timothy j. rooney
Timothy J. Rooney, born August 8, 1937 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylania, has greatly influenced the Standardbred sport over the past three and a half decades as president of one of harness racing’s most successful tracks as well as being a prominent owner and breeder. Rooney graduated from Duquesne University in 1961 with a degree in finance and spent the next ten years working for the Pittsburgh investment banking house Chaplin, McGuiness & Company, an associate member of the New York Stock Exchange and the American Stock Exchange.
In 1972 the Rooney family purchased Yonkers Raceway, located in Westchester County, New York, from members of the Tananbaum family for $52 million, a record-breaking price for a private racetrack. The Rooneys demonstrated their confidence in Tim by naming him the new president of the corporation. The early years of this venture were marked with great success as crowds of 20,000 fans would flock to the track each night to witness exciting races and the greatest stars of harness racing. Among the prestigious races that Yonkers has hosted over the years are the Hopeful Series, the Hudson Filly Trot, the International Trot, the Lady Maud, the George Morton Levy Series, the Lismore Pace (previously named the Rose of Tralee), the Messenger Stakes, the Night of Champions, the Art Rooney Pace, and the Yonkers Trot.
Rooney added to the track’s success by constantly striving to improve the harness racing experience for his guests. In 1973 Yonkers installed an innovative, in-house color television system with videotape replay. In 1982 the clubhouse was refurbished and three new restaurant/pub facilities were added. Two years later the Empire Terrace Dining Room was renovated and 125 television sets, approximately one set for every table, were added. Safety and improved racing conditions were also priorities that led to the installation of a hubless rail in 1990 and the elongation of the homestretch in 1996, which allowed horses with outside post positions more opportunity to leave the gate and for more closers to get into the action.
Rooney was a key figure in establishing the Greater Westchester County Fair and Exposition at the track in 1981. His vision, creativity and drive provided an innovative promotional vehicle to draw the interest of members of the local community to the sport. It was the first time in more than thirty years that an old-time, traditional fair had been held in the New York metropolitan area. Its popularity grew and, as planned, the attendance and handle at the track increased. Here it was, the same trappings, tents, lights, and rides found at a county fair, together with their traditional partner of harness racing, all taking place on the historic grounds of the Empire City Track. The fair provided the surrounding community with a range of attractions for twenty-two seasons, closing its gates for the last time in 2002.
By the late 1980s Yonkers’ attendance began to decline steadily as new Off-Track Betting Systems and casinos opened in nearby New Jersey and Connecticut and the New York state lottery became increasingly popular. By the mid-2000s the track’s turnout had reached its lowest; where crowds of thousands once filled the grandstand now only a few hundred speckled it. Rooney knew that something drastic had to be done to save the track from the fate of the legendary Roosevelt Raceway. In 2005 it was decided that the track would close in order to accommodate a massive renovation that would include the installation of numerous video lottery terminals. In the fall of 2006 a new era began for the track when the Empire City Racino at Yonkers Raceway opened, boasting 5,300 video terminals, a restructured and resurfaced track and increased purses. The new racino immediately helped to reenergize the track and to stimulate the surrounding economy by providing over 1,000 new jobs and contributing an impressive $500 million to New York State education. The racino continues to greatly benefit Yonkers and the industry by exposing tens of thousands of people to the track’s five-night race program each week.
Rooney has been successful in translating his business savvy from the track to the breeding industry. For more than forty years he has served as the business manager of his family’s Shamrock Farms in Woodbine, Maryland, which is one of the oldest horse breeding farms in the state. He was the breeder and owner of Immortal Lismore p,3,T1:57.2 ($150,309), sired by Immortal Albatross p,4,1:54.3f ($1.201 million). She is the dam of millionaire Albert Albert p,3,1:52.1 ($1.237 million) and 2007 Broodmare of the Year Lisheen p,3,1:52.3 ($518,405), dam of Lis Mara p,4,1:47.3 ($2.141 million) and Lislea p,3, Q1:52.3 ($28,849) a stallion who, with only nine lifetime starts, has shown talent as the sire of stakes winners, including Rooney-owned-and-bred Lislea Phia p,4,1:50.2f ($532,450). Lismore produced nineteen registered foals and seventeen starters whose earnings to date have totaled $4.1 million. Rooney is also the breeder of BG’s Bunny p,3,1:54 ($215,192), whose career at stud from 1978 to 1992 boasts 1,681 registered foals and 1,406 starters with combined earnings of $51.5 million.
Rooney currently serves as a director of the USTA. He is also active outside of the sport, serving as president of Delta Electric, a Westchester County electrical contracting corporation. Rooney has an interest in a Thoroughbred stud farm located in County Kildare, Ireland and serves as vice president of the Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida. Until 2009 he served as a partial owner of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, along with his four brothers.
Rooney’s dedication to both the Standardbred industry and to his community has been acknowledged many times. He received Man of the Year awards from the New York City chapter of USHWA in 1979 and the Standardbred Owners Association of New York in 1997. He was honored with the Terence Cardinal Cooke Award at the 1997 NYC Catholic Youth Organization Annual Club of Champions Dinner. In 1999 he was inducted into the Westchester Sports Hall of Fame. In 2007 Rooney was elected Man of the Half Century and Man of the Year by the New York City chapter of USHWA in honor of its fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
A proud preserver of his cultural heritage, Rooney has been the recipient of many awards for his support of the American Irish community. The United Irish Counties Association of New York acknowledged his work in 1975. He received the Founders Award in 1977 from the American Irish of Westchester for his “commitment to the concern of Ireland and the American Irish.” In 1978 he was honored with the Irishman of the Year Award by the Police Emerald Society of Westchester. In 2004 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Knights of Saint Patrick. A crowning achievement for Rooney was serving as the Grand Marshall of the 2006 St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, .
Tim Rooney and his wife, June, currently reside in Palm Beach, Florida. He is the father of five children, Kathleen (Chris Mara), Margaret (Bob Galterio), Tim Jr., Bridget (Bill Koch), and Cara (Dean Moore). He has eighteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.