Owner’s legacy lives in Marengo Road

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The good news for Keeneland? They’ll have more pens this year. The bad news? They’ve lost one of their most loyal clients.

Longtime Maryland-based owner Harry Meyerhoff died Thursday, Feb. 11. He was 86.

Meyerhoff bought Hall of Famer Spectacular Bid and all his horses at Keeneland’s September sales. For five decades, it was the only place he shopped.

Mike Trombetta accompanied Meyerhoff and his son Tom to the annual yearling sale after Hall of Famer Bud Delp died in December 2006 and the Meyerhoffs transferred their horses to Trombetta, who was stabled next to Delp at Laurel Park.

“Every time he would buy a yearling, when they would bring the ticket for him to sign, he would always keep the pen. Some days, he would get them for four or five pens,” Trombetta said. “I don’t know if he was superstitious or just being funny, but every time he bought a horse, he would put that pen in his pocket and send the guy away without his pen.”

Trombetta and the Meyerhoffs met at Keeneland every year. Staying at the same hotel for four or five days, the Meyerhoffs scoured the pedigrees – only colts – and then Tom Meyerhoff and Trombetta inspected the horses. By the end, they would secure anywhere from six to 12 yearlings. That’s it, that was their roster – one-shop stopping.

“He really enjoyed going down there and trying to get these horses bought,” Trombetta said.

In 2014, Meyerhoff secured a yearling colt by Quality Road for $120,000, kept the pen and 17 months later Marengo Road earned his first stakes win, taking Monday’s Miracle Wood at Laurel Park, four days after Meyerhoff died.

“He’s one of those in-between horses. He’s proven he’s a stake-caliber horse and the hope is he’ll take us to something big, we’ll give him every chance to take us there and see what he does,” Trombetta said. “It was bittersweet, I never gave it any thought of how it would feel, but shortly after he won, it hit me, ‘Wow, he’s not here any more.’ I wish he could have at least seen this one win, the stakes wins are special. It’s always good to win, but the stakes wins are that much more special.”

Winning for the third time and securing his first stakes win in his eight-race career, Marengo Road turned back two-time stakes winner Never Gone South and the previously undefeated Charmed Victory in the 1-mile Miracle Wood. Trombetta will try to temper his enthusiasm while he considers the Private Terms and Federico Tesio down the road.

“It is a day-to-day thing but you have to make plans for the future and hope they can get you there,” Trombetta said. “We all know in this business, the surprises are always right around the corner, I think that’s what intrigues us all and what makes us all do it.”

Harry Meyerhoff was certainly intrigued by the Thoroughbred business. Born in Baltimore and a graduate of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Lehigh University, Meyerhoff and his brother, Robert (who has horses with Trombetta as well), worked in the family real estate business and started buying racehorses in the 1960s.

Harry and Tom Meyerhoff rode the Spectacular Bid wave through a win in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and a debacle in the Belmont Stakes. Whatever they learned then, continues today.

“They’re the best, they’ve been through it all, they’ve seen it all, there aren’t any surprises, they take good news and bad news equally, they just roll with everything that comes down the line, it’s nothing more than seasoning can bring, they’ve experienced the business,” Trombetta said, in the present tense. “Early on, Tom drove down to Delaware Park to watch a horse run. Ramon Dominguez was riding the horse, we went in the paddock, saddled the horse, the horse went out on the racetrack, we walked through the grandstand, we walked outside, the horse went out, wheeled, dropped Dominguez, ran off and got scratched. Tom said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll see you later,’ and turned around and drove back to New York. They took everything as it came at them.”

Including the pens.