I didn’t coin the headline; Steve Byk did, in tweets in 2014 and 2015. But he’s right.
Isabelle Haskell de Tomaso is the owner and breeder of the New Year’s eve stakes winner Irish War Cry, a New Jersey-bred Curlin colt who remained undefeated in two starts by winning the $100,000 Marylander Stakes at Laurel as a heavy favorite against several stakes horses. He’s on the Triple Crown trail, and his conservative trainer, Graham Motion, is reportedly quite high on him. Irish War Cry’s two wins have come at six and seven furlongs, but as a son of Curlin he promises to improve with distance and age. And as Curlin has had a say in the classics with each of his first four crops of 3-year-olds through 2016 — Palace Malice, won the Belmont Stakes; Ride on Curlin was second in the Preakness; Keen Ice, the Travers winner, was third in the Belmont; and Exaggerator won the Preakness — Irish War Cry fits the profile on the sire line. Exaggerator also won the G1 Haskell Invitational last year, and I’m certain Motion and Ms. de Tomaso have that race somewhere in their thoughts, too.
Isabelle Haskell de Tomaso, 86, sometimes referred to as Elizabeth Haskell, was born Isabelle Tilford Haskell (see comments). She’s a daughter of Amory L. Haskell, for whom the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth is named, and her history may be more intriguing than her newly turned 3-year-old colt’s. Both the colt and the lady trace to legendary names in Italy — Tesio and De Tomaso — that have cachet to racehorse and sports car aficionados, and if you had an interest in both growing up in the ’70s — as I did — it was like hitting the daily double.
Federico Tesio’s greatest racehorse, Ribot, was exported to Darby Dan in the early ’60s, and by the ’70s Ribot was established as an exceptional stallion with an awful temperament. In the early ’70s, De Tomaso, an automobile manufacturer in Modena, Italy, began exporting the exceptionally designed Pantera to the US to wide acclaim. I was partial to the domestic muscle cars of the era — by the late ’70s in college, I had a ’74 Gran Torino — but the Pantera’s sleek lines and limited production made it a stylistic icon and an admired piece of art. But it, like Ribot, was frequently a temperamental machine, too.
The De Tomaso company, DeTomaso Automobili, was formed in ’59 by Isabelle Haskell de Tomaso and her late husband, the highly charged Alessandro de Tomaso, originally from Buenos Aires (where his name was spelled Alejandro). Alessandro de Tomaso, by most written accounts, was from a wealthy cattle/ranching family with an interest in car racing who’d opposed Juan Peron’s regime. The couple had met in Modena in the mid-’50s. He’d left his first wife and family and fled to escape Peron; she’d left the US as an heiress to race cars in Europe. Click here to see a photo of them from ’57.
William Ellis, Ms. de Tomaso’s nephew and son of her oldest sister, the late Anne Haskell Ellis, was interviewed in August in the MetroWest Daily News and filled in some details:
“The company was started by my aunt and uncle when they decided to build race cars, rather than racing for other people. The production was very small until the Mangusta, where about 300 cars were built over four years. The company is probably best known for the Pantera, which was sold through Lincoln Mercury dealers in the early 1970s. The relationship ended in 1974 but the Pantera continued to be built until 1991.”
He went on:
“My aunt, Isabelle Haskell, was a race car driver in the early 1950s. She was exposed to automobiles at a very young age and became interested in automobile racing after World War II. She went to Europe in 1952, as woman drivers were more accepted on the European circuit. She raced with the who’s who at the time, and met Alejandro de Tomaso while racing internationally. They married in 1957 and continued to race together until 1959 when deTomaso Automobili was started. In the 1960s deTomaso Automobili wanted to expand into production sports cars. My father’s company, Rowan Control, acquired the carrozzerias Ghia and Vingale, and together they set out to create sports cars. The Mangusta and Pantera were designed during this time … (and) in 1970, the deTomaso, Ghia and Vingale were sold to Ford. The company was purchased back from Ford in 1974, and continued until the early 2000s.”
There isn’t much written on Isabelle de Tomaso’s period as a race-car driver that can be easily authenticated, adding to her intrigue. Byk tweeted this blog post two and a half years ago that was written in ’10 and synopses her driving history, though its full accuracy cannot be confirmed.
I did, however, verify her outstanding performance in a 747-cc OSCA at Sebring’s grueling 12-hour race in ’58, noted in the blog post above, where she won best for her class — 750-cc. Sports Illustrated’s March 31, 1958, entry on the race said:
“And for a real astonisher, the tiny 747-cc. Italian OSCA of Mr. and Mrs. Alejandro de Tomaso placed eighth and won the index of performance, assisted by a third driver, Texas’ Robert Ferguson. Mrs. de Tomaso is the former Isabelle Haskell, daughter of Amory Haskell, president of Monmouth Park race track.”
Pete Vack, who reviewed the 2015 book, “De Tomaso: From Buenos Aires to Modena / The History of an Automotive Visionary,” by Dr. Daniele Pozzi, noted that although the author was able to get Ms. de Tomaso to submit for a new and rare interview, she didn’t divulge much. He wrote: “She has always been shy, private and unwilling to open her life to anyone and although often helpful, she shares little. There are few if any articles, books or notices about her life; Carl Goodwin did a chapter about her in his excellent book ‘They Started in MGs’ but he did not actually interview her. Her notable driving achievements both in the US and in Europe were ignored by both ‘Fast Ladies’ author Jean-Francois Bouzanquet and Todd McCarthy in ‘Fast Women,’ presumably because they could not find enough information about Haskell to generate copy. Numerous authors and journalists have found access difficult. There is no Wiki page for Isabelle, and even the Wiki entry for Alessandro is only one paragraph. If this is so, it is because that is the way the family wants it.”
What has been reported and written is that Ms. de Tomaso, domiciled in Modena with a car company that her husband was heading, turned some of her attention after driving to horses and dogs from ’59 on. She’d grown up riding with her parents and four siblings on a 475-acre colonial estate near Red Bank, NJ, called Woodland Farm, where her father, Amory L. Haskell, rode with the hounds and held the Monmouth County Hunt Race Meet. It’s where he also bred racehorses, including Blue Sparkler, the champion older mare of 1956 when she won the Molly Pitcher, Regret, and Atlantic City handicaps. As far as dogs go, Ms. de Tomaso bred Cocker Spaniels, but Haskell owned and bred Beagles. In ’36, Haskell’s Beagle Mr. Reynal’s Monarch won best in show at Madison. Later, Haskell turned his attention to Irish Wolfhounds, and the Irish Wolfhound Club of America held its first “stand-alone specialty” show at Woodland Farm in ’53.
Ms. de Tomaso obtained Irish War Cry’s maternal line in Europe, and it traces directly to Tesio’s foundation mare Duccia Di Buoninsegna, obtained by Tesio in 1921 from the Loder family. Her second dam was Maj. Eustace Loder’s Pretty Polly.
Tesio bred generations of top horses descending from Duccia Di Buoninsegna, including Donatello — ranked only behind Ribot and Nearco among Tesio’s greats.
Ms. de Tomaso got into the family with the 1965 Tambourine mare Tabebuia, Irish War Cry’s fourth dam. From Tabebuia, she got three stakes winners — Irish Trip (by Saint Crespin), Lupo di Mare (Sea Hawk), and Task (St. Paddy) — as well as stakes-placed Tibier (Connaught). An unraced half-sister to these stakes horses, Anegada (Shirley Heights), produced the stakes winner Jupiter Inlet (Jupiter Island). Though several of these were bred in England, they were raced in Italy.
Irish War Cry’s third dam is Irish Trip, who produced one Italian stakes winner, the Kentucky-bred The Irish Knight (Snow Knight). The family went through a lean period of stakes production from there through the next two dams until the arrival of Irish War Cry, though his dam, the Polish Numbers mare Irish Sovereign, had been knocking on the door with some hard-hitting horses who’d made money. The dam of six winners, she is also represented by the stakes-placed Irish Politics (Political Force) in addition to the new stakes winner. Ms. de Tomaso breeds horses in the US under her name, but she breeds horses — and dogs — in Europe under the name Locsot SRL.
Now, here’s a twist. Her sister Anne Haskell Ellis bred horses in the US as Lotsoc — not Locsot, as Ms. de Tomaso does. Anne Haskell Ellis’s Lotsoc, according to her son (see comments), stood for “long on tradition, short on cash,” and she dispersed her stock in 1998. Ms. de Tomaso, with her last living sibling, Hope Haskell Jones, bought some mares from the dispersal, and the two breed those together. In fact, a week before Irish War Cry won, the pair’s Fake Frontier ran seventh in a maiden claimer at Laurel. Fake Frontier, in tail-female, is the eighth successive generation of runners bred by various Haskells, starting with Amory L. Haskell’s Woodland Farm, continuing with Anne Haskell Ellis’s Lotsoc, and now with Hope Haskell Jones and Ms. de Tomaso. Fake Frontier, like many horses bred by Hope Haskell Jones alone, traces directly to Amory L. Haskell’s champion Blue Sparkler.
After Irish War Cry won in Maryland, Frank Vespe spoke to Ms. de Tomaso’s niece and namesake, Isabelle Ellis, who was representing her at Laurel and speaking to her aunt by phone. She didn’t give out too much information about her most interesting aunt, either. You can read it here.