RIP, Mace Siegel: philanthropist, leading owner, racing advocate

by | 10.26.2011 | 9:04pm
Samantha Siegel with her late father, Mace Siegel, a founding member of the TOC.

The California Thoroughbred industry lost one of its true giants on Wednesday with the passing of Mace Siegel, who with his late wife Jan and daughter Samantha campaigned a host of stakes winners over the last 35 years, including 2004 Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male Declan's Moon. Siegel was 86 years old.

Samantha Siegel published a note on her Twitter account (@jayemesssam) that said: “Heartbroken, my dad, my rock is gone. He died at home at peace today.”

While the familiar green and blue silks of the Siegel family won major races throughout the country, it was in California where Mace Siegel made his mark, not just on the racetrack, but through his philanthropy and as an advocate for Thoroughbred owners and for the game in general.

We'll never know how many people and organizations Mace Siegel helped, either through his financial generosity or moral support, but the number is substantial.

“He is one of the most generous individuals you could ever meet,” said Drew Couto, who worked closely with Siegel as executive director of Thoroughbred Owners of California and later as president when Siegel and the late Ed Friendly were the driving forces behind the formation of the owners organization in 1995. 

“He loved the game and so many of the people in it. If something bad happened to someone, Mace was behind the scenes trying to help and care for them. That's the side of Mace Siegel that many people don't know,” Couto added.

When the California Retirement Management Account (CARMA) was just getting started in 2008, Siegel stood up at a fundraiser and pledged $200,000, then challenged other industry participants to show their support for racehorse retirement programs. In 2008, he and daughter Samantha were honored by the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation for their industry leadership and charitable giving. Earlier this year, Siegel pledged $1.5 million to the City of Hope in Duarte, Calif., to endow a professorship. He and wife Jan were longtime supporters of the City of Hope, a leading research, treatment and education center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. A wing of the hospital is named in honor of Jan Siegel, who died from cancer in 2002.

Born Sept. 1, 1925, in Jersey City, N.J., Mace Siegel studied at the Columbia School of Business and in 1964 founded Macerich Company, a developer of shopping malls, The company was originally headquartered in Ames, Iowa, but moved to Santa Monica, Calif., some 30 years ago. The Siegel family settled in Beverly Hills and became fixtures on the Southern California racing circuit. Jan was as enthusiastic about racing as her husband. A former big-band singer, the two met on a blind date at Aqueduct racetrack in New York in 1962, married a short time later and were inseparable for the next 40 years. They were competitive, each with their own stable for some time before deciding to put all the horses under Jan, Mace, and Samantha Siegel. After Jan's death, the stable name was changed to Jay Em Ess (after Jan, Mace, and Samantha).

Samantha (named after the Cole Porter song “I Love You, Samantha,” sung by Bing Crosby in the 1956 movie “High Society”) has taken on an increasingly bigger role running the stable over the last two decades. Mace Siegel is also survived by a son, Evan, who has not been involved in racing, and a granddaughter, Riley.

The Siegels were known for savvy buying habits at auctions of yearlings and 2-year-olds in training, putting athleticism and conformation ahead of pedigree. They focused on prices in the $75,000 to $200,000 price range, often competing with pinhookers at yearling sales rather than the high-end yearling buyers. They bought their first horse, named Najecam (Mace-Jan backwards), in 1964 at Timonium, a venue they've continued to support over the years.

The Siegels' long list of stakes winners includes such horses as Urbane, Arson Squad, I Ain't Bluffing, Latin Dancer, I Believe In You, Hedonist, Suave, Stormy But Valid, Boys At Tosconova, and Rail Trip. In 1999 at Gulfstream Park on the day before the Breeders' Cup, the Siegels swept three $100,000 stakes on the program.

They've employed a handful of trainers over the years, including John Tammaro, John Russell, Eddie Gregson, Bruce Headley, Brian Mayberry, Anthony Dutrow, Rick Dutrow, Paul McGee, and Ron Ellis, the latter training first for Jan Siegel and then for Mace over the last three decades.

“As an owner, I can absolutely say no one understood the game better than Mace,” said Ellis, “and he's passed that on to Sam.

“There is not a more understanding person, either,” said Ellis. “Sure, he would get disappointed when things would go wrong, but his catch phrase was 'that's the game.' He'd shrug it off and say, 'What do we have going good?'”

Couto echoed the comments about Siegel's knowledge of the business side of racing, from simulcast contracts to training costs.

“Mace studied the issues, and really understood the business side of racing,” Couto said. “He took time to look at the issues and understand each of the different interests and what was driving them. From an owner's standpoint, he thought it was important to know what was motivating others, and then be able to work with them.

“More than anything else, he just loved racing – everything about the business. He could be intimidating to people with his gruff, gravelly voice, but he really cared for the people in the game,” Couto said. “We've lost one of the great characters and the most likable person you'll ever meet.”

“Beyond the guy who was a horse owner,” said Ellis. “I couldn't respect anybody more than I respected Mace Siegel. He was the wisest and most generous guy I'll ever know.”

Details on funeral or memorial services are pending.

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