Vernon Heath, a Minnesota businessman who bred and owned a number of stakes winners in the name of his Centaur Farms, has died at the age of 88.
His best horse, a homebred 3-year-old Unbridled filly named Exogenous trained by Hall of Famer Scotty Schulhofer, may be best remembered for the tragic accident that claimed her life just before the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff at Belmont Park in 2001.
The Distaff was the first of the Breeders' Cup races that day, and as the field came through the tunnet and on to the main track for the post parade, something spooked Exogenous, who reared and fell backwards, striking her head violently on the dirt. Complicating matters was the fact the filly tangled a rear leg in the railings of a metal fence, with her jockey, Javier Castellano, trying to calm her as fans on the track apron and in the stands above watched in horror.
Exogenous was sedated by a veterinarian, extricated from the fence and brought back to her stall in Schulhofer's barn, but she could not be saved because of the head trauma she sustained.
Earlier that year, Exogenous had finished second in the G1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga behind 3-year-old filly, Flute, then defeated the Juddmonte Farms runner, along with older fillies and mares, in the G1 Beldame at Belmont, setting up what was to be a rematch with Flute in the Distaff. Prior to the Beldame, she won the G1 Gazelle.
Another Centaur homebred, Gottcha Gold, won the G3 Iselin at Monmouth Park for trainer Edward Plesa Jr. Heath also had a number of runners and shared ownership with trainer Merrill Scherer. His mares in Kentucky boarded at Three Chimneys and in Florida at Dudley Farm, with Ocala Stud breaking and training his young horses.
Heath was an entrepreneur in the aerospace industry who co-founded Rosemount Engineering in the 1950s. The company, now owned by Emerson Electric and headquartered in Shakooee, Minn., has an estimated 6,500 employees. Among other things, the company developed instruments used by NASA astronauts during the Apollo moon landings and also created one of the first hard-shell ski boots – a result of his interest in downhill skiing.
A generous philanthropist in the Twin Cities, Heath is survived by Iona, his wife of 58, three children – Brad (who was a partner in Centaur Farms), Robin Gray and Randall – and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
There will be a memorial service 10:00 a.m. (CDT) on Saturday, April 21, at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie, Minn. Visitation will be from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Friday at Washburn-McReavy (5000 W. 50th Street, Edina, Minn.) and also one hour prior to service at the church on Saturday. Private Interment will follow at Oak Knoll Cemetery, Princeton, Minn.
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