Racing Community Loses Polinger

Helen Polinger, a longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder who raced multiple graded-stakes winner and millionaire The Very One in the late 1970s and early 1980s, died Sept. 12 in Maryland.

Polinger, whose farm in Montgomery County at one time stood several stallions, was a mainstay of the state’s breeding program for many years along with her late husband, Milton. She greatly reduced her operation after her husband’s death but in this decade has maintained a small racing operation in the state.

“She built her farm in the early 1960s and was very with involved with Thoroughbred breeding until the day she died,” said Stanley Herwitz, a close friend of Helen Polinger. “She was very hands-on with her breeding operation, and was a talented artist—she did portraits of her children.”

Polinger purchased The Very One, a Kentucky-bred daughter of One for All out of the Venture mare Veruschka, for $22,000 at the Mid-Atlantic 2-year-olds in training sale in 1977. The Very One broke her maiden at Penn National that summer and that winter raced at old Shenandoah Downs before winning her first stakes—the grade III Chrysanthemum at Laurel—in the fall of 1978. She finished second in the Washington, D.C., International in 1980 and overall won 13 stakes in her career.

Several of Polinger’s most successful runners in recent years have been trained by Laurel-based Tim Keefe, including the mare Understanding and the gelding Dancing With Maude, who finished second in the 2018 Maryland Million Nursery at Laurel. She maintained her passion for the business until her death.

“She loved her horses, was an avid rider, and was one of a kind and a good friend to me,” Herwitz said. “I think Tim was her right hand and I was her left.”

Keefe trained for Polinger for 15 years and said she was a part of his family.

“She had been through a lot of trainers, but I enjoyed training for her,” Keefe said. “Everybody said she was difficult (to train for), but I found out if you’re honest with her, that’s all she wanted. I think she appreciated that.

“Helen was also a friend of our family—she’d join us for Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. She used to always bake her own desserts for the holidays. We appreciated the time we spent with her and we enjoyed her many stories. She wasn’t just an owner to me.”

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