The 2015 meet at Saratoga Race Course opens on July 24.  This much-anticipated relatively brief annual gathering in upstate New York is an economic boon to Saratoga Springs and surrounding areas.  Restaurants are full of diners, shoppers are plentiful in downtown, and lodging facilities at least double their rack rates and often have no vacancies.  Even run-down motels are able to double and triple their normal prices, plus there is an 11 percent charge for state and local taxes.

Several racetracks across the United States hold summer meets that are huge boosts to local economies.  The prominent ones are the aforementioned Saratoga Race Course, Del Mar in Southern California, and Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore–and none of these are racinos.  (American Pharoah’s entry in the William Hill Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on August 2 will be a colossal benefit to Oceanport.)

C-Span 3 featured the city of Lexington, Kentucky over the past weekend.  Part of the telecast focused on Keeneland racetrack.  The statistics cited during the segment demonstrate how much non-profit Keeneland contributes to Lexington and Fayette County.

According to a recent research study, Keeneland’s economic impact on the Lexington and Fayette County area is approximately $600 million annually.  The money earned by Keeneland is distributed three ways:  back into the facilities, to the Kentucky racing industry, and to community charitable and non-profit organizations.  The $600 million should easily be surpassed in 2015 with the Breeders’ Cup added to the mix of offerings.

Keeneland conducts high-class boutique racing meets in the spring and fall (and does not have alternative gaming).  It is the world’s leading auction company for Thoroughbred bloodstock.  Keeneland holds racing 32 days per year and hosts three auctions over 35 days annually.  The auction company sells between 8,000 and 8,500 horses each year and attracts buyers from 52 countries.  In addition, Keeneland is a year-round training venue.

Carefully look around during a visit this summer to Saratoga, Del Mar, or Monmouth for the Haskell (or at Keeneland for the sales).  You will see and sense a splendid example of what economists refer to as the multiplier effect, whereby spending by people drawn to the racetracks has wide-ranging salutary effects on local businesses and the indigenous economy.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business


Forbes magazine’s July 20, 2015 issue has an article titled “Billion-Dollar Bloodlines” that lists America’s 200 richest families.  This list differs from the annual Forbes 400, which is based on individual wealth rather than family wealth.  At the top of the list of wealthy families are familiar names like six members of the Walton family (#1 at $149 billion), four members of the Koch family (#2 at $86 billion), and three members of the Mars family (#3 at $80 billion).

At least eleven of the families on the Forbes list are involved in some aspect of Thoroughbred horse racing and at least five families on the list have deceased members who were prominent in the sport.

Forbes families with a presence in horse racing today:

Bass (#29, 4 family members, $8.2 billion) Ramona Bass

Brown (#20, 25 members, $12.8 billion) Laura Lee Brown (Hermitage Farm)

Dorrance (#17, 11 members, 13.6 billion) George W. Strawbridge Jr. and Charlotte Weber (Live Oak Stud)

Du Pont (#14, 3,500 members, $14.5 billion) Sarah Farish and son William Stamps Farish IV (Lane’s End Farm)

Hughes (#31, 3 members, $7.9 billion) B. Wayne Hughes (Spendthrift Farm)

Jackson (#116, 7 members, $2.4 billion) Barbara Banke (Stonestreet Farms)

Johnson (#46, 60 members, $6.3 billion) Diana Firestone (Newstead Farm)

Phipps (#44, 300 members, $6.6 billion) Ogden Mills Phipps and Stuart Janney

Rockefeller (#22, 200 members, $11 billion) Roy Jackson (Lael Stables)

Rooney (#193, 15 members, $1.2 billion) Shamrock Farm and Yonkers Raceway

Steinbrenner (#75, 5 members, $3.8 billion) Kinsman Stud Farm

Forbes families with deceased members who were a presence in horse racing:

Annenberg (#126, 15 family members, $2.1 billion) Walter Annenberg, once owner of the Daily Racing Form

Hunt (#15, 33 members, $14.2 billion) Nelson Bunker Hunt

Kluge (#49, 5 members, $6 billion) John Kluge (Morven Stud)

Lindner (#129, 7 members, $2 billion) Carl Lindner Jr.

Mellon (#21, 200 members, $11.5 billion) Paul Mellon (Rokeby Stables)

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business


George E. Smith, known as “Pittsburg (sic) Phil,” was a horseplayer of renowned skills.  In fact, when he died of tuberculosis in 1905, at age 43, he was legendary.  Smith led a temperate and unostentatious life, precisely the opposite style of Diamond Jim Brady, another fabled handicapper of the era.

The book “Rooney, A Sporting Life” (published 2010) demonstrates that Smith was not the only celebrated horseplayer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.   Arthur J. Rooney Jr. (1901-1988) is most remembered as the founding owner of the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers.  But he also had a lifelong devotion to horse racing and handicapping.

The book is replete with information and anecdotes about Rooney’s adventures at racetracks.  The authors said about Rooney:  “He loved his racing routines just as he loved to say the decades of Hail Marys around the circular strings of beads.  He based his life on the rhythms of racing, football, and Catholicism.  His year started at Florida’s tracks.  Come spring, he frequented East Coast venues.  The Kentucky Derby in May and the Belmont Stakes were annual rituals, and he usually attended the Preakness.”

When Art and his wife Kathleen or “Kass” McNulty married in 1931, they began a cross continent track-to-track journey—beginning with the Belmont Stakes and ending in Tijuana.

Particularly interesting is a chapter called “Rooney’s Ride” about how Rooney at the 1937 Saratoga meet won $300,000 ($4.95 million in 2015 dollars) from the bookmakers, followed up by huge paydays at Aqueduct.  (He did not like it at all when horse racing in the United States switched from bookmaking to pari-mutuel wagering.)  The Pittsburgh Press wrote:  “Since his big splurge at Saratoga several weeks ago, he hasn’t had a minute of peace.”  Rooney’s reputation as one of the greatest horse-racing handicappers ever was sealed.

In addition to the Steelers, Rooney and his sons owned several racetracks.  The family still owns, for example, Yonkers Raceway.

Rooney also bred Thoroughbreds at his Shamrock Farm in Maryland.  It remains in business and is owned and operated by Rooney heirs.  The farm today stands Nicanor, a full brother to Barbaro.

One of Rooney’s favorite horse-related stories was as follows.  Rooney once gave a Thoroughbred broodmare to Steelers’ Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw.  She was in foal to Rooney’s stakes winner Christopher R.  After the mare foaled, the Louisiana-born and Quarter-Horse owning Bradshaw asked Rooney to take her back because he did not know anything about keeping Thoroughbreds and the Louisiana weather was supposedly too hot for the mare.  Rooney complied and Bradshaw traded the mare’s foal for an elite-bred Quarter Horse filly.  As fate would have it, the Thoroughbred foal Bradshaw traded went on to earn $500,000 in purses, a sum more than Bradshaw received in five years for quarterbacking the Steelers.

Art Rooney came from a working-class family on Pittsburgh’s Irish Northside, where his father was a saloon keeper and other close relatives labored in steel mills.  His friends and acquaintances included people from all walks of life—from U. S. presidents, sports figures, and entertainers to groundskeepers–and he treated them all with respect.  Byron “Whizzer” White played for the Steelers and eventually became a Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court.  One of Rooney’s close friends was Tim Mara, founder of the NFL’s New York Giants and “an established legal bookmaker.”  (Rooney Mara, the actress, is a descendant of Art Rooney and Tim Mara.)

Art Rooney handed out untold sums of cash to people down on their luck and he kept on hapless football coaches and players past their prime long after they should have been gone.  His franchise was an habitual loser until his sons began to run the football operations.  Rooney frequented places like Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia when he could have been at Royal Ascot.  We, unfortunately, may never see his likes again in this age of sport as big business.

Copyright © 2015 Horse Racing Business