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‘Sporting Life on Long Island’ at Planting Fields Arboretum

This bronze steeplechase statue is part of the

This bronze steeplechase statue is part of the "Sporting Life on Long Island" exhibit at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

William R. Coe was a good sport when it came to business and leisure.

This is what Henry Joyce, executive director of Planting Fields Foundation, hopes to highlight in the latest exhibit, “Sporting Life on Long Island: The Great Estates Era.”

The show explores the ways horse racing, fox hunting, shooting, fishing and polo became major recreational activities 100 years ago for wealthy Long Islanders like Coe, who owned the 353-acre estate once known as Upper Planting Fields Farm.

Long Island played an integral role in popularizing these sports for the affluent — especially Manhattanites who would escape to the Gold Coast from “their busy lives in the city,” Joyce says. The stories of three of Coe’s American champion thoroughbreds and accolades won from competitions involving these various sports — with the exception of polo — feature prominently in the exhibition, which runs through Oct. 1 at Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay.

It’s unclear why Coe did not play polo competitively.

“We don’t have any archival information indicating why he didn’t play,” says Andrea Crivello, a curatorial assistant at the Planting Fields Foundation. “It may be that he was just so involved in the other sports and he didn’t have time.”

In the 1920s, Coe did race his thoroughbreds at the Aqueduct, Belmont and Jamaica tracks and had many wins, Joyce says.

Coe’s filly Cleopatra descended from Polmelius, a famous racehorse in England, according to Joyce, and won the 1920 Belmont Champagne Stakes, and other prestigious races across the country. In 1920, Cleopatra won six major stakes and earned the title of American Champion Three Year Old Filly. Her son, Pompey, which Coe also owned, was a champion by age 2.

“He was the winner of the 1925 Futurity Stakes at Belmont, ridden by Lavern Fator,” Joyce says. The win earned Coe a $75,000 prize, which today would translate to $1 million.

Trophies from Coe’s racing successes also are highlighted in the exhibition, including his Astoria Cup from the 1918 Belmont Stakes, won by Terentia. To commemorate his wins, Coe commissioned a fine set of 12 Lenox dinner plates featuring portraits of each of the three horses. The set is still intact and is on display in Coe Hall. The plates’ borders are polka dotted in green — Coe’s racing color.

Objects on loan in the exhibit relate to Coe’s interest in fishing. Among them is a fishing rod from his grandson, Michael Coe. Visitors also will have access to archival documents, personal photographs and 1920s riding attire.

Crivello says she hopes visitors can make a connection to the value of sports and recreation and form their own personal ties to these sports that are even more accessible and popular today.

‘Sporting Life on Long Island’

WHEN | WHERE 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. daily through Oct. 1, Planting Fields Arboretum, 1395 Planting Fields Rd., Oyster Bay

INFO 516-922-8678, plantingfields.org

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 12)

SPECIAL EVENT

“The Sporting Life” radio play

WHEN | WHERE 2 p.m. June 18, July 9

ADMISSION $5 (free younger than 12)

David Houston performs a radio drama inspired by the exhibit.

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