Remembering “Big Mike”

Rich Fisher

Trenton, NJ — On June 28, 2011, popular horse owner and breeder Mike Sorentino Sr. — whose good friends included former Yonkers Raceway General Manager Bob Galterio and Yonkers Racing Secretary Steve Starr — passed away at age 74. His spirit, though, lives on in the winner’s circle to this day.

Miss U Big Mike, a horse bred and owned by Irwin “Cookie” Kaplan, a close friend of Sorentino, has picked up 17 victories in 59 career races since making his debut at the Indiana fairs in 2017. The 4-year-old pacer’s most recent triumph came May 26 at Harrah’s Philadelphia. He races again Sunday (June 9) at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono.

Miss U Big Mike has earned $97,582 in his career. Lauren Tucker/Worldwide Racing Photos.

Cookie, who was tagged with that nickname because he weighed just two pounds at birth, is also an owner who sends his quality retired racehorses to Indiana for Alvin Schwartz to breed. He has been in the Standardbred business for 40 years, starting with Rolls Royce Stables, a successful operation at Yonkers. The name had to be changed when the auto company sued him, and evolved into Cookie N Mo Stables, and is now Mo Coo Inc. Stables. Mo is his wife Ellie, who picked up her nickname from a cousin who used to call her Elmo.

Kaplan began shipping horses from New York to Indiana for breeding purposes several years ago. When the first foal arrived in 2014, he was stuck for a name. His daughter inspired the South Bronx, N.Y., native to call it Pops Pool Room, a popular hangout in his hometown. When Sorentino died, Cookie paid tribute to his friend with the moniker Miss U Big Mike, a 2015 foal by He’s Gorgeous out of Ready To Rumba.

“We met at Yonkers,” said Kaplan, who will turn 80 in October. “His son (Michael Jr.) trained for me and drove for me at the time and we became friends. We still stay in contact with his wife Sadie. I talk to Michael every few months. Little Mike is like my own son. He and his dad were very close and we became like family.

“Mike Sorentino was old school. We are the same way. We’ll give you the shirt off our back — just don’t take it.”

Kaplan illustrated just what he meant by that when he would visit Yonkers with his wife.

“He was a real big shot at Yonkers,” Cookie said. “He would send someone over with a bottle of Dom Perignon, and I would send it back. He was like that; and people took advantage of him because of his good nature. I can’t do that. I can’t sponge off anybody. So, whatever he did, I did. If he gave me something, I gave it back.”

Those were the days when Cookie went to the track. He has given that up, however, preferring to watch races from home. For him, it is basically about the bottom line.

“I don’t make too much of this,” he said. “To me, it’s a job, that’s how I look at it. I don’t want to socialize. It’s a business, I just want to do my job to the best of my ability.

“I don’t even know how I got to know what I know. Growing up in the South Bronx there wasn’t a horse in sight. I just did a lot of research through trainers.”

Miss U Big Mike and driver Marcus Miller in the Harrah’s Philadelphia winner’s circle after the gelding’s lifetime best 1:51.2 victory on May 15. Lauren Tucker/Worldwide Racing Photos.

And he leaves the betting window for others to use. Miss U Big Mike paid $44.80 in his first pari-mutuel win at Hoosier Park. Asked if he bet on him, Cookie said, “I don’t gamble. All I want to do is win and get purse money.”

Asked what Big Mike would have thought of the horse, Kaplan laughed and said, “He might bet on him.” While Kaplan did not collect any wagering winnings from that victory, he does have the win photo on his wall.

Miss U Big Mike’s career wins include last season’s Indiana Sired Fair Circuit Championship. The horse shipped east following that victory last August.

“He’s just a horse that wants to win,” Kaplan said about the gelding, who has earned $97,582. “He’s like his mother. They’re athletes, they’re racehorses, they just want to win. He’s up in class now, he paced the fastest of his whole life the past two starts; he paced in 1:51.2. He’s a special horse to me because I bred him and because he’s named after our close friend.”

A friend with which he accumulated plenty of memories with over the years. But don’t get too curious, as they will remain private recollections.

“There’s a lot of stories,” Kaplan said. “But I couldn’t tell you them because if you put them in print, forget about it.”

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