Rosenberg gets to heart of this Preakness matter

Ken Rosenthal

May 15, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

The track kitchen at Pimlico is tucked inside a rickety building with peeling yellow paint. One sign warns, "No shoes, no shirt, no service." Another says, "Please clean up after yourself. Your mother doesn't work here."

It is the last place you would expect to find one of the wealthiest men in Baltimore, but there Henry Rosenberg was early Wednesday morning, quietly mingling with horsemen of all shapes and sizes.

Rosenberg, 62, is chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Crown Central Petroleum Corp. He also is the owner of the hometown entry in tomorrow's 117th Preakness, a 30-1 long shot named Dash For Dotty.

The horse is clearly overmatched, but local sports fans, here's your dream owner. You'd sooner see Eli Jacobs sign Cal Ripken than dine at a place where the most expensive breakfast item is two eggs and scrapple for $2.65.

Rosenberg is different. If he was only interested in money, he would have run Dash For Dotty in a lesser 3-year-old stake. And if he was only interested in Preakness glory, he would have hired a jockey other than Tommy Turner.

The thing is, Rosenberg has a heart. The way he sees it, he might never get another chance to compete in his hometown's biggest race. As for Turner, well, most of the big-name jockeys were taken, so why not give the local kid a shot?

It's the kind of romantic thinking that makes horse racing so moving, so special, so unique. Rosenberg is an oilman, not a romantic, but he sits on the boards of enough charity organizations to understand what it is to dream.

Everyone loves this guy, from his Maryland-based trainer, Bill Donovan, to the Pimlico president, Joe De Francis. Everyone loved his mother Ruth, too, and the one sad fact is, she isn't here to share in the fun.

Ruth Rosenberg died April 3 at the age of 92. She was the true racing buff in the family, a woman Donovan recalls "coming right to the barn, petting those horses, feeding 'em carrots." A woman he says was "a lady and a half."

It was Ruth who got Henry interested in all this. Her friend Don Levinson owned the best horse Donovan ever trained, Lost Code. Levinson convinced her to buy her first horse six years ago. Why not try a new hobby? She was only 86.

Anyway, that was the start of Rainbow Stable, which is now operated by Henry and his son Ned. Dash For Dotty, a $15,000 purchase, is named for Henry's wife. A gelding out of Badger Land, his career earnings are a modest $96,930.

Henry Rosenberg enjoys the diversion, but unlike many owners, keeps it in perspective. Sitting with Donovan in the track kitchen Wednesday, he mostly studied his morning paper. "I never hear from him," Donovan says, sounding almost glum.

"He's the nicest man you'd ever want to meet -- I mean, just a class act," Donovan explains. "Henry is a gentleman, as down to earth a man as I've known. He doesn't intimidate a soul."

Rosenberg takes the same approach with Donovan as he does with Crown -- "If you've got quality people, go for it, let everyone work, don't interfere." But the fact is, he doesn't have the time to be calling Donovan three times a day.

After breakfast Wednesday, he rushed out of Pimlico to catch a plane for Cincinnati, where the Boy Scouts' national board of directors was convening. He attended the Triple Crown Ball in Baltimore last night, but planned to return to Cincinnati once more before tomorrow's big race.

"He never says no. He doesn't know the meaning of the word," says De Francis, a friend of Rosenberg. "I literally can not find enough superlatives to say about Henry. He's unbelievable."

How can you not root for this guy? Turner, the 25-year-old jockey, admits, "There are 20 top riders he could have gotten for this horse." But Turner knows the horse, knows the track. Rosenberg notes he's "coming along real well." Why not take a shot?

The horse finished ninth in the Bluegrass Stakes with Eddie Delahoussaye -- wearing blinkers suggested by his previous jock, Craig Perret. Turner last rode him in October 1991, but Donovan says the choice "tickles me to death. It's a break for the kid, a helluva break."

Now if only Dash For Dotty can win for Rosenberg's late mother. "She would have been excited," Henry says. "She would have loved to have been involved." But Ruth never truly enjoyed Dash For Dotty. She had been failing for more than a year.

"It was a devastating loss for him -- they were very, very close," De Francis says. "Henry certainly deserves to have something bring a little sunshine into his life at this time. We're going to be pulling for him."

He's your dream owner.

He has a heart.

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