Pittsburgh's Super family has horse racing roots in area

February 12, 2006|By LARRY YANOS

The Rooney family, which happens to own a professional football team in Pittsburgh, once ran horses at Charles Town Races and Slots.

Over the years, there have been many Rooney-owned horses compete at the West Virginia thoroughbred oval.

The best of the lot was Christopher R.

Art Rooney, the late owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, saw his horse win by the largest margin in the history of the Tri-State Futurity. Christopher R. won in 1973 by 12 lengths for trainer "Tuffy" Hacker and jockey William J. Passmore - now a state steward in Maryland.

The Tri-State Futurity once was one of the premier races in the country for 2-year-olds and Christopher R. was in good form that autumn evening in 1973.

At that time, Rooney owned Shamrock Farm in Woodbine, Md. The 640-acre farm was deeded to his five sons: Dan, Art Jr., Tim, John and Pat.


According to Shamrock Farm manager Jim Steele, all five sons have ownership in the Steelers, but Tim remains the most active when it comes to race horses.

"The farm is still owned by the Rooney family but most of the 100 horses stabled here are clients, not ours," Steele said. "We are a full-fledged breeding farm. We raise them and sell them. We have standardbreds as well."

Steele has seen some outstanding horses over the years, but still remembers Christopher R.

"I've been here since 1977. We've had some nice horses but Christopher R. was a good one, special," Steele said. "He was once named the best male sprinter in the country. He stood at Shamrock Farm and is buried there."

Through a brilliant career, the thoroughbred made 42 starts and won 22 races (most of them stakes) and showed eight places and two shows.

"Some horses fit Charles Town and some fit the Maryland tracks better," Steele said. "Christopher R. was a big horse but he still liked Charles Town. He did well there."

Steele said the Rooney family has had horses compete in Europe and the United States over the years, including racetracks in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

What prompted Art Rooney to purchase a farm in the Carroll County community of Woodbine?

"I think some of his sons attended Mount St. Mary's (in Emmitsburg, Md.) and that attracted him to the area," Steele said. "He saw some land in Woodbine in 1948 and he bought it. It originally was a dairy farm."

Still quarantined

With the equine herpesvirus scare still in effect, the Charles Town Races & Slots continues to impose a quarantine.

"I think things are looking better in Maryland but, as we speak, the quarantine continues here," Charles Town director of racing Richard Moore said. "We will accept no horses shipping in from other racetracks and none of our horses can leave here and return."

The quarantine has limited the number of runners at the West Virginia thoroughbred oval and Moore says the number of runners per race is averaging closer to 8 than the 9.3 earlier in the year."

Meanwhile, the Maryland Jockey Club said it will not hold live racing again today due to a shortage of available horses.

It will be the third consecutive weekend that Sunday racing has been canceled because of the equine herpes breakout in the state.

"While we are happy to have removed the general quarantine at Pimlico and to have had two barns released by the Department of Agriculture, we are still facing restrictions from states outside of Maryland and the Fair Hill Training Center in the state making it difficult to fill cards," said Lou Raffetto, chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club. "Additionally, we are racing six consecutive days next week from Wednesday through the President's Day holiday and need to make sure those programs have the quality and quantity our fans have come to expect."

Pony tales

Apprentice jockey Rosie Napravnik celebrated her 18th birthday in style by riding two winners on Thursday's Laurel Park card. The second victory of the afternoon was the 100th of her young career, which began last June.

"I've had a great birthday," said Napravnik, who rode Touchdown Run and He's A Mystery to victory. "Winning the 100th of my career is icing on the cake."

Napravnik leads all riders in the winter meeting.

A total of 426 3-year-olds are early nominees to the 2006 Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing that kicks off with the 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

The total reflects a dramatic increase from the 2005 early figure of 358.

The 2006 figure is the fourth best in history. The record was set in 2003 when 446 horses were eligible.

The 426 horses were nominated at a cost of $600 per horse. A late-nomination period, at $6,000 per horse, is under way and will close March 25.

The list of nominees is led, as usual, by Kentucky-breds (277).

Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at

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