Merv Griffin Dead; Raced Champion Stevie Wonderboy

Merv Griffin Dead; Raced Champion Stevie Wonderboy
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Merv Griffin (left) celebrates Stevie Wonderboy's BC Juvenile win with jockey Garrett Gomez and trainer Doug O'Neill.

Entertainer Merv Griffin, a Hollywood producer and popular California Thoroughbred owner who campaigned 2005 male juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy, died Aug. 12 from prostate cancer.

Griffin was hospitalized last month for a recurrence of the disease, which had been diagnosed and treated more than 10 years ago.

Griffin owned and operated Griffin Ranch in La Quinta, Calif., outside Palm Springs, where he kept more than 50 Thoroughbreds. He raced graded stakes winners Cobalt Blue, Cee's Irish and Skipaslew in addition to Stevie Wonderboy.

As a 2-year-old in 2005, the Doug O'Neill-trained Stevie Wonderboy clinched divisional honors with a closing score in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). He also won that year's Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) and placed in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship Stakes (gr. II).

"There's a lot of excitement winning Emmy Awards and all that stuff," Griffin said at the time of the colt's Breeders' Cup victory. "Then there's the fighting with Donald Trump, which is fun, but this is extraordinary."

Stevie Wonderboy won an Eclipse Award as the nation's leading 2-year-old male horse and was also considered a top prospect for the 2006 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) but suffered an injury and didn't race there.

A millionaire son of Stephen Got Even  , Stevie Wonderboy was retired from racing this summer and will stand at Brereton C. Jones' Airdrie Stud near Midway, Ky.

Griffin's Derby hopes were dashed again this year when he made a last-minute decision not to enter San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) winner Cobalt Blue in America's most famous race because of the horse's sub-par showing leading up to the event.

"I feel like the Susan Lucci of the Derby," Griffin, referring to the soap-opera actress who was passed over for so many Emmys, told the Associated Press last May.

"But that's not my total goal," he added. "I just love the animals and have for years."

Griffin had long been a fan of Thoroughbred racing. He attended the races at Bay Meadows as a youth and watched the great Seabiscuit run.

"I was blessed enough to know him well over the past few years," trainer O'Neill said. "He was a huge horse lover. He spread the word of what a great sport horse racing is to anyone who would listen."

A former director of Hollywood Park, Griffin joined the board of the Thoroughbred Owners of California in February, 2005.

Griffin, who hosted "The Merv Griffin Show," is best known for creating and producing "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune."

After they became the hottest game shows in television, Griffin sold his rights to them to Columbia Pictures television for $250 million, retaining a profit share. He started spreading the sale money around in treasury bonds, stocks, and other investments, but quickly became bored.

"I said, `I'm not going to sit around and clip coupons for the rest of my life,'" he recalled in 1989. "That's when Barron Hilton said, `Merv, do you wanna buy the Beverly Hilton?' I couldn't believe it."

Griffin bought the hotel, home to the Golden Globe awards, for a little more than $100 million and spent $25 million refurbishing it. He sold it in 2003.

He also acquired Resorts International, which operated hotels and casinos from Atlantic City, N.J., to the Caribbean. For a time that touched off a feud with real estate tycoon Donald Trump, whose hotel-casino operations went head-to-head with Griffin's in Atlantic City.


"My father was a visionary," his son, Tony Griffin, said in a statement issued Aug. 12. "He loved business and continued his many projects and holdings even while hospitalized."

Griffin was working on the first week of production of a new syndicated game show, "Merv Griffin's Crosswords," his son said, when he entered the hospital a month ago.

Griffin and Julann Elizabeth Wright were married in 1958 and their son, Tony, was born the following year. They divorced in 1973. He never remarried.

In addition to his son, Griffin is survived by a daughter-in-law, Tricia, and grandchildren Farah and Donovan.

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