Visitors and newcomers to Thoroughbred racing often marvel at the wide range of characters and distinct individuals that populate its world each day.
It is inhabited by those who represent a huge collection and cross-section of personalities, backgrounds, bank accounts and life experiences. In that eclectic mix, one will find distinct people who are difficult to classify, a challenge to pigeonhole and impossible to replace.
Racing lost one of the latter a few days back in the passing of Ed Seigenfeld, former executive vice president of Triple Crown Productions, the marketing partnership of the tracks that hosts the coveted horse racing series, which begins each year with the Kentucky Derby. A New Yorker in every sense of the phrase, Seigenfeld died in his adopted hometown of Louisville late last week at the age of 78. His passing came six years after his retirement from his Triple Crown post. Seigenfeld was remembered Monday at Churchill Downs in a memorial service conducted, fittingly, in its Triple Crown Room.
American Pharoahâ€™s sweep of the Derby, the Preakness Stakes at Baltimoreâ€™s Pimlico and New Yorkâ€™s Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park made Ahmed Zayatâ€™s colt the first 3-year-old Thoroughbred since Affirmed in 1978 to earn the Triple Crown title. It was a joyous day at Belmont Park when American Pharoah ended a 37-year stretch of frustration during which no horse completed the sweep. But in remembering that moment, there should be a nod of appreciation to the Triple Crown tracks for an effort to ensure that the tradition would endure.
Triple Crown Productions was created in the aftermath of the 1985 Kentucky Derby victory by Spend A Buck. After that triumph, owner Dennis Diaz decided to forgo the Preakness and a Triple Crown bid for his Derby winner and pursue a $2 million bonus connected to the Jersey Derby, a then-premier racing event run at New Jerseyâ€™s Monmouth Park.
The move by Diaz and the presence of a big-money bonus connected to a non-Triple Crown race was instantly recognized as a threat to the series. The issue prompted the Triple Crown host tracks to join in a partnership, dubbed Triple Crown Productions, to sustain the series, and one of the new entityâ€™s first moves was to hire Seigenfield to be its face and voice.
Seigenfeld brought a distinctive personal style and wide-ranging experience to his new post. And his regular work ensemble â€“ a double-breasted navy blazer, perfect pocket square and Gucci shoes during every hour of the day â€“ instantly identified Seigenfeld to those in racing as readily as Batmanâ€™s cape and cowl made the â€œCaped Crusaderâ€ an around-the-clock standout in Gotham City. He entered racing with a resume headlined by success as vice president of advertising and public relations at United Artists, which included the promotion of company classics such as â€œManhattan,â€ â€œRocky,â€ â€œApocalypse Nowâ€ and â€œRaging Bull.â€
Seigenfeld departed UA for a marketing post with the New York Racing Association and was on that job when he was offered the Triple Crown post. Seigenfeldâ€™s new duties included oversight of network television contracts, which more than doubled in value on his watch. He also participated in talks that led to major event sponsorships with Chrysler and Visa. The latter included the creation of a $5 million â€œVisa Triple Crown Challengeâ€ bonus to be paid to any horse that completed the increasingly elusive sweep of the three races.
Six horses entered the Belmont Stakes on Seigenfeldâ€™s watch with a chance to sweep the series, cash the bonus check and collect a specially commissioned silver trophy by Cartier. Seigenfeld carried the trophy to New York on six occasions with the hope of presenting it to a 12th Triple Crown champion. To his dismay, he returned it safely home each time for off-season display at the Kentucky Derby Museum.
Seigenfeldâ€™s nearly two decades with TCP ended with his retirement in 2009. This spring, he joined countless racing fans in witnessing the emphatic end of the Triple Crown drought by American Pharoah. There is little double the moment was bittersweet for Ed.
One hopes that any personal sadness that he was not part of the celebration in his hometown was tempered by the realization that there might not have been a Triple Crown to celebrate if not for his efforts and those of his partners. The Triple Crown is vibrant and healthy in 2015, and Seigenfeld played a significant role in making it so.
Photo courtesy of Triple Crown Productions