10/17/2012 3:37PM

Belmont Park: Bill Parcells enjoying ride with Saratoga Snacks

Barbara D. Livingston
Bill Parcells watches horses train during the morning this summer at Saratoga.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Winning two Super Bowls in five years as the head coach of the New York Giants made Bill Parcells the king of New York sports. Saturday, at Belmont Park, Parcells will attempt to claim his biggest prize in the sport of kings.

Parcells, 71, is the owner of Saratoga Snacks, a 3-year-old New York-bred who will be among the favorites for the $250,000 Empire Classic, the centerpiece on Saturday’s 10-race New York Showcase Day program, which features seven stakes for horses bred in New York.

For Parcells, who retired from the NFL in 2010 after coaching stints with the Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, and an administrative role with the Dolphins, horse ownership has been a hobby for more than 20 years. He said he’s owned about 20 horses over that time, but nothing near as talented as Saratoga Snacks, a son of Tale of the Cat who has won four consecutive races after finishing second in his debut. Gary Sciacca trains Saratoga Snacks.

“We’re looking forward to Saturday,” Parcells said in a phone interview this week. “It’s a big challenge for us. I’m anxious to see what happens.”

Parcells is a native of New Jersey and said his father used to take him to Monmouth Park as a kid. When he coached the Giants – with whom he won Super Bowls in 1987 and 1991 – Parcells would visit the Meadowlands racetrack “once in a while.”

Parcells said he first started owning horses in the late 1980s and owned a few – Nickel Defense and Sunday at One – with popular New York radio host Mike Francesa.

“When I was in the NFL coaching, a lot of the time I didn’t do it because I couldn’t pay attention the way I wanted to,” Parcells said. “Now that I’ve got more time, I’ve gotten back in it.”

Unlike football, where he called all the shots, Parcells admits that he defers most of the major decisions regarding his horses to others.

“I know that I don’t know,” Parcells said. “I’m just trying to learn. I’ve learned a lot in the last five or six years, but I’m still a long way from knowing very much.

“These horses are athletes, obviously,” Parcells added. “The more you watch them, the more you learn what their makeup is, what their potential is. You see things and you learn things, and that’s where really I am. But I put all my faith in the people that are handling my horses, I don’t really do anything but ask a few questions.”

Horses have become such a passion for Parcells that a few years ago he moved to Saratoga Springs, N.Y. During the racing season, he comes out to the backstretch virtually every morning and attends the races most afternoons.

“The horses drove me to Saratoga, but Saratoga to me is a happy place,” Parcells said. “I’m always happy when I’m there. It’s exciting, it’s in the summer, it’s a nice venue. I enjoy it very much.”

Parcells was not in Saratoga the August night in 2010 when Saratoga Snacks went through the auction as a yearling. Parcells told Sciacca to go up to $50,000. Sciacca went to $60,000.

“It doesn’t make any difference what the budget is, if I’m not there he overpays,” Parcells said of Sciacca.

Sciacca said the bidding was going up in increments of $2,000, and he thought the horse was worth getting.

“He was a little horse, but he was a good-looking horse as a yearling,” Sciacca said. “I said, ‘He’s a nice little horse to have, let’s just go.’ He screamed and hollered and yelled, but he got over it.”

Parcells said he named the horse after a “cherubic ballboy” on the Miami Dolphins – Parcells was vice president of football operations for that franchise from 2007-10 – who was given the nickname “Snacks” by the other equipment managers. Parcells added “Saratoga” because “Snacks” wasn’t available.

Saratoga Snacks finished second in his debut at Saratoga on Aug. 8, 2011. He came back to win a maiden race at the Spa on Sept. 3, but suffered a slight crack in his left front pastern training up to last year’s New York Showcase Day program.

The horse needed surgery to have one screw put into the pastern. Sciacca and Parcells gave the horse plenty of time, and with three wins this year have been rewarded for their patience.

“In the long haul, we had to wait, but I think that did the horse an awful lot of good, it really did,” Parcells said. “It gave him a chance to grow and develop. He hasn’t run that many times, but the last few have been pretty good.”

Added Sciacca: “In that time, he’s gotten bigger, heavier, more aggressive. It might have been a little blessing.”

Saratoga Snacks is one of three 3-year-olds entered in the Empire Classic, run at 1 1/8 miles. He was made the 9-5 second choice behind the 5-year-old Lunar Victory (8-5), who as the 122-pound highweight will have to spot Saratoga Snacks seven pounds. Other contenders in the race include Johannesburg Smile, Fiddlers Afleet, and Sailmate.

Parcells said the all the horses he owns are New York-breds, including an unraced 2-year-old, The Big Deluxe, who is a half-brother to the Grade 1 winner Dayatthespa.

Whether in racing, golfing – his other passion – or football, the song remains the same for Parcells.

“It’s about winning, it’s not about anything else,” he said.