Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Missing from Steinbrenner’s Obituary
(SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – July 14, 2010) George Steinbrenner’s involvement in horse racing has gone mostly unnoticed in the obituaries of mainstream media. But this hasn’t stopped the thoroughbred industry from joining other worlds in eulogizing the great man upon his passing. Entities ranging from the NTRA to the NYRA to the Louisville Courier-Journal have used Steinbrenner’s vita as the owner of top racehorses, Kinsman Stud Farms and Florida Downs to cash in on the sudden, and somewhat unexpected, fallen hero worship.
Followers of the saga of Saratoga Racecourse may recall that “The Boss” was a behind-the-scenes player in the failed bid of Excelsior Racing Associates, a group headed by casino developer Richard Fields, to wrest the franchise away from current operators several years ago. Steve Swindal, Steinbrenner’s son-in-law at the time, was an Excelsior front man. Then Swindal was caught drunk, rumors surfaced about womanizing and before anyone could say “Yankees heir,” he was out on his can entirely, en route to oblivion and bachelorhood.
By the way, Excelsior earned the recommendation of a New York State task committee charged with the responsibility of identifying the group which would best accommodate the State’s horse racing interests. Had both Swindal and then Gov. Pecker kept their pants on, we might have had somebody different to complain about. The Billy Johnston family, which owns and operates the harness track Balmoral Park in Chicago, was going to run Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. For whatever it’s worth noting, Steinbrenner held part ownership in Balmoral.
As for Steinbrenner's charisma, members of the press that were in the Churchill Downs media center for the 2005 Kentucky Derby will recall the flurry of activity preceding the race as newspaper editors began advising the turf writers to write two stories. They wanted one for the front page if his horse Bellamy Road, the co-favorite, won and another for the Sports Section. Steinbrenner’s horse finished seventh, thus lightening the load for reporters. Yet, nobody was happy.
Regardless, if one thinks of Steinbrenner before the death notices were written, his reputation, for the most part, was that of a villain. He was brutal on employees, reckless with money, banned from his sport and pardoned by President Reagan for illegal campaign contributions – a buffoon, as a matter of fact, per Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live and Miller Lite and Visa commercials.
Some authority like Tom Pedulla, who writes on college football and thoroughbred racing for USA Today, would be a good one to provide proper perspective. It seems the difference between Steinbrenner and Frank Stronach, for example, is that one accomplished his goals through his zaniness. Otherwise, it’s tough to tell them apart. Ah, there must be more to it.