Updated on 04/07/2016 2:18PM

Ogden Mills 'Dinny' Phipps dead at 75

Michael Amoruso
Dinny Phipps was chairman of The Jockey Club for 32 years, the longest tenure of anyone.

Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, the scion of a prominent breeding family and one of the modern architects of the racing industry, died on Wednesday night at New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Phipps, who had cancer, was 75.

Phipps, the great-grandson of steel magnate and Thoroughbred breeder Henry Phipps, bred and raced dozens of graded stakes winners from a carefully cultivated broodmare band based at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. Simultaneously, he served in the highest positions of leadership in the racing industry and directed the transformation of The Jockey Club as its chairman from 1983 to 2015, the longest tenure in the organization’s  122-year history.

The inheritor of great wealth and an esteemed tradition of top-class breeding, Phipps was representative of a fading era in Thoroughbred racing, preceded in death by similarly mannered breeding titans such as Paul Mellon of Rokeby Stud and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. He carried on his family’s traditions as chairman of Bessemer Trust, a company founded by his great grandfather, and as an owner-breeder whose horses made an indelible stamp on the sport, from 1966 champion juvenile colt Successor to 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb.

Since November 1985, his horses have been trained by a single man, Shug McGaughey, who early in his career struggled with alcohol problems. Phipps stuck with him regardless, a mark of the loyalty that characterized his relationships throughout his life.

“He was not only wonderful to train for, he was a wonderful person to me and my family,” said McGaughey on Thursday morning. “What I learned from him not only about the horses but personally could never be repeated by anyone. I will miss him the rest of my life.

“It’s the end of an era,” McGaughey said.

During Phipps’s three-decade tenure at the helm of The Jockey Club, the organization transformed itself from a relatively staid, tradition-bound breed registry into a multi-faceted company with influence in every corner of the industry, from the development of Equibase, the industry data base, to more recent marketing initiatives designed to improve the perception of the sport. He was awarded the organization’s highest honor, The Jockey Club Medal, in 2015, after announcing that he would step down, in part because of his health problems.

“He’s not much for fanfare, particularly any that focuses on him, but he richly deserves accolades for the time and effort he’s devoted to the Thoroughbred industry in general and The Jockey Club in particular over a long period of time,” said Stuart Janney III, when awarding the medal. Janney, Phipps’s cousin, took his place at the head of The Jockey Club.

In recent years, Phipps had advocated for The Jockey Club to lead an effort to ban the raceday use of the anti-bleeding medication furosemide. The position put the Jockey Club at odds with many horsemen’s groups who supported the continued use of the drug, which is banned for raceday use in nearly every major racing jurisdiction worldwide. Despite that conflict, he remained widely respected among trainers.

“Mr. Phipps was one of the titans of Thoroughbred racing and breeding, and he and his family have always stood for the highest in integrity,” said Rick Violette, a New York-based trainer and the head of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which supports raceday furosemide use. “I have had the greatest respect for all that he has done for our industry, even when we didn’t see eye-to-eye on an issue.”

From 1976 to 1983, Phipps was the chairman and chief executive of the New York Racing Association, the owner and operator of Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga, the most prominent racing circuit in North American. Phipps also served on the boards of numerous racing organizations, including the Breeders’ Cup, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Management Committee of Equibase, and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, a charitable arm of the The Jockey Club which he was instrumental in forming.

“His accomplishments as a breeder and owner are unmatched, and we are indebted to Dinny for his numerous contributions to what is right about our game and for speaking out when we fell short,” said Craig Fravel, the chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup. “He was extraordinarily gracious and kind and a true sportsman. He will be missed.”

Among the major stakes winners bred and raced by Phipps, alone or in partnership, were the champions Rhythm, Inside Information, Storm Flag Flying, and Smuggler. Other stakes winners included Adjudicating, Awe Inspiring, Boisterous, Dancing Forever, Dispute, Duty Dance, Educated Risk, Imagining, Intrepid Hero, Majestic Light, Mining, Mr Speaker, Persistently, Pleasant Home, Point of Entry, Time for a Change, and Time Tested.

Phipps was born on Sept. 18, 1940, the son of Ogden Phipps and Lillian Bostwick Phipps, in New York City. His roots in Thoroughbred racing and breeding ran deep, stretching into the 19th century with his great-grandfather’s stable. His father, Ogden, perhaps had the most influence before him, meticulously building a broodmare band on the foundation of his own father’s holdings. Ogden Phipps’s most prominent stakes winners included the undefeated champion mare Personal Ensign and Easy Goer, the winner of the 1989 Belmont Stakes and New York’s biggest late-season handicap races.

Phipps was a benefactor of the sport’s many charities, including those run by The Jockey Club. In a release announcing his death, the Jockey Club noted that he “never hesitated to lend The Jockey Club’s support to any initiative that he felt would help the sport, particularly with regard to matters of integrity, equine welfare, and marketing.”

In October, 2014, at a meeting of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, Phipps explained his high, sustained level of involvement in all facets of the industry. “Quite simply, I see it as a way of giving back to a sport that has provided me with so much enjoyment,” he said. “That was probably passed on to me from my dad, and I try to instill that sense of responsibility and commitment in my kids.”

In keeping with a family tradition of circumspection, Phipps rarely granted interviews. While he chose his words carefully in formal settings, in private he had a quick, dry sense of humor, often self-deprecating. In 2003, he sat down to a lengthy interview with Daily Racing Form, but the piece had to be trimmed substantially because of a widespread power blackout in the Northeast that affected the publication’s printing operations.

When told the next day in his Saratoga box that the piece ran at a much shorter length than planned because of the outage, Phipps, with a cigar in his mouth, said: “Well, that breaks my heart.”

Phipps is survived by his wife of 46 years, Andrea; six children, Kayce, Kelley, Lilly, Daisy, Samantha, and Ogden; and 24 grandchildren. Daisy Phipps has taken a prominent role in managing the family’s racing and breeding operation over the past decade, and the Phipps Stable name is expected to endure.

“They want the flag to fly high the way their father and grandfather did,” McGaughey said. “Even though it’ll be a new era I’m looking forward to it.”

--additional reporting by David Grening