06/10/2010 11:00PM

Siegel keeps eye on next generation


There are a few tried and true philosophies that have served Mace Siegel well through the years, in business and horse racing. Surround yourself with smart people. Take control of the meeting. Breed the best to the best and hope for a miracle. And above all, savor the good times but always be prepared for something less.

So it will be Saturday, when Siegel and his daughter, Samantha, will awaken out West, warily hopeful that Arson Squad, winner of the recent Alysheba Stakes, will be able to run that race right back against favored Blame in the $600,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, and that Rail Trip, the best older male on the grounds, will walk his beat later in the day in the $150,000 Californian at Hollywood Park.

If they come through, Mace Siegel will be happy to let Samantha take the bows.

"Sam is the racing manager," Siegel said. "She runs the operation, communicates with the trainers, handles all the details. I'm the money, although I am happy to offer the advice of my experience. About ninety-eight percent of the time, however, that advice is not taken."

Siegel's deadpan delivery was followed in short order by a Dutch uncle smile. The idea that Samantha Siegel would have anyone but her father as stable consiglieri is nothing short of nuts, given his more than 40 years of hard knocks and occasional triumphs as an owner, most of it in partnership with his late wife, Jan. She might have been named for a Cole Porter song, but Samantha's DNA was stamped "racetracker" from birth.

"I regret to say that we didn't take Samantha to the races until she was 3," Siegel said. "When we went to the backstretch to see our horses, we had to sneak Sam through the gates lying on the floor of the car. That was crazy, especially since the greatest part of racing is the morning at the racetrack, so full of the charm and the beauty of the game."

The Siegels' Jay Em Ess stable has been on a pretty good roll lately, with Rail Trip and Arson Squad leading the way, along with Black-Eyed Susan winner Acting Happy and the emerging middle distance grass horse Megastar.

Rail Trip is 5 and speaks for himself, especially during his recent training.

"Look at him, doing his Ghostzapper impression," said a knowing railbird as he watched a rippling fit Rail Trip prance around the Hollywood paddock last weekend.

As for Arson Squad, he seems well recovered from his journey last year to Dubai and could be in for a splashy 7-year-old campaign.

"You should have seen him come into the paddock for the Alysheba," Samantha said. "It was Oaks day, so there was a big crowd. He stopped and just stood there looking around, like he was saying, 'I know you all came to see me.' "

This is all good fun, and neither is it a new development. Through the years the Siegel family has campaigned such major stakes winners as Urbane, Love of Money, Suave, Miss Iron Smoke, Ramblin Guy, Prospectors Gamble, and champion Declan's Moon.

Mace Siegel has broader concerns these days, though, freighting his every racing thought. He will be 85 on Sept. 1, and for him it is time to do something about the game that Samantha and the rest of the next generation of participants will inherit. In this spirit, Siegel holds certain truths to be not only self-evident but badly in need of application.

"Racing has fallen from the Garden of Eden, and we have to take the game back," Siegel said. "By 'we' I mean all the people who make it go. The racetracks have to be owned by the industry itself, and there should be a sign on the door: 'Don't come in this game unless you love the horse.' "

The topic is very much on minds right now, especially in California, where the stability of the non-profit Oak Tree meet, traditionally held at Santa Anita, is under siege. The Canadian company MI Developments, which emerged as the owners of Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields after the bankruptcy of its sister company, Magna Entertainment, has alienated a healthy segment of the racing community with statements like, "We understand the history and everything else, but you've got to do what's in the best interest of our shareholders," coming from Dennis Mills, its CEO.

"There's no room in the game for shareholders," said Siegel, who was among the founding fathers of the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

"The nature of the game is non-profit, and everyone has to feel like they own it. From the backers with the money to the horseplayers and fans - everybody's got to feel uplifted just by being a part of the game."

Siegel hopes to do what he can to hasten the eventual departure of the public companies from the racetrack ownership business. Those companies would be replaced by a foundation structure - funded by people who could afford it along with other creative sources - that in turn provides first-class venues for the vigorous pursuit of such all-American, profit-oriented activities as racing for prize money and gambling on the results.

It won't be easy, Siegel conceded, and it may get worse before it gets bad enough to get better. But he sees plenty of evidence to support his position.

"Horse people are more charitable than any other group of people I know," Siegel said. "If given an opportunity to start fresh, racing can flourish. I just want to leave my daughter with a game as beautiful as I know it can be."