Calder Racing Secretary Umphrey Dies at Age 53

Calder Racing Secretary Umphrey Dies at Age 53
Photo: Calder
Bob Umphrey, left, who died Monday, makes the Calder "Barn of the Month" presentation to trainer Barry Croft on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005.
Edited Calder press release
Calder Racing secretary Bob Umphrey passed away Monday from complications of a massive heart attack and stroke he suffered Sunday. He died at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Fla. at 7 p.m. Umphrey, 53, is survived by his wife Janet.

Born on October 9, 1952 in Portland, Maine, Umphrey considered himself a South Florida native, having been raised in Hallandale about a mile from Gulfstream Park. He graduated from Chaminade High School in 1970 and from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in marketing. He spent many summers working in stable areas for his father, trainer Gene Umphrey, and after college was the stable foreman for trainer Budd Lepman before becoming the claims clerk at Gulfstream Park in 1975.

Umphrey worked in various capacities at Gulfstream, Atlantic City and Hialeah Park from 1976 through 1980 and then was named racing secretary at Laurel Park in 1981. He also served in that capacity at Timonium in 1981 and at Arlington Park in 1982.

In 1983, Umphrey moved to California to work for three years at Hollywood Park, where he also served as the racing secretary for the inaugural Breeders' Cup in 1984. The popular executive then settled down in the San Francisco Bay area to be racing secretary at Golden Gate Fields from 1987 to 1993. It is also where he met his wife.

Umphrey was then offered the opportunity to return to Florida when longtime South Florida racing secretary Terry Meyocks left Calder and Gulfstream to work for the New York Racing Association. Since his arrival in 1993, Umphrey continually strived to introduce new racing events and to attract horsemen from across the country to compete at Calder.

Along with his vast knowledge of racing, Umphrey had a unique and friendly personality that enabled him to change perceptions that many horsemen outside of the state had of Calder. Many trainers believed that shipping into the tropics bothered horses and that Calder was just a track for 2-year-olds.

Umphrey worked closely with Calder president Ken Dunn and vice president/director of marketing Mike Cronin in developing specially packaged racing days. In 1994, the team introduced the "June Jam," an event that evolved over the years into what is now known as the "Summit of Speed."

That summer, Umphrey convinced west coast trainers Gary Jones and Ron McAnally and others to ship their horses across the country to compete in sprint stakes at Calder. It was the beginning of a new era of Thoroughbred sport at Calder, when horses from all over the country would come to Miami not only in the winter, but also in the middle of the summer season.

Umphrey, too, would travel far and wide to spread the word about the racing program at Calder. The "Summit of Speed" debuted in 2000 and he promoted the new concept with trainers and owners from coast to coast and everywhere in between. Major stakes winners were coming to Calder for the day of sprints and, under his watch, the Princess Rooney Handicap was advanced to grade I status in 2006.

Other key events at Calder that Umphrey co-designed include the "Juvenile Showcase" and the "Grand Slam" series.. He was also known to come up with whimsical ideas, such as the Rocket Man Stakes, a quarter-mile race for 2-year-olds and up, and the "Senior Triple", a series of races for older horses that mirrors the Triple Crown classics in regards to date and distance. Umphrey also served on the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and was recently named to serve of the Breeders' Cup Selection Committee.

"I have lost a longtime friend, as did the entire racing community," said Dunn, who first met Umphrey in 1976 at Atlantic City Racecourse. "He had a brilliant racing mind and was the architect of one of the most unique racing programs in the country."

"Now, there is such a powerful mix of sadness, regret, even anger, with the realization a special life ended way too soon," said Cronin. "But, in time, that will fade. And then we'll see some of Bobby's tangible legacy---most notably, a summertime track in the Tropics that he managed to populate with graded stakes from start to finish. But more important we'll remember and appreciate the intangibles of this man of huge talent, intelligence, and sensitivity."

Umphrey's family will hold a private funeral; further memorial services are also pending. Umphrey was a major proponent of Churchill Downs Inc's "Green Pastures Program," which provides education and support for Thoroughbred retirement and adoption. Therefore, in lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The TRF is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation and contributions are tax-deductible. Information can be found on the Internet at www.trfinc.org .

A long time Calder scholarship to students in financial need at Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory High School will be renamed the Robert D. Umphrey Scholarship.

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