02/23/2007 1:00AM

Rockingham's man of intelligence


Max C. Hugel, an owner-breeder and one the owners of New Hampshire's Rockingham Park, died at his Ocala home this past Wednesday at the age of 81. The cause of death was cancer.

Hugel's life reads like a Horatio Alger tale. He was born in New York City of European immigrants and never knowing his father, who died while Hugel's mother was pregnant with him.

"I wasn't born with a silver spoon," he told me. "I don't think we had any spoons."

Max joined the Army, graduated from officer's candidate school, and after learning the Japanese language and culture at the University of Michigan, he was subsequently stationed in Japan, where he was attached to Army intelligence. It was in Japan that he began to network in the political and business worlds, even gaining contacts in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency.

While in Japan, he laid the groundwork for the American branch of Brother International, a burgeoning manufacturer and supplier of office equipment. He became its president and CEO upon his discharge from the Army.

In 1981, the CIA chief Bill Casey recruited Hugel for the job of the deputy director for operations. Hugel, since his Army days, had come a long way, becoming a successful businessman with important political connections.

In 1980, rickety Rockingham Park burned to the ground. New England's first track, it was built by the legendary gambler John "Bet-a-Million" Gates in 1906. Hugel, who looked upon Rockingham as a real estate venture, partnered with Thomas Carney, Joseph Carney Jr. and Edward Keelan and bought the property in 1983. A year later Rockingham Park reopened under this partnership. Hugel was chairman of the board.

Hugel was an ebullient horse racing aficionado. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to see one of his homebreds race. The best horse he ever bred, the millionaire graded stakes winner Proud Man, was sold at public auction for $10,000.

"Don't ask me why I sold him," Hugel said after Proud Man had won the Grade 3 Everglades Stakes in the spring of 2001. "It was just one of those things, but I'm glad he turned out well. You know I still have [his sire] Manlove and the dam."

Hugel also developed Field of Dreams Farm in Ocala, and he stood Manlove in Florida and New York.

Hugel had slowed down in recent years. He was playing less golf, and his appearances at racetracks, except for summers at Rockingham Park, had almost ceased. Until two years ago, Hugel kept a few horses in training with Vinny Blengs. His homebred graded stakes winner Gal o' Gal was a catalyst for his continued interest in racing. Last week a sister to Gal o' Gal, trained by Blengs, shipped to Tampa Bay Downs where she finished fourth. The hope was that Hugel could make the trip to Tampa when she ran again.

Hugel is survived by his wife, Diane, 4 children and 10 grandchildren. Hugel is to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.