Martin Tananbaum was born on January 8, 1916 in New York City. At the time of his passing, he was considered the most progressive executive in the Standardbred industry and was credited with having been the motivating force behind Yonkers Raceway's climb to a preeminent position among the sport's pari-mutuel tracks. During his 14-year tenure as president of the track, pacers from Australia and New Zealand became a staple on the American racing scene. This was the result of his pioneer scouting trips to those countries to secure horses for the series of Yonkers' International Paces. His efforts to put together the tightest racing possible, by attracting the best horses available, were successful. He became the leading exponent of free-for-all racing, and Yonkers quickly began to gain a reputation as the track with the big stars. Weekly free-for-alls with large purses lured top pacers and trotters to the track.
Tananbaum and his brothers, Alfred A. and Stanley, assumed control of the Hilltop Oval (as it was known) in 1956 after the death of the track's founder, William H. Cane. Attendance at that time was 1.6 million for an average 85-night meeting, and wagering was about $100 million. The track's first $2 million handle was in 1954. After the Tananbaums took over the operation, $2 million handles became commonplace; and under Tananbaum's guidance, crowds and betting began to skyrocket. In 1956, during a 105-night meet, 2.02 million fans attended the races and wagered $140.359 million. The following year, during a 104-day meet, 2.146 million fans passed through the turnstiles and bet $145.656 million. In 1969, the highest single-night handle ever at Yonkers ($3,220,686) helped achieve a record breaking $300 million handle for the season. It was the highest handle wagered at one track in a single season. With success assured an $18 million building project was launched in 1958. It included construction of an ultra-modern six-level clubhouse and a four-story Parkadrome for 3,000 vehicles.
In 1960, the Tananbaum brothers reactivated the historic Old Glory Sale. Another brother, Leo, managed the historic sale. In 1972, two years after Martin Tananbaum's passing, the five Rooney brothers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia purchased Yonkers Raceway for $52 million. It was the largest private racetrack purchase in U.S. history. Tim Rooney, the middle brother of the five, was installed as president.
Martin Tananbaum was an innovator, firmly believing in "colt" racing because he knew these youngsters were the stars of tomorrow. He led the drive to establish the New York Sire Stakes program, which has since been emulated throughout the country. Yonkers' first venture into this series was an overnight hit with the birth of the Quad Futurity for 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. These stakes were later expanded to become the Yonkers' Stakes, a night program for 2- and 3-year-olds. Although Tananbaum fostered these programs, he took most pride in the New York Sire Stakes. It is considered his brainchild. In 1961, the program was launched as a cooperative venture of the state's seven night tracks, with 2-year-old races at each oval. At that time total purses reached in the neighborhood of $300,000. Today the purses are $9.5 million, making the New York Sire Stakes the richest sire stakes program in the United States.
Tananbaum lived to see his White Devon Farm in Geneseo, New York become a leader among New York State Standardbred breeding establishments. Many of his horses had "Minbar" in their name in honor of his daughters, Minnie and Barbara. One of the first stallions he stood at the farm was Egyptian Candor, winner of the 1965 Hambletonian. The farm became the home of six other top stallions (Thorpe Hanover, Adora's Dream, Greentree Adios, Great Lullwater, Tactile and Trowbridge) and more than 125 broodmares. Greentree Adios sired Hy Minbar whose offspring Hy Class Minbar was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1989.
Martin Tananbaum was also active in charitable work, raising millions of dollars, much of it to help the City of Hope and children with special needs. He was chairman of a million-dollar fund drive for the New York Cardiac Home. A fellow of the Universal Brother-hood Movement of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Martin Tananbaum was prominent in many of its fund-raising activities. For ten years he was chairman of the board of advisors of the N.Y. Mirror Welfare Fund, a director of the Young Men's Philanthropic League, and in 1959 chairman of a very successful fund raising dinner for the Boy Scouts of America, Washington Irving Council.
Tananbaum was a life member of Share Inc., a trustee of United Givers Fund of Yonkers, vice-president of the Garment Center Congregation, and a member of the Friars and of Elmwood Country Club. He was a trustee of The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, a director of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State and a member of the United States Trotting Association.
Martin Tananbaum was one of ten children of Polish immigrants. His father built a small textile business and raised his family in the Bronx. Martin graduated from the DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx at 16 and later attended Fordham University night school for two years and Brooklyn Law School for one year in the evenings. He left school after his father died and worked in his father's business with his brother until 1944, when he enlisted in the Air Corps as a cadet. In 1946, he returned to the family business. In addition to being president of Yonkers Raceway, Martin Tananbaum was executive vice-president of Century Industries, Inc. and secretary of Tanbro Fabrics Corp-oration of New York City.
Martin Tananbaum passed away on March 24, 1970. He was only fifty-four years old.