John Forbes, successful trainer and horsemen’s advocate, passes away at age 73

Posted: Feb. 1, 2021

John Forbes, who had a long and successful training career, a passion for horsemen and backstretch workers and was instrumental in the launch of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and its New Jersey affiliate, died Jan. 31 at age 73.

Born in Maryland, Forbes spent his entire career in the racing industry, following both of his parents into the training game. He moved his operation to New Jersey in the late 1970s and has been a Garden State mainstay ever since. Forbes was a regular at Monmouth Park, Meadowlands, Atlantic City Race Course and Garden State Park, which for many years formed a year-round circuit.

THA statement on the passing of John Forbes

“John was New Jersey racing,” said Dennis Drazin, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Darby Development, which operates Monmouth on behalf of the New Jersey THA. “He was a tireless advocate for the industry, for the horsemen and for Monmouth Park. With a boundless capacity for kindness, John embodied everything good about this business—honor, integrity, compassion and selflessness. More than that, John had an infectious energy for racing.

“I will forever cherish our many years working together and appreciate not just our friendship but our collective effort on behalf of the horsemen to better this industry and the lives of those who work in it.”

Forbes was the longtime President of the New Jersey THA and was part of the effort that led to the horsemen’s group leasing Monmouth from the state in February 2012. Through Darby Development, the New Jersey THA added amenities to the Monmouth property including Bluegrass Mini Golf, for which Forbes, who had retired from training in 2012, oversaw construction and operations. The facility hosted the US Mini Golf Open in 2014 and 2017, and Forbes was later inducted into the US ProMiniGolf Hall of Fame.

Forbes, who began training in 1972, won 2,174 races, finished second or third another 3,000 times, and his runners earned more than $32 million. He trained multiple stakes and graded stakes winners including Get Serious, his top earner at more than $967,000; Tale of the Cat, who became a leading stallion; and Jess C’s Whirl, Boyce, Peanut Butter Onit, Pukka Princess, Amarillo and The Cool Virginian.

As a trainer, Forbes played a role in helping launching the career of Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone when she began riding as an apprentice at Keystone Race Track and Atlantic City in the early 1980s.

Forbes headed the partnership group Phantom House Farm and turned the training operation over to his longtime assistant Pat McBurney when the New Jersey THA took control of Monmouth.

“John and I spent decades together experiencing all the highs and lows that this business has to offer,” McBurney said. “It was always a team effort with John. Even after he stopped training on a day-to-day basis he was equally involved as an owner, adviser and most importantly a friend. It’s hard to imagine Monmouth Park without John, but Monmouth Park will forever be better because of John.”

Forbes in the early 1990s was a big part of the effort spearheaded by Alan Foreman that led to the creation of the THA. New Jersey was one of the charter members of the organization formed during a tumultuous period for the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

For ‘President’ Forbes, THA and Monmouth are labors of love

“We didn’t want to get involved in a fight so we worked independently to put together a pact,” Forbes said of the formation of the THA after he won the organization’s President’s Award in 2017. “Our sense was we had to get politically strong. I knew Alan and what he was doing in Maryland, and I thought we needed to do something to give horsemen some legitimacy in an organization. Alan really was the guy who carried the water.

“The whole process was really about trying to get an organization where everyone had an equal voice, and to address important issues of common interest for the benefit of the whole industry while not interfering with other states’ issues. We agreed to help the states if they asked for help but also agreed it would be best not to interfere.”

“We had a Maryland bond because he grew up here, but he was the greatest trainer in the history of New Jersey racing, and I think Dennis (Drazin) would agree that there would be no Thoroughbred racing in New Jersey but for John,” said Foreman, Chief Executive Officer of the THA. “For those who knew him, John was the greatest friend you could ever have. He was the best storyteller and jokester. He was also a great horseman.

“Without John, his dogged determination and his desire to have a horsemen’s organization that could represent horsemen with respect, there would not be a THA.”

Forbes is survived by his wife, Vicki; son John T. Forbes, Director of Operations at Monmouth; two daughters, Anne and Carrie: and two grandchildren. Due to COVID-19, no services will be held. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Forbes’ name to the Backstretch Community Assistance Program at 175 Oceanport Ave., Oceanport, NJ 07757. BCAP assists New Jersey racing stable employees in the areas of counseling, health, education, recreation and benevolence.