Dark horse

Socialite Sheila Rosenblum competes in a man’s world

Sheila Rosenblum, wearing a Michael Kors Collection floral lace jumpsuit, in the living room of her Park Avenue duplex
Sheila Rosenblum, wearing a Michael Kors Collection floral lace jumpsuit, in the
living room of her Park Avenue duplex

“I want to come back as one of the horses,” Sheila Rosenblum jokes. She’s perched on a curved chaise lounge in the living room of her bright Park Avenue duplex, chatting cheerfully about the luxurious care that race horses receive, including regular massages and acupuncture treatments.

Despite three herniated disks in her neck (courtesy of Pilates), she sits totally straight, years of ballet training still evident. Behind her, doublewide windows frame a dizzying view of Central Park, and to her right, a pair of Matisse sketches hangs in a corner.

“Actually, no,” she flashes her remarkably blue eyes and seems to sit, impossibly, a tiny bit straighter. “I’d rather be a wild horse.”

Park Avenue address and perfect posture aside, Rosenblum’s choice for reincarnation is not wholly surprising. Since 2012, the former ballerina, model and socialite has veered onto a slightly unorthodox path for a woman of her stature, becoming one of few women to invest in and manage racehorses, a field that has almost always been dominated by men.

In fact, she claims her mere entrance makes an impact. “We walk in and it’s a little more glamorous,” Rosenblum says, adding that she’s heard many of the spectators at Belmont wonder what she’s going to wear to the next race.

“I’d rather be a wild horse.”
—Sheila Rosenblum

After two years of investing — and sometimes losing — her own money on horses, Rosenblum decided to try a different strategy, one that would have the added bonus of introducing more women to the sport.  She launched a horse racing syndicate (an arrangement in which investors pool their money together to buy racehorses) with eight other women — including Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Douglas Elliman, and Jill Zarin, the entrepreneur who formerly starred on “The Real Housewives of New York”  — called Lady Sheila’s Stable Two.

“Going to see these beautiful horses with the girls is such a great part of my life now,” Zarin told LLNYC. “I’ve known Sheila for years, and she is never happier than when she is with the horses, and getting to be part of that through this women-only syndicate is such a pleasure.”

Rosenblum says she “really wanted to bring more women into” horse racing, although she warns that the notoriously financially risky sport is “not for the fainthearted and it’s not for someone needing to pay the mortgage.” Lady Sheila’s Stable has a $100,000 buy-in fee.

Considering that Rosenblum owns only 27 horses total (a relatively small number compared to Ahmed Zayat, owner of American Pharoah, who owns hundreds), she has an impressive record that includes wins at Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga.

Sheila Rosenblum in her modeling days
A photo of Sheila from her modeling days

In January, Rosenblum’s superstar horse La Verdad won a coveted Eclipse Award (the top award in the industry) for best female sprinter thanks to her 16 wins and $1.5 million in earnings. An article about her win in Daily Racing Form noted, “Few horses in recent seasons have combined the pure speed, admirable consistency, and indisputable class that La Verdad put on display throughout her 24-race career.”

A primary reason for her successes, Rosenblum says, is her trainer — her third — Linda Rice, who directed Rosenblum toward many fruitful purchases over the years, such as La Verdad and her sister, Hot City Girl. According to Equibase, which tracks horse racing statistics, as a trainer Rice was ranked 39th in the country by wins and 16th by earnings in 2015. Her horses have earned over $55 million during her almost 20-year career. 

Of the 12 horses that won Eclipse awards in 2015, La Verdad was the only one with a female owner (two others, Big Blue Kitten and Nyquist, are co-owned by a husband and wife).

The award itself, small and distinguished, now rests in a place of honor atop Rosenblum’s Chesney’s mantel in her living room. 

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Before she started winning, however, Rosenblum would be the first to admit that she failed — a lot. Without any background in racing, she started buying racehorses in 2012, using two other trainers who did not work out as well as Rice. She made quite a few costly mistakes in those early years, which she attributes both to her naiveté and to being a woman; she suspects many thought they could swindle her.

“As a female, people try to take advantage,” she says, “I think they did see me as the new kid on the block that happened to be a female, and everyone wanted a piece of something.”

The living room was decorated in a French Moderne style by Sandra Nunnerley.
The living room was decorated in a French Moderne style by Sandra Nunnerley.

That all changed when she met Rice, who directed her toward more promising prospects, including La Verdad, whom she bought against the advice of three vets. Suddenly, Rosenblum’s horses started winning races, a change that “turned a hobby into a career.”

Now, while she totally trusts Rice’s judgment, she still likes to take a look at each horse before buying it, for her own visual confirmation. “I’m not the expert in what’s going to make a good horse, but I certainly know what a good butt looks like, what straight legs look like.”

Though Rosenblum retired La Verdad this year in order to breed her, she has new potential superstars on the horizon. With her other horseracing syndicate, Triumphant Trio (composed of herself, Rice and the philanthropist Iris Smith), she bought American Pharoah’s half-brother, Champion of the Nile, for $840,000 in 2015. She also continues to race Hot City Girl, who came in second place at a race at Santa Anita in December, bringing her total earnings to just over half a million dollars. 

Rosenblum credits her persistence in the horseracing industry to her ballet training, which she says toughened her up and rewarded her perseverance.

It’s a lesson she has passed along to her children, Kara and Erik, whom she reminds regularly not to rely on their considerable inheritance. “I tell them, ‘Do not ever get lazy. I will give my money to the person on the street and to the horses if you don’t do something with your lives. You’re not going to be those trust-fund babies,’” she emphasizes. “I wasn’t.”

“We walk in and it’s a little more glamorous.”
—Sheila Rosenblum

Born in Basel, Switzerland, Rosenblum moved to Miami when she was 4. At the age of 38, her father, a prominent surgeon, had a terrible accident that prevented him from practicing again. “It changed his whole life. But it made me hungry,” she says.

At the age of 10, Rosenblum started an intense ballet program and at 15 she won a Ford Foundation Scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London. When she could not join the Royal Ballet Company because she was not a citizen (it was suggested she marry a citizen, but she was only 16), Rosenblum moved to New York at 17 to dance at the School of American Ballet, and finally gave up ballet for good at 19 when she “accidentally” became a Ford model, as she describes it.

It was then that she discovered a world beyond ballet, and while she was only at Ford for six months, she went on to Wilhelmina, where she modeled for two years. She appeared in ads for Danskin and Foster Grant, though she says, “I had good accounts, not great accounts.”

“I always made money to support myself, which I was proud of.”

In 1990, she married commodities executive Daniel Rosenblum (currently a deputy chairman at ED&F Man) and became a well-known fixture on the society circuit, contributing to charities like March of Dimes, whose New York board she now sits on. The couple lived in Trump Tower on Central Park South but then divorced in 1994, only to get back together again in 1996. In 2000, they moved to the Park Avenue duplex Sheila currently occupies with their two children.

Juan Pablo Molyneux, the Chilean interior designer, designed the neoclassic interiors of the apartment, which was featured in “Architectural Digest” in 2006. But the dark, embellished style was not to Sheila’s taste, and she completely renovated the apartment a couple of years ago with interior designer Sandra Nunnerley, using lighter, fresher French Moderne furnishings (and quite a lot of equestrian-themed art).

Rosenblum with her horse Champion of the Nile, American Pharaoh’s half brother.
Rosenblum with her horse Champion of the Nile, American Pharaoh’s half brother.

In 2014, the Rosenblums split again, and their latest divorce has been the focus of tabloid gossip, due mainly to Daniel Rosenblum’s failure to sign revised divorce papers. According to the New York Post, this technicality means that Daniel owes Sheila $11 million immediately, plus an additional $50 million over the next four years.

About the divorce, Sheila Rosenblum’s only comment is that it is “all about the children.”

“We’re trying to be classy about it and I think the kids will always be our common denominator,” she smiles.

Almost divorced, Rosenblum sees herself now in the beginning of a new chapter of her life. She has a newly decorated apartment, new potential superstar horses she is training to replace La Verdad and, perhaps most importantly, a newfound (and hard-earned) ability to fail with grace.   

“I’m a much more graceful loser today than I was when I started,” she says proudly.   

At the Ballerina Stakes in Saratoga last summer, for instance, she decided to pull La Verdad from the race when she noticed she wasn’t performing well. Rosenblum had a big celebratory dinner planned for that night, but unlike the year before, when La Verdad’s lackluster performance caused her to cancel the dinner out of embarrassment, Rosenblum decided to go ahead and have the party anyway.

“Anyone can win and be in a win shot and be happy. But to have the grace when things are going all wrong, that is far more challenging and I’m doing that better and better and better.” She pauses just a moment before clarifying: “I still prefer winning.”