By Eric Mitchell
My memory includes an indelible image of George Steinbrenner standing before members of the then-Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' Association poised with a large sledge hammer painted gold. It was his scepter, given to him in the fall of 1989 when he was elected president of the association's board. Steinbrenner's main goal was to get intertrack wagering implemented so that breeders and owners didn't get shut out of the new source of handle.
The message was clear: George "The Hammer" Steinbrenner was being sent to Tallahassee to get the job done.
"When we got to the stage of implementing off-track wagering and interstate simulcasting
there is no doubt that Steinbrenner was the single most influential person in
Florida in being sure it got done and got done right," said Mike O'Farrell, owner of Ocala Stud. O'Farrell was serving his fourth term as vice president of the association at the time. "He had already
owned a trotting horse track in Illinois, and they already had
simulcasting. He knew as a track owner what the costs were and what the problems were, and
what the breeding industry needed as far as percentages for purses. He always said
what got done in Illinois is not what we wanted in Florida."
Steinbrenner's political influence was legendary and things got done. Maybe impart because few wanted to feel his equally legendary wrath or it was because the lure of good seats to a Yankees baseball game, a playoff game, or the hottest Broadway show was too good to pass up. Things got done.
"He was a tough, tough man," O'Farrell continued. "I have known him since I was a boy, and he was
tough to do business with, but on the other hand he would do anything for
you if you were in need."
Florida is indeed fortunate The Boss had such a long and successful involvement with the Thoroughbred industry. He had been breeding Thoroughbreds since the 1960s and was owner of Tampa Bay Downs from 1980 through 1986 when it was known as Florida Downs. Some of his better horses included homebred Concerto, who earned more than $1.3 million and won Jim Beam Stakes (gr. II), Frederico Tesio Stakes (gr. III), and the Clark Handicap (gr. III) in 1997. Concerto has stood his entire stallion career at Ocala Stud. Other notable homebreds include Sweet Symphony, Beacon Shine, and Diligence. Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable also won the 2005 Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) with Bellamy Road.
Other political issues Steinbrenner latched onto involving Florida's Thoroughbred industry included workman's compensation rates and struggling to bring unity among South Florida's racetracks that had battled with each other over racing dates for years.
"He knew how to stir the pot," said Richard Hancock, executive vice president of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association."He was very goal-oriented and very active in the political scene. He had a lot of contacts and the Thoroughbred industry benefited from his connections. We were just fortunate that he loved this industry like he did."