Remembering my beau-frère Geoff Stein

by Murray Brown

My beau-frère (French for brother in law) Geoffrey Stein would have been 67 last Sunday.

He passed before his 59th birthday on March 4, 2012.

It was a grievous loss to everyone who was privileged to have known him.

What made it so unsettling was that Geoff was the picture of health. Nobody that I’ve ever known lived such a health conscious life.

He didn’t eat meat or dairy throughout his adult life. He exercised by running, every single day. It was while running, that he succumbed to a fatal heart attack.

The irony of this is that, rare was the day when he didn’t try to help me by urging me to watch my eating habits and get more exercise.

He would say to me “You’ve got a lot to live for. You need to take better care of yourself.”

I always agreed with him, but rarely followed his advice.

There are very few people that I’ve known, who I’ve never heard anyone say an unkind word about.

Geoff Stein was such a person.

He started out in our business as I and many others have — he liked to bet on the horses.

For him, his choice venues were Foxboro and Rockingham Park, both now sadly gone.

As a student at Brandeis University, he, the late Charlie Singer, the soon to be Dr. Richard Gordon and others would frequent any harness track they could find.

When he graduated from school, Geoff secured a job at Sports Eye, in part, thanks to his friendship with Bob Marks.

From there, he began putting horse partnership groups together. These groups consisted mostly of relatives and friends and friends of relatives and friends. Among the horses that he purchased for his groups was the Sheppard winner Simcoe Hanover and the world champion filly Razzle Hanover.

However, those were mostly the exceptions.

At its genesis, Geoff’s emphasis was on overnight racehorses which his groups would come to see, bet and root on mostly at Yonkers and Roosevelt.

Little did I know that one of those involved in his groups was my future wife, his sister, Carol.

In 1984, Geoffrey, together with Hal Jones, was asked to do an appraisal of the broodmares owned by Boardwalk Associates which were resident at Saratoga Standardbreds in Saratoga Springs, NY.

While there, the person showing them the mares was a young man recently graduated from Morrisville State College named David Reid.

A little while later, Geoff was asked by Saratoga Standardbred’s CEO John Signorelli to head their sales division called Preferred Equine.

Geoffrey felt that he was quite capable of handling the work involved in attracting business in the form of horses and consignors, but he lacked any talent in the physical nuts and bolts of the business.

He was much like me, if he looked at a screwdriver, he began to bleed.

He thought of the young man who had been his guide. He asked Mr. Signorelli if he could co-op Reid from Saratoga Standardbred into its sales division.

Thus began the partnership that was to become arguably the biggest sales entity that our business has ever known.

Geoff was the ideal Mr. Outside, where David became Mr. Inside.

Within a short period of time, Saratoga Standardbred was disbanded, but its sales division remained under the ownership and partnership of Stein and Reid.

They quickly realized that their roles in the business should not be restricted to representing people at horse sales. They branched out to stallion management, managing horse sales and becoming active in just about everything related to the business.

In late 1992, Geoff and Dave negotiated the acquisition of Phil Tully’s Garden State Horse Sales Company for the owners of Standardbred Horse Sales Company and served as sales managers of that entity until 1999, while conducting sales at The Meadowlands and Showplace Farm.

Geoff had a multitude of friends and contacts in the business, but none more important or closer than Sonny Antonacci and his sons Frank and Gerry.

Sonny had seen a 2-year-old Speedy Crown filly who’s ability and pedigree impressed him greatly. He contacted Geoff and proposed that they try to buy her.

Sonny knew that she was already very good, but he felt that she had the potential to become great.

Negotiations began late in her 2-year-old season. However, a deal was not reached.

In the Spring of 1996, conversations began again between the ownership of Moni Maker and Geoffrey acting on behalf of a partnership of Lindy Farms (the Antonacci Family), Paul & Antoinette Nigito, Harvey Gold as well as Geoff and David.

Please allow me to interject a personal memory. Geoff Stein was perhaps the greatest salesman I’ve ever known. His talent was very much of the soft sell variety. There was nothing at all pushy about his methods.

Geoff, Frank Antonacci and I were in Paris to see Moni Maker race in the Prix d’Amerique. It was the Saturday evening before the race. We were hungry. We hadn’t yet had dinner. I suggested that we go to Willi’s Wine Bar, a place that was not only noted for its good wines, but also has a terrific bistro type restaurant. We asked the bartender for a menu. He says “I am sorry monsieur. The restaurant is closed. We close at 10 p.m.” It was about 10 minutes past that time. I don’t know how Geoff knew, but it turned out that the chef was at the bar relaxing and having a glass of wine after a hot day behind the stoves. Geoff approached him and somehow convinced him to open his now closed kitchen and prepare dinner for us. It turned out to be a wonderful meal. I still smile broadly every time I think of it.

An agreement to buy Moni Maker was reached just prior to the Hambletonian Oaks.

The game plan from the deal’s inception was for the new group to own Moni Maker together with her previous owners until the end of her 3-year-old season with Bill Andrews remaining as her trainer and Wally Hennessey doing the driving.

Her first of numerous Classics wins was the Hambletonian Oaks, the same year that Continentalvictory won the Hambletonian in defeating the boys.

It was Ladies Day at The Meadowlands.
Moni Maker would end the season winning 19 of her 20 starts.

Following her 3-year-old season, per the agreement previously reached, the management and ownership of the filly would be turned entirely over to the new group.

Sonny, gave her to Jimmy Takter to train as previously planned, with Jimmy and Geoff managing her racing career thenceforth.

Thus began a larger than life wild world tour with which I was a privileged spectator enjoying every minute of it.

The Moni Maker entourage made trips to France, Italy, Sweden and Denmark to cheer this great mare on to wins in most of Europe’s Classic races, including the Prix d’Amerique and the Elitloppet, arguably two of the three most important trotting races in the world.

In the interim, Geoff and David, together with my dear friend Randy Manges, became managers of the Lexington Selected Yearling Sale, a merging of the two previously existing Kentucky yearling sales.

Geoff was on top of the world, he had a thriving business, a great family, his wife Ann, sons Joey, Mike and Jordan and daughter Holly.
I often think of how proud he would be of those that were left behind.

Then came that fateful Sunday in early March 2012 when we received a call from a near hysterical Holly telling us the horrible news. Geoff had died while running in one of his favorite places on earth, the Rockefeller State Park preserve in Mount Pleasant, NY.

The lesson to be learned from all this — aside from only the good die young — is that life is fleeting.

Hug those that you love at every opportunity. You never know how long they will be with you.

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