11/07/2008 1:00AM

Mangurian one of Florida's all-time greats


Harry T. Mangurian Jr., who died last month at 82 following a long illness, is assured of his place in Florida’s Thoroughbred pantheon.

In brief:

w He served numerous times on the board of directors of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association.

w He was the first chairman of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company.

w He sat on the board of Calder Race Course.

w He was a multiple Eclipse Award recipient.

Mangurian had, at one time, two breeding labels. He bred under his own name and Mockingbird Farm. This duality may have cost him an Eclipse Award in 1999 as the nation’s leading breeder when horses he bred won more races and more money ($10.4 million) than any other breeder, but they were listed under two separate entities.

“How did I get into horse racing?” he said in reply to a question posed long ago. “I was a sailor in the Pacific theater at the end of World War II and was shipped to San Francisco for discharge, and while waiting around I went with some of the guys to Golden Gate Fields, got a taste of horse racing, and became hooked.”

Mangurian, following his discharge, returned to his family home in Rochester, N.Y., and went to work in his father’s furniture business. He helped build its footprint from local, to regional, and ultimately to a national brand.

When Finger Lake opened in 1962, Mangurian renewed his interest in horse racing.

After selling the furniture business, Mangurian broadened his parameters to include real estate and development in and around the Fort Lauderdale area and co-ownership of the Boston Celtics in the Larry Bird era.

Muriel Vanderbilt Adams was a modest breeder compared to her better-known relatives. But what the enterprise lacked in quantity, it made up in quality. Fasig-Tipton handled her dispersal at Hialeah in the winter of 1970. From this dispersal Mangurian bought Desert Trial and her daughter, the two-time Eclipse champion Desert Vixen. Desert Trial would later become the dam of Valid Appeal, a graded-stakes-winning full brother to Desert Vixen, and a prolific sire.

Mangurian, determined to become more involved in Thoroughbreds, bought hundreds of acres abutting Ocala’s Tartan Farms and there built his Mockingbird Farm and training center. When his neighbor went out of business in 1987 he bought and incorporated all the former Tartan Farms property.

Operating a commercial farm is a formidable undertaking. Mangurian did not want a pure retail operation. So, he reorganized Mockingbird Farm with trainer Mark Casse as his general manager. Mockingbird Farm would become a private market-breeder, but the plan excluded boarders. Those homebreds, for whatever reason, that did not pass muster or were sales returns would be raced and be for sale.

“I got just as much of a kick having bred a good horse as owning one,” he said.

A successful commercial operation requires quality mares and stallions. As Valid Appeal approached his retirement, the successful sire Copelan was purchased from Fred W. Hooper to fill the gap. Among the young stallions Mangurian acquired were End Sweep, Valid Wager, Diablo, Storm Creek, and Open Forum. Each would get a full book for two to three years and then the Mockingbird Farm mares would be assigned to another stallion.

When wife Dottie became ill and Harry was diagnosed as having leukemia, the time had come to close shop. Mangurian dispersed his breeding stock and sold his Mockingbird Farm to Canadian Eugene Melnyk, who renamed it Winding Oaks Farm. No other property has contributed more to Florida’s Thoroughbred industry.