By Ed McNamara
She was born in Switzerland, land of neutrality, yet Sheila Rosenblum never has done anything halfway.
If she sees a challenge, this self-proclaimed “adrenaline junkie” can’t resist. She always wanted to be somebody, regardless of the odds and the price.
She moved to Miami at 4, and as a teenager, Rosenblum put her heart and soul into two demanding careers, ballet and modeling, and made it in both.
At 17, after two years at the Royal Ballet School in London, she switched to New York’s School of American Ballet. At 19, she left the world of dance to model for the high-profile Ford and Wilhelmina agencies.
“I’m an action person,” said Rosenblum, a longtime Manhattan resident with a home in Southampton. “I’ve ridden an elephant, and in Capetown I went down in a steel cage to see great white sharks. The water was so cold, but it was invigorating.”
In 2010, Rosenblum again plunged into dangerous, deep water: thoroughbred ownership. After 2 1/2 years of reversals, her one-woman Lady Sheila Stable turned it around.
It has collected stakes trophies with the 4-year-old New York-bred filly La Verdad and won with, among other runners, Kara’s Match Point and Erik the Red, named for Rosenblum’s children, Kara, 17, and Erik, 15.
“Owning horses is a high-risk business, with lots of disappointment,” Rosenblum said. “But ballet gave me a backbone. At 10 years old, it was five days a week, and later it was six and seven days. I didn’t start dating until I was 19.
“It’s a very, very hard life, ruthless and ultracompetitive. The other girls would have put ground glass in your toe shoes. But ballet gave me the character to build the rest of my life from.”
Her success since the start of last year motivated Rosenblum to branch out in May with Lady Sheila Stable Two, an all-female syndicate involving five others, including trainer Linda Rice, and two Californians.
The buy-in is $100,000, with no expenses for two years. The stable owns three New York-bred 2-year-olds — Hillaryinthehouse and Redheaded Rita (named for Rosenblum’s mother), who are unraced, and Hot Like Hepburn (who ran eighth in her debut Wednesday at Belmont Park).
“I’m not a feminist,” Rosenblum said last month in her clubhouse box at Saratoga. “We’re just getting women to do what men have done for a long time. It’s great camaraderie. I thought it would just be women from the Tri-State area, but it went way beyond friends and family. Suddenly, people were calling me.”
Rosenblum has known Diane Davis for 12 years. Another investor is Jill Zarin, formerly one of the “Real Housewives of New York City.” “We have a great time together,” Davis said.
Rosenblum’s first thoroughbred was a gift from her husband, Dan Rosenblum, a deputy chairman of a commodities firm. (They now are separated.) That present began a ride much wilder than the one on the elephant.
“I went through a tough learning curve. I made so many errors, and I’d like to spare others what I had to experience,” she said.
“It was very humbling.”
She’s not exaggerating. According to horseracingnation.com, starting in July 2010, her first 28 runners lost, with 24 trained by Kentucky-based Ken McPeek. She owned 20 with Magdalena Racing or Brahman Red LLC. Late in 2012, Rosenblum hooked up with Rice, a longtime standout, “because I wanted a New York trainer.”
Soon everything began to change. Their sixth starter together was Erik the Red, who won Feb. 23, 2013, at Aqueduct. Being 1-for-34 never felt so good, and that breakthrough began a surge that hasn’t stopped.
According to equibase.com, Lady Sheila Stable and Rice are 16-for-59, a remarkable .271 winning percentage, with 12 seconds, 10 thirds and earnings of more than $1.7 million.
“I love the quality of Linda’s horsemanship, and she’ll tell me the truth even if I don’t want to hear it,” Rosenblum said. “I have a very high-strung personality. Linda is just the opposite, and that’s why we work so well together.”
She listened when Rice advised her to upgrade her stable and focus on 2-year-olds in training instead of yearlings. “As difficult as it is,” Rosenblum said, “our ambition is to develop stakes horses.”
Rice encouraged her to buy La Verdad last fall from Eklektikos Stable. She’s won five of nine starts, including four stakes, with Rice and earned $539,400 for Rosenblum.
“Racing needs more owners as determined and as resilient as Sheila,” Rice said. “We have developed an amazing partnership that will serve as the foundation for the new syndicate.”
Rice chatted with Rosenblum and Davis before saddling La Verdad on Aug. 23 in a $500,000 stakes. “The biggest race of my life and it’s called the Ballerina,” Rosenblum said. Besides race strategy, they discussed hats, hair and eyelash makeovers.
“I never thought I’d be friends with women who would become my partners,” Rosenblum said. “I think we’re really good for each other.”
Rosenblum feels a personal connection with horses, which began with riding jumpers and dressage. She agrees that a ballet dancer is a kind of two-legged thoroughbred.
“Like a yearling, I left home” to be scouted by teachers who decided the slim, leggy 12-year-old (she’s 5-7) had the right conformation. As for unnatural physical demands, a thoroughbred runs 40 mph on fragile, slender ankles; a ballerina must put her hands over her head while on her toes. “The human body isn’t supposed to be doing that.”
“I’m not a yoga person,” Rosenblum said. “I would be the horse who’s lathered up before the race. I’m very animated, and sometimes I don’t like to watch a race. I totally get butterflies, always. I have a good-luck bracelet and good-luck shoes.”
They didn’t help in the Ballerina as La Verdad finished fifth for the second consecutive time at Saratoga, not her happy place.
“She likes Belmont Park very much,” Rosenblum said. La Verdad is 3-for-4 there after finishing second in Saturday’s Gallant Bloom.
“I love my horses,” she said. “They’re like my other children. I’m a little horse-obsessed, and I don’t think I’ll ever lose that enthusiasm.”