Prominent New York owner and breeder Michael Watral, whose Dixie Brass won the 1992 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) as a 3-year-old, died Sept. 17 at 87.
Watral paid $40,000 for Dixie Brass at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's 1991 March sale of 2-year-olds in training. In addition to winning the Met Mile, the Dennis Brida-trained colt also won the Withers (gr. II) for 3-year-olds and broke Dr. Fager's 25-year-old stakes mark with a clocking of 1:33.71 for the mile, a record broken a year later by Williamstown.
Watral retained ownership of Dixie Brass, who won $631,563 in his racing career, at stud. Dixie Brass stood for five years in Kentucky and four more in New York before his death in 2002 and has sired 34 stakes winners, including the New York-bred Beautiful America ($523,927) and Princess Dixie ($513,289).
Watral, of Central Islip, Long Island, was the son of a Polish immigrant who came to the United States to buy a horse and never left. In 1935 the teenaged Michael Watral acquired a dairy farm on Long Island, but he sold his cows about a dozen years later and went into the construction business while still maintaining a dairy business until 1960. He also joined the Central Islip Fire Department, of which he was a member for 40 years, rising to the positions of chief and commissioner. Watral founded Watral & Sons Excavating, which his four sons joined when they got out of school. In the mid-1980s the former firefighter began racing horses.
Watral is survived by sons Michael, Paul, John and Thomas and by daughters Anne Bedard, Mary Amico, and Jean, plus 16 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.