George Steinbrenner, best-known for his long, successful reign as owner of the New York Yankees but also a longtime owner and breeder of racehorses, died at age 80 on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. His most notable horses included Majestic Warrior, who won the Hopeful Stakes in 2007, and Bellamy Road, the favorite in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
Either on his own or in partnership, Steinbrenner had six runners in the Kentucky Derby. He suffered a crushing defeat with his final Derby starter, Bellamy Road, who was sent off the 5-2 favorite in the Derby following a runaway victory in the Wood Memorial. Despite high expectations, Bellamy Road faded after racing wide and pressing a hot pace. He finished seventh behind the victorious Giacomo.
Nick Zito, the trainer of Bellamy Road, trained for Steinbrenner for 15 years and is a passionate baseball fan. "It's a sad day today," Zito said. "I had a good relationship with him. He took me to a playoff game in 1995 and sat me next to Joe DiMaggio."
Majestic Warrior, trained by Bill Mott, was one of the top 2-year-olds of his generation, and was a third-generation success story for Steinbrenner. Majestic Warrior's dam, Dream Supreme, won the 2000 Ballerina for Steinbrenner. And her dam, Spinning Round, won the Ballerina in 1993, also for Steinbrenner.
"I considered George a real friend, a friendship that started with my dad," Robert N. Clay, owner of Three Chimneys Farm, said Tuesday in a statement. "I will never forget the pleasure of spending time with him driving around the farm, listening to his views on things, and realizing how dear a man he really was, given all of the publicity that surrounded him to the contrary.
"We raised several good horses for him over the years, Majestic Warrior among them. Not only will he be missed by the racing industry, he will be missed by everyone that loved sport of any kind."
Steinbrenner bred horses in Florida at his 750-acre Kinsman Stud, which was named for the street on which his ancestors first settled in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1840. His son, Hank, who has overseen the Yankees since his father's health declined, is a devotee of thoroughbred breeding and was once described by George as "a Tesio disciple." Hank is the eldest of Steinbrenner's four children.
Steinbrenner usually kept approximately 25 horses in training and had about 35 mares at Kinsman.
Steinbrenner's first top-class horse was Steve's Friend, who won the 1977 Hollywood Derby before finishing fifth behind Seattle Slew in that year's Kentucky Derby.
Other top horses owned by Steinbrenner included Eternal Prince, who won the Gotham and Wood Memorial in 1985; Concerto, who won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in 1996; and Acceptable, who gave Steinbrenner his best finish in a Breeders' Cup race when he finished second in the 1996 Juvenile.
Steinbrenner also spearheaded the group that in 1980 purchased Florida Downs, now known as Tampa Bay Downs. He sold his share of the track in 1986 but used the proceeds to take a partial ownership position in the harness tracks Balmoral and Maywood in the Chicago area.
Additional reporting by Glenye Cain Oakford