Zelda Cohen, 99, racehorse enthusiast

January 30, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Zelda G. Cohen, a prominent figure in Maryland racing circles for more than 40 years, died of congestive heart failure Friday at Northwest Hospital Center. She was 99.

Born Zelda Greenberg in Baltimore and raised on Whitelock Street, she worked in sales at the downtown Hahn Shoe Store on Lexington Street after her graduation from Eastern High School.

In 1928, she married Ben Cohen, a Baltimore businessman who with his brother Herman later owned Pimlico Race Course for 34 years. He also established WAAM-TV - now WJZ - in 1948.

Mrs. Cohen, who for years lived at the Arlington Park Apartments on Park Heights Avenue and later at One Slade Avenue in Pikesville, shared her husband's interest in thoroughbred racing. Together, they operated a successful breeding and racing stable of which she was officially listed as the owner. Its racing colors were purple and gold.

It was on Valentine's Day in 1951 that Mr. Cohen presented his wife with her first colt.

"It was a Valentine's Day present she couldn't return," her husband said in a 1991 interview with Maryland Horse magazine.

One of the couple's colts, Hail to All, won the Travers Stakes, and both the Jersey Derby and Belmont Stakes during the same week in 1965.

The Cohens dispersed their breeding stock in 1988. Mr. Cohen died in 1994.

A striking and stylishly dressed woman, Mrs. Cohen was as much a part of the social whirl at Pimlico as her husband and brother-in-law.

"She was a very gracious lady and a real racing fan," said Joseph B. Kelly, retired Washington Star racing editor and Pimlico consultant, who recalled the Preakness parties that showed her meticulous touch and attention to detail.

"She was a very low-key hostess and the Preakness parties sponsored by the Cohens at the Suburban Club were the best in horse racing. Everyone looked forward to going to them and they were the best party of the year," he said. "She made sure that all the details were taken care of. She was a perfectionist."

Chick Lang, an Easton resident and former Pimlico general manager, remembered her attentiveness in making sure that her husband didn't eat too many candy bars or puff too many Romeo y Julieta double-corona cigars.

"Ben never had an office, and would come and hide in mine while smoking a cigar. She was always after Ben to watch his diet. Suddenly, you'd hear the click-click-click of her shoes coming down the hall," Mr. Lang recalled. "Then he'd pass the cigar off to me - and I didn't smoke. Then she'd pop her head in the office and ask, `Is Ben in here?' They loved each other dearly and listening to the dialogue between them was like going to the movies."

Mrs. Cohen was also known for her homemade cheesecakes, and continued baking into her late 90s.

She also carried a pocketbook full of items that she cheerfully dispensed to people.

"Her pocketbook was always full of little trinkets such as earrings and costume jewelry, which she gave away to people like candy. She loved everybody, and everybody loved her," Mr. Lang said. "If there's a racetrack in heaven, Ben and Zelda are there together, and she's still telling him to watch the candy bars and cigars."

Mrs. Cohen was a member of Oheb Shalom Congregation and the United Order of True Sisters, an organization that raises money for children's cancer research.

Services were held Sunday.

Mrs. Cohen is survived by two daughters, Charlotte C. Weinberg of Wynnewood, Pa., and Rosalee C. Davison of Pikesville; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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