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Queens Natives Seek First Graded Score

For more than 20 years, owners Saul and Max Kupferberg have enjoyed modest success in New York with a small stable comprised mostly of claimers.  On Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack, the father and son are hoping Sunny Desert, a filly they claimed for $35,000 in December, 2011, will bring them their first graded stakes score when she runs in the Grade 2, $200,000 Top Flight Handicap.

 

“It would be a thrill; she’s been an unexpected surprise,” said Saul Kupferberg of the New York-bred Sunny Desert, who has won six straight races, most recently the Cat Cay overnight stakes, with trainer John Parisella. “When we claimed her, we hoped she’d be good enough to win a maiden special for New York-breds. To watch her develop and turn around with good handling has been a pleasure.”

 

As businessmen and philanthropists, the Kupferberg name is well-known in the New York City borough of Queens. One of the founders of the Flushing-based Kepco, an international business specializing in electronic equipment, Max Kupferberg, a physicist who is now 93, supports dozens of local charities and in 2006 donated $10 million to his alma mater, Queens College, for the Kupferberg Center for the Arts. Saul, his son and Kepco’s vice-president of sales and marketing, is chair of the college’s Arts Advisory Board and also serves on the board of the Queens Botanical Garden.

 

“Queens has been very good to us,” said Saul, 59. “I’ve always loved Aqueduct and to win a graded stakes there would be very special.”

 

The pair’s involvement in thoroughbreds goes back to the 1980’s, when Saul, who was then living in Philadelphia, first bought into a racing partnership with a friend, Bert Capecci, and trainer Anthony Margotta, Jr. Not long after he returned to New York to work for Kepco in the summer of 1988, Saul recalled, his father said, “Why don’t we buy some racehorses together?”

 

“I remember asking him, ‘Are you feeling all right?’” said Saul. “But we did. Our best horse until now was Copper Mount, who won the 1994 Albany Handicap at Saratoga. We began racing in New York in 1992, and hooked up with John [Parisella] in 2000. While things have been up and down, we had our best year last year.”

 

Buoyed by the success of Sunny Desert, the Kupferberg’s horses won 30 races for more than $750,000 in 2012, good for No. 100 by wins nationally. Of those victories, 16 came at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga, several with trainer Bruce Levine, tying the Kupferbergs for No. 12 among all owners on The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit.

 

“It’s been fun for us,” said Saul, whose office at Kepco is lined with photographs of his horses through the years. “We try hard to make a profit, and run it like a business. We’re not in the same league as Darley or Mike Repole or the other top owners as far as spending goes, but we do claim horses and look for horses in the high five figures at the sales, and the incentives for the New York-bred program are a plus as well.”

 

While Saul comes out to Parisella’s Belmont Park barn at least one morning each weekend, his father confines his visits to race day, but not because of his age. Max, who founded Kepco in 1946 with his late brothers Ken, Jesse and Jack, is the company’s chairman of the board and still comes to the office every day. He also serves as a director of New York Community Bank, formerly Queens County Savings Bank, one of the many positions he’s held over the years.

 

“He is a remarkable man,” said Saul of Max, who after graduating Queens College in 1942 went to work at Los Alamos, NM, with Ken and Jesse on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. “When I was growing up, he didn’t talk much about it; I think a lot of the information was still classified. I remember him talking about first meeting Robert Oppenheimer. My father was a junior scientist on the project, and Oppenheimer told him to take a couple of weeks, visit the different teams, and see what interested him.”

 

After the war, the brothers returned to Flushing and started Kepco, which today employs more than 150 people and is run by the children of the founders.

 

“It’s a family-run business, but just my father and I are involved in horse racing,” said Saul. “We get along well and we work well together. He likes it when we win.”

 

 

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