Sam P. Siciliano, the Pimlico Race Course publicist who during the 1970s and 1980s coordinated national media coverage of such famed Preakness Stakes winners as Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, died of heart failure Tuesday at his home in Shrewsbury, N.J. He was 89.
Mr. Siciliano was born and raised in Neptune, N.J., and graduated in 1935 from what is now Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. He began his career in the late 1930s as a sports reporter at the Asbury Park Press.
In 1942, he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to the cruiser USS San Francisco as a naval journalist. He covered the campaigns for the Philippines and Yellow Sea, and the invasion of Okinawa.
Discharged with the rank of chief petty officer in 1946, he became sports editor at the Asbury Park newspaper. Later, he was a copy editor and rewrite man for the New York-based racing paper Morning Telegraph and held reporting and editing positions with The Star Ledger in Newark, N.J., and the New York World-Telegram & Sun.
Mr. Siciliano spent a decade on the sports staff of the New York Herald Tribune until it ceased publication in 1966, then worked for Aviation Week magazine until joining Pimlico in 1971.
"Sam was a very unique and personable individual, and as far as running the press box got along well with all of the reporters," said Chick Lang, a friend and former Pimlico general manager. "But he had press box rules, and he didn't like people who were sloppy dressers. When [racing writer and oddsmaker] Clem Florio showed up wearing unbuttoned shirts and no tie, Sam would go over and talk to him about it. I thought it was kind of funny.
"One day, Sam told me that Clem threatened to throw him off the press box roof if he kept talking about his appearance. I told him to call me first because I wanted to see him fly through the air. What Sam wanted was a little sympathy, and when he didn't get it, he gave me the cold treatment for a couple of days," Mr. Lang said.
"He ruled his part of the Pimlico domain with an iron fist and had a reputation as tough to work for. But if you did things his way and worked hard, you could get along with him just fine," said Ross Peddicord, a former Evening Sun racing writer and now co-publisher of Maryland Life who was Mr. Siciliano's assistant in the early 1970s. "But underneath the tough-guy faM-gade, he really was a loving and caring guy."
Mr. Lang praised Mr. Siciliano for his award-winning press books, Preakness programs and track newspapers, and for innovations such as early-morning public workouts for Preakness horses so that people could watch while sipping coffee and eating doughnuts. "He was also very, very popular with the horsemen," he said.
Mr. Siciliano's tenure at Pimlico coincided with three Preakness runs that produced eventual Triple Crown winners: Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed, who in 1978 became the most recent horse to win the three classic races for 3-year-olds, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
"One would have to go back to the '40s to find a decade as stirring and productive in thoroughbred racing as the '70s were," Mr. Siciliano wrote in the 1980 Preakness media guide, which he edited. "Three Triple Crown Winners and five Near Misses drew the attention of the racing world in the past 10 years."
"He was a meticulous researcher and contributed quite a bit to Preakness history, which he included in his media guides," said Joseph B. Kelly, retired Washington Star racing editor and racing historian.
"After Pimlico shut down in 1889, the race was run at Gravesend Track in Brooklyn, N.Y., from 1894 until 1909, when it returned to Pimlico. Sam found the charts and records of the lost 1890 Preakness that was run at Morris Park near New York City," Kelly said.
Mr. Siciliano's book, A Century of the Triple Crown, a history of horse racing's 11 Triple Crown winners, was published in 1999.
From 1971 to 1975, Mr. Siciliano was also director of public relations and publicity at Laurel Race Course.
After leaving Pimlico in 1984, he wrote a weekly column on New Jersey thoroughbreds for the Daily Racing Form for 12 years and was a contributor to New Jersey Thoroughbred magazine. In 1985, he established SPS Inc., a Shrewsbury public relations firm. He remained active in the business until his death.
Mr. Siciliano was a former president of Turf Publicists of America and the New Jersey Sports Writers Association. He was a member of the Overseas Press Club.
He was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity in Fair Haven, N.J., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
Surviving are his wife of 48 years, the former Emilia M. D'Achille; two daughters, Carol Ann Siciliano of Falls Church, Va., and Dianne Crilly of Shrewsbury; two brothers, Joseph Siciliano of Interlaken, N.J., and Eugene J. Siciliano of West Deal, N.J.; four sisters, Angela V. Siciliano of New York City, Ann P. Siciliano of Willamette, Ill., and Frances Foster and Mary Juliano, both of Ocean, N.J.; and five grandchildren.