Friday, November 9, 2018 at 4:10 pm |
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By Antony Beck
My father-in-law, Robert P. Levy, was a larger-than-life character. Philanthropic, enthusiastic, a straight-shooter, and a true sportsman. I met Bob before I began dating Angela, his daughter and my future wife. With me having not grown up in the U.S. and he being a co-owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, Bob took great pride in introducing me to his brand of Americana through the sport of baseball, showing me the strategy and science that had made it a national pastime.
Of course, Bob also loved horse racing, and as a racetrack owner, was a pioneer in every respect. In the early years that he operated Atlantic City Race Course, Bob was eloquently but accurately described by Daily Racing Form turf writer Joe Hirsch as “a veritable fountainhead of fresh and intriguing thoughts on racing.” Bob was able to channel his passion into brilliant and creative marketing. In the 1960s, he devised the Matchmaker S. to attract the best fillies and mares, not merely by purse money but also by awarding seasons to popular stallions like Hail to Reason and Round Table.
In 1976, Bob had lighting installed around the oval to make Atlantic City the first major Thoroughbred track to conduct night racing. In 1983, he successfully lobbied for legislative approval to broadcast the Meadowlands races at Atlantic City and so trailblazed a future of full-card simulcasting. In 1994, he brought racing to Houston opening Sam Houston Race Park as a start-up.
Bob was a founding director of Breeders’ Cup, former president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, and a past director at Fasig-Tipton. He carried on his family’s tradition of racing and achieved the highest levels of success as a racehorse owner with Belmont S. winner Bet Twice and Eclipse champion sprinters Housebuster–voted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2013–and Smoke Glacken.
Bob had tremendous insight into every aspect of the Thoroughbred industry, and he could draw on his knowledge to advise me. No matter how detailed his analysis might have been, he liked to underscore his point with a lighthearted axiom. (“Just because they can go three-quarters doesn’t mean they can go seven-eighths!”)
For as enthusiastic as he was, Bob was a kind and decent man, and he possessed an incredible amount of patience. I remember an afternoon on the golf course, him teaching me how to chip and putt (he got me as close as I’ve ever gotten to what you could call a reasonable stroke). Even though I was a poor golfer, he had a natural ability to coach to match his love of sport.
In college at the University of Pennsylvania, Bob played four years of tennis, later coached the women’s tennis team, and was named to the Penn Tennis Hall of Fame. His father, dentist Dr. Leon Levy, founded Penn’s School of Dental Medicine–one of the best dental schools in the country–and Bob continued his parents’ tradition of philanthropy to Penn.
He was also immensely philanthropic outside of Penn, devoting time and money to championing causes he was passionate about. In 1953, he founded and organized the Philadelphia Little Quakers football program, which remains active today and has benefitted at least 2,500 inner-city student-athletes. Throughout his life, Bob cared deeply about the Little Quaker team members he had coached, and he would often sponsor their education and mentor them long after their youth football days.
Similarly, Bob became an Overseer of William Penn Charter School–the long-established Philadelphia college prep institution from which he had graduated–and in that role enriched the lives of hundreds of students.
Many people have reasons to be grateful for Bob, his ideas, his friendship, and his generosity. I will count myself as one of those people. I am grateful to him for the way he welcomed me into his family, for his daughter Angela, and for our five children. Bob will be missed and well-remembered.
Antony Beck is president of Gainesway Farm.