04/23/2006 11:00PM

Steve Stavro, 78, dies; raced Canadian stars

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Steve Stavro, a highly successful owner and breeder based in Ontario, died early Monday at age 78.

Stavro's death apparently was the result of a heart attack.

Stavro, under the name Knob Hill Stable, campaigned six Canadian champions and more than 50 stakes winners.

His most prominent runners were Benburb and Thornfield, homebreds who both were Canadian horses of the year.

Benburb was honored in 1992, when he also was voted Canada's champion 3-year-old after winning the Grade 2 Molson Export Million. Stavro took home Sovereign Awards in both the owner and breeder categories that year.

Thornfield was honored in 1999, when he also was Canada's champion turf horse after winning the Grade 1 Canadian International.

Knob Hill's other Sovereign Award winners were Apelia (sprinter, 1993); Bold Debra (broodmare, 1993); Saiorse (older filly or mare, 2000); and Chopinina (turf filly or mare, 2002).

Stavro also campaigned Grade 1 winner Granacus, who won Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes in 1988.

Stavro, who was born in Macedonia and came to Canada in the mid-1930's, was highly successful in the business world after founding Knob Hill Farms, a now-defunct grocery chain.

Stavro became the controlling shareholder in the National Hockey League's Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1990's and became chairman of the board of parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment in 1991. He sold his stake in the company, which by then also included the National Basketball Association's Toronto Raptors, in 2003.