11/22/2007 12:00AM

Playing hardball with the family horses

EmailOCALA, Fla. - Henry Steinbrenner, better known as Hank, does not ordinarily exhibit the alpha persona that his father, George, is famous for. Hank tends to be more of a quiet man. But this should not imply that he lacks passion, because he can be as passionate as his father in matters that interest him. Those interests include helping to run the day-to-day operations of the New York Yankees, Roman history, pro soccer, and the daunting quest to breed top-class racehorses.

Two of his early racing idols were Hoist the Flag and Canonero II.

"I was 13 back in 1970, when Hoist the Flag won the champion 2-year-old title," Steinbrenner said. "A year later I was impressed with Canonero II when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Even more so when I later learned that Canonero II had two strikes against him. He was not a well made horse, and he was campaigned in less than ideal circumstances."

Steinbrenner's formative days were spent at the family home in Bay Village, Ohio, which is west of Cleveland and which provided him access to Thistledown.

"Saw Twist the Axe win the Ohio Derby, Freetex, too," Steinbrenner said.

Steinbrenner, 50, said with some exuberance that he thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of handicapping the races as a youngster; he bought a variety of racing handicapping books and magazines toward this end.

"I was studying the Daily Racing Form every chance I got, nearly as much as my schoolwork," he said.

George Steinbrenner began developing Kinsman Stud, the family's 750-acre Ocala farm and training center, in 1969. The farm is on the south side of SW 95th Avenue in Ocala, opposite Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud, on the north side of the road.

Hank Steinbrenner, along with brother Hal and sisters Jessica and Jennifer, spent many a summer at Kinsman Stud, which subsequently had a name change to Kinsman Farm.

"During my first summer at Kinsman Farm, I found out the hard way that I am allergic to horse hairs," Steinbrenner said. "So, I was never going to be able to spend much time around a stable."

Since training and farm managing were precluded by his allergy, Steinbrenner immersed himself in how-to books that dealt with Thoroughbred breeding theories.

"I read every book on breeding I could find," he said. "I read Federico Tesio's book, but I could never quite figure out what his theories meant. So I tried to determine what Tesio actually did. Near as I can figure out, he bred the best he had to the best he could afford."

Breeding the best Kinsman Farm had to the best that could be afforded has never really been an issue. Kinsman Farm has the resources to patronize any stallion for any price, but Steinbrenner said he has been motivated more by a stallion's perceived value than a stallion's fee.

Kinsman Farm has had its share of elite racehorses. The 1982 crop had two of them - Eternal Prince, winner of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, and Image of Greatness, winner of the Grade 2 San Felipe. Both owe their existence to matings arranged by Steinbrenner.

Kinsman Farm has 35 broodmares - it bought only three mares at the Keeneland sales earlier this month - and they are bought and bred with certain types of stallions in mind. Steinbrenner will tell you that he likes competitive racehorses, sound racehorses, and sires who will be outcrosses for Kinsman Farm mares. He does not like to breed mares to stallions who share immediate common ancestors.

"Don't like to go any closer to inbreeding until you get to the fourth and fifth generations," he said.

He acknowledges that the breeding business is often done in conjunction with close personal relationships. The Steinbrenner family has developed such with Will Farish and his Lane's End Farm. This relationship is responsible for the A.P. Indy colt Majestic Warrior, whose roots go back four generations to the farm's taproot broodmare Deck Stewardess. Majestic Warrior, winner of the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, is the Steinbrenner family's classic hope for 2008. The colt skipped the Breeders' Cup Juvenile because of a minor problem.

Kinsman Farm broodmares will return in '08 to the courts of A.P. Indy and his son Mineshaft, who Steinbrenner thinks will become a successful sire, and others who are undergoing Steinbrenner's scrutiny. When the time comes, it will be the best match and not the price that determines who goes where.

Other farm broodmares will stay in Florida and go to the Kinsman Farm-bred Concerto, who stands at Ocala Stud. Concerto, among Florida's leading sires, is the sire of the Kinsman Farm-owned Bellamy Road, the 2005 Wood Memorial winner.

Crown Delite, by A.P. Indy-Ms. Teak Wood, by Woodman, entered stud at Kinsman Farm toward the end of the '05 breeding season. The 8-year-old has only five registered foals from his first crop.

"He may have been the most talented horse we've bred and raised," Steinbrenner said. "He was training like a genuinely good horse and was almost ready to go to the races when he injured himself."

Hank and the rest of the Steinbrenner family, especially sister Jessica, are 100 percent business-oriented when it comes to the operation of the stable, the farm, and the breeding program.

"We are in the horse business to be successful, not to write off monies made elsewhere," Steinbrenner said. "We make decisions on what's best for the business."

This is why when the offer came from Coolmore Stud to purchase half of Majestic Warrior and leave Kinsman with control of his racing destiny, it was an offer they could not refuse.

Majestic Warrior is at Payson Park in Florida under the tutelage of trainer Bill Mott.

"He's just taking it easy," Steinbrenner said. "There was nothing wrong with him except for a minor hoof injury, which Bill says is okay now."

The plan for Majestic Warrior is a race or two before the Kentucky Derby and then see how it goes.

If Majestic Warrior lives up to expectations, does the Coolmore partnership come with an early exit to the breeding shed?

"We're in no rush to retire him," Steinbrenner said.