The name Rooney is synonymous with sports — and, in New York specifically, harness racing.
But with the sale of Yonkers Raceway to MGM Resorts, Saturday will mark the last major stakes race contested under the guidance of track president and CEO Timothy J. Rooney, who looks to go out with a bang.
“We have the best International this year, I think, going all the way back to Roosevelt [Raceway, former home of the race] in the heyday of it,” Rooney said of the $1 million Yonkers International Trot, the feature on Saturday’s 12-race card.
The 10-horse field of older trotters, representing seven countries, includes Triple Crown champion Marion Marauder, representing Canada, Prix d’Amerique winner Up And Quick of France and Italy’s Ringostarr Treb, winner of the Elitlopp.
The Rooney family, known primarily for owning the NFL’s Steelers, bought Yonkers in 1972, and during his time at the helm, Rooney has worked hard to keep the track one of the best in the country.
In 2014, Yonkers started simulcasting races to France, and in 2016 began to commingle pools on those races. Rooney explained that including the French-bet monies in the pool provided much higher payouts to Yonkers bettors.
With MGM set to take over in January, Rooney reminisced about all the times he spent at the track with his dad, Art, known as “The Chief.”
“Every time he’d come to the track I’d take him for a walk around the whole place,’’ Rooney said. “He was always interested in the people there and he wanted to talk to them, and if they smoked, he’d be giving them one of his cigars.”
Much like his dad, Rooney enjoyed going to work every day. But, at 81, he has chosen to let MGM bring Yonkers into the future with the possibility of full casino gaming in 2022.
He does so with a heavy heart.
“I’ve always been busy working, and now I have to figure out what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll become a good golfer,” he said with a laugh.
Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, has worked with Rooney since the family bought the track, and although he is looking forward to developing a relationship with MGM, he will miss negotiating with Rooney.
“I found him to be a man of his word and a man who really likes the sport and doesn’t stand up and brag about himself or what he’s doing,’’ Faraldo said.
“There’s a lot of things he does that nobody ever even knows about, which are just an example of the type of man he is, and I think it comes from his dad and his family.
“His word was better than what most people put in writing.”