04/30/2014 11:03AM

Intense Holiday among Mara's best draft picks

Barbara D. Livingston
New York Giants executive Chris Mara has an ownership interest in Intense Holiday, here training Wednesday at Churchill Downs, and General a Rod.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In a two-week span early in 2012, Chris Mara won a Super Bowl and saw his daughter get nominated for an Academy Award. If ever there was a time to press one’s luck, that was it.

So, Mara, senior vice president of player personnel for the New York Giants – a team owned by the Mara family – told his wife, Kathleen, that he was going to “pull the trigger” on pursuing a lifelong dream of owning racehorses. Two years later, Mara hopes that dream includes a trip to the winner’s circle in the 140th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Mara is a partner in Starlight Racing, a racing syndicate that will send out Intense Holiday in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Starlight this week also purchased an ownership interest in General a Rod, so Mara essentially has a draft pick and a free-agent acquisition in the Derby.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Mara said Tuesday by phone in between meetings as the Giants prepare for next week’s NFL draft. “I have a lot of little birdies around there calling me, sending me texts. I’ve been informed about everything going on. Everything seems positive.”

Intense Holiday, the winner of the Risen Star Stakes and the runner-up in the Louisiana Derby, wowed observers Sunday at Churchill Downs with an eye-catching workout. He appears to be peaking at the right time.

Mara knows the importance of getting good at the right time. In 2012, the Giants finished the regular season 9-7, qualifying for the playoffs in the final week of the season. The team then ran the table in the playoffs, capped by a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl victory. Twelve days earlier, Mara’s daughter, Rooney Mara, was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Mara’s other daughter, Kate, also is an actress.

Mara, 57, said he has been a racing fan most of his life. His wife is part of the Rooney family, which in addition to owning the Pittsburgh Steelers owned Yonkers Raceway, where Mara parked cars in high school.

Mara said he was in and out of different partnerships in harness racing but eventually wanted to ratchet it up a notch and get into Thoroughbreds.

After researching various syndicates, Mara met Jack Wolf, the managing partner of Starlight Stable, at Rick Pitino’s annual golf outing in Saratoga during the summer of 2012. After a half-hour discussion, Mara decided to become an investor and attended his first sale in September 2012, when Starlight purchased Intense Holiday as a yearling for $380,000.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” Mara said. “It’s all guaranteed money, too, because you’re not getting it back – most of the time, anyway.”

Intense Holiday has only two wins from eight starts but has earned $551,900. In three starts this year, he has a third in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream, a victory in the Grade 2 Risen Star, and a second in the Louisiana Derby.

Mara tries to get to the races when he can. He was at a scouting combine the day Intense Holiday won the Risen Star.

“I watched it at the OTB in Indianapolis with one of our coaches and made a spectacle of myself after he won,” Mara said.

In all, Mara is involved in 13 Starlight horses, including Candy Kitty, who runs in Friday’s $150,000 Edgewood Stakes, and Picozza, who runs in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 American Turf.

Mara will take a break from studying film of prospective draft picks to fly to Kentucky on Thursday night and will attend the races Friday and Saturday.

“It’s been fun,” Mara said. “I’m very involved in it. This used to be a hobby. Now, it’s more of a passion. I love going to the track; I love the group we’re in. They like to have fun first.”

Of course, it’s always more fun when you win.