazine said. “Then, when his opposition had reached the near-groggy stage, he delivered the knock-out punch.”

Lifting the lines to ask for every ounce of energy and effort, Cobb throttled Jerry in high gear on the outside and hit the wire first by a neck. The Harness Horse paid the young Fayette driver another compliment when it noted that “Eddie Cobb is ‘tops’ when real money is up for distribution.” At odds of 4-1, Jerry had not been the betting favorite.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving Day, Jerry the First won the mile-and-a-half feature race at Hollywood Park, establishing a second world’s pacing record by traveling the 12 furlongs in 3:06.3. The two world records and the dramatic victory in the Golden West Pace triggered lots of buzz in the world of harness racing.

Out on the West Coast, Cobb was preparing to return his horses to the Fayette County fairgrounds. Meanwhile, back in Washington C. H. plans were underway to honor Eddie and Jerry with a “Welcome Home” dinner. The celebration mushroomed without any official sponsor, although barber Harold “Babe” Maddox and postmaster Emmett Passmore were the principal planners. The dinner took place on Tuesday evening, Dec. 13, 1949 at the American Legion on North Fayette Street.

More than 300 men who loved the sport of harness racing attended the “Welcome Home” gala. While most were from Fayette County and the surrounding area, harness devotees from seven states were there also. A social hour of mingling and horse talk preceded the dinner of fish and ham. The air was heavy with the pungent smells of cigarette smoke, cigar smoke and strong coffee. Those attending the happy affair inched their way toward 29-year-old Eddie Cobb, eager to greet him, eager to shake his hand.

Frank Ellis, secretary of the Fayette County fair board and a skillful public speaker, was toastmaster for the after dinner program. Ellis reminded the audience that Jerry the First’s sire Jerry M. had cost Harold Laymon only $150 and his dam Jane S. a mere $60. Ray Brandenburg, chairman of the fair board, presented Cobb with a stopwatch, a register signed by everyone present, and a large bouquet of flowers for Eddie’s wife, Janet.

In 1950, the $50,000 Golden West Pace was contested in June at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, another Los Angeles suburb. Eddie and Jerry were victorious in three races at Santa Anita before winning the $50,000 Golden West Pace for a second time. The date was Saturday, June 17, 1950.

Staying within striking distance throughout and never disturbed by the changing leads, Cobb conserved the stallion until nearing the end of the journey. Then, he rushed Jerry to the front and won the race by one-and-a-half lengths. Time for the mile and a quarter was 2:32.1. Among the nine elite pacers Jerry left behind that afternoon were Dr. Stanton, Brother Harmony, and Highland Ellen. Unlike at Hollywood Park in 1949, Jerry was the even-money favorite for the 1950 edition of the “50-grander.”

On July 28, 1950, Jerry the First won a $5,000 mile-and-a-half race at Roosevelt Raceway, defeating Indian Land, Grattan McKlyo, Dr. Stanton, and Good Time. A week later, he finished second to Scottish Pence in Roosevelt’s $50,000 Nassau County Pace contested at a distance of two miles. Seventeen horses started, and in garnering second-place honors, Eddie and Jerry once more bested Indian Land, Grattan McKlyo, Dr. Stanton, and Good Time.

Jerry the First returned to the barn lame on Aug. 17, 1950 after struggling home ninth in a mile-and-a-half race at Yonkers Raceway near New York City. So severe was the injury that he didn’t race again for a year.

Unable to regain his winning form in four starts at Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways in August 1951, Cobb retired Jerry the First from the racetrack. The dark chestnut stallion was 7-years-old. His lifetime record shows 74 races contested and 33 races won (45 percent). He paced 99 heats in competition and won 47; he finished second in 14 heats and was third in 11 others. Jerry the First’s career earnings totaled $127,072, which at the end of 1951 made him the fifth leading money-winning pacer of all time.

Jerry the First began stallion duty in 1952 at Eventime Farm on the CCC highway at the eastern edge of Washington Court House. The farm was owned by Dr. and Mrs. Roy Knisley of Toledo, Ohio, whose trotters and pacers were trained by Eddie Cobb.

In 1957, Cobb left Washington C. H. and moved his family to Long Island, New York, to be near Roosevelt and Yonkers Raceways where he raced most frequently. As with Hugh “Doc” Parshall, the famous trainer-driver who began his career at the local fairgrounds in the 1920s, Fayette County horse lovers never forgot Eddie Cobb. They continued to follow his career and always considered him “one of their own.”

Eddie Cobb and Adolph Golden, a harness racing enthusiast from Coshocton, Ohio, purchased Eventime Farm in 1959 and renamed it Fair Chance Farm. Jerry the First died there in March 1960 at the age of 16. He was bred 115 times: his fastest performers were Jerry Perkins 2:00.1; Honest Jerry 2:00.1; Ring Eyed Pete 2:00.3; and Jerrita Win 2:00.4.

In the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, Eddie Cobb consistently ranked among the nation’s leading drivers in money won. During his 35 years in harness racing, he won 2,186 races and $7,003,258. Although Cobb trained, owned and guided many outstanding trotters and pacers, he often said that Jerry the First was his favorite horse and the gamest horse he ever drove. Eddie Cobb died in May 1987. He was 67 years old. His colors were blue and white.

Harold Laymon jogging 2-year-old Jerry the First at the Fayette County Fairgrounds.
https://www.recordherald.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/06/web1_Jerry-the-First-One-.jpgHarold Laymon jogging 2-year-old Jerry the First at the Fayette County Fairgrounds.

Eddie Cobb in the 1960s (Courtesy USTA)
https://www.recordherald.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/06/web1_Jerry-the-First-Two-.jpgEddie Cobb in the 1960s (Courtesy USTA)

Eddie Cobb rushes Jerry the First (1) up on the outside to win the $50,000 Golden West Pace at Hollywood Park on Nov. 12, 1949.
https://www.recordherald.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2018/06/web1_Jerry-the-First-Three-resize.jpgEddie Cobb rushes Jerry the First (1) up on the outside to win the $50,000 Golden West Pace at Hollywood Park on Nov. 12, 1949.

By John Leland

For the Record-Herald