Reading his obituary, I probably should have talked to Buck Kisor about money instead of horses and writing. But horses and writing it was.
At steeplechase meets, racetracks and associated events of one kind or another, I’d find myself talking shop with Kisor. He was a good listener, had sound opinions. He admired the product and the process of our newspaper Steeplechase Times. His horses, always at the lower end of the game, even made the pages of ST now and then. Lochnagar won at Middleburg in 1999, finished second four times in 2000 and 2001; Heir Apparent did OK; Sumo Power won twice at Tryon; Gather No Moss came through at Foxfield, and did it again at Morven Park, even placed in the timber stakes at Shawan Downs.
Kisor was a small-time steeplechase owner, but loved every second of it. He and Mike Berryman were regulars on the circuit, taking big swings at the powerful stables of those far more well known in racing circles. Nothing against the Augustin Stables of the world, but I rooted for Kisor and Berryman every time.
“As an owner, the most important thing is to realize you’re in it for the sport,” he told me in 2012. “You need to have patience. You have to commit to the sport and take the downs along with the ups. As long as they get around and come back sound it’s been a good day.”
But Manown "Buck" Kisor Jr., who died at age 82 Jan. 12 was anything but small-time in the rest of the world. The Trinity College graduate had a master’s in business administration from New York University. He worked in banking, and at the Bank of New York was an early pioneer in the use of computers for market forecasting. He was a senior vice president and director of research for Paine, Webber, Jackson and Curtis in New York. Next, he became executive vice president in charge of trust investments at Comerica Bank in Detroit. Kisor taught economics and finance at City University of New York and was an associate professor at Bridgewater College in Virginia from 1989-2005.
Kisor was born in Flushing, N.Y. and grew up on U.S. Navy bases in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Portsmouth, Va. while his father Manown Sr. served in the Navy, and later in Evanston, Ill.
Buck Kisor and his wife Marni had three children – Anne, Judy and Bill. Throughout his life, Kisor pursued an interest in horses. He hunted with the Spring Valley Hounds in New Jersey, was the Master of Fox Hounds for a time at the Metamora Hunt in Michigan, and hunted with Glenmore Hunt in Virginia. He gained his love of horses and riding from visits to “The Farm,” home of his grandparents in Hallstead, Pa. His grandfather, Arthur Wood DuBois, gave Buck his nickname after hoisting 6-month-old Buck onto a horse and saying, “He looks like a little buckaroo.” His grandfather also introduced him to steeplechasing, which became a lifetime love of Buck’s.
He even rode a few point-to-points back in the day, and laughed about them.
“King’s Reverse was the first or one of the first anyway,” he said of his initial forays into steeplechasing. “He could either run or jump, he couldn’t do both at the same time. I rode him myself a few times, it felt like we hit every single fence.”
With the help of Berryman, Kisor’s horses raced all over the National Steeplechase Association circuit. There were plenty of runners, more than a few winners, but no real stars. As with everything to do with Buck Kisor, there was more to it.
“I get a tremendous amount of pleasure out of it,” he said. “When I rode in a few races I remember thinking that there truly was no sport like it, until I saw downhill skiing at the Olympics on TV. To me, that’s the only thing that can cap the thrill of steeplechasing.”
Kisor ultimately retired, from banking and teaching, to Virginia but kept following horses. We stopped producing a print edition of Steeplechase Times, so our paths crossed less frequently. I owe him for some cool conversations, and some great perspective.
Kisor is survived by his wife, Margaret “Marni” Kisor, his three children, Anne, Judy, and Bill, his brother, Henry Kisor, his sister, Debbie Guy, and nieces and nephews. Contributions in Buck’s memory can be made to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's James River Work Center in Virginia. For more, see trfinc.org.
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Gems from Buck Kisor:
“We bred for big and fast and we either got fast or big, never both.”
On his experience as a Thoroughbred breeder in Michigan
“Put two horsemen in a room and you have six opinions.”
On long ago negotiations to buy Detroit Race Course in Michigan