Derby-Winning Owner Tafel Dies at 90
by Frank Angst
Date Posted: 6/25/2014 6:28:51 PM
Last Updated: 6/26/2014 8:31:18 AM

James Tafel
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I)-winning owner and breeder James Tafel died June 25 at his home at the Village of Golf, Fla. He was 90.

Tafel's death was reported by Mill Ridge Farm, where he had kept his broodmares.

Tafel's homebred champion 2-year-old Street Sense   became the first horse to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby when he posted a clear victory in the Louisville classic in 2007 under Calvin Borel. Trained by Carl Nafzger, Street Sense is out of the winning Dixieland Band mare Bedazzle, who also was bred and owned by Tafel.

"To have a colt do what he did, to win the Juvenile and come back and win the Derby, that was special," said Hall of Fame trainer Nafzger, who saddled horses for Tafel for more than 30 years. "Winning the Derby was a wonderful day that we could share together. We thought he could go on from the Juvenile and he did it."

Street Sense would go on to secure Tafel's second Travers Stakes (gr. I) victory to go along with Unshaded's score in the 2000 edition of the Saratoga Race Course event.

Tafel also bred 1998 champion 3-year-old filly Banshee Breeze and raced her in partnership with Jayeff B Stables. He campaigned multiple graded stakes winner Coolawin; 1999 Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Vicar; grade III winner Metfield; multiple stakes winner Binalong; and homebreds Til Forbid, a grade III winner; and Fast Alex, a stakes winner trained by Greg Geier.

"Jim Tafel is what you would call a great owner. He was tough, a businessman, but he had integrity," Nafzger said. "He was really a great manager of racehorses. We had a 30-year sprint together. I can't say enough about him. He was just a great guy. For 30 years we got along. He loved the business, loved the sales."

Tafel, a retired publishing executive, spent 30 years with Technical Publishing Company starting in sales in 1953, and retiring as president in 1983. Upon his retirement, he became active in Thoroughbred racing, initially with Dogwood Stable. He considered Dogwood founder Cot Campbell a mentor.

Tafel once told the National Thoroughbred Racing Association about how he built up his racing stable, then his breeding operation.

"What typically happens is you get into the racing side of the game and you end up with some nice fillies or mares, and their value is greater as breeding stock than selling them as empty mares," Tafel said. "You kind of back into the breeding game, which happened to me, and very fortunately so. Many of my better horses have been homebreds ... The other thing is the breeding side sustains the racing operation in lean times. In other words, we breed with the primary objective of racing, but with a secondary objective of selling if we have to."

Tafel dispersed his breeding stock in 2012.

Born Jan. 20, 1924, Tafel had homes in the Village of Golf, Fla., and Barrington, Ill. After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1950 following World War II, he actively supported the Pitt Business School and served on its Board of Visitors for many years.

During World War II he was a decorated flyer with the Eighth Air Force, flying out of England.

Tafel is survived by his wife and partner, Ida May (Gust) Tafel; a daughter, Julie Tafel Klaus, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and a son, James B. Tafel, Jr., of Alpharetta, Ga., and three granddaughters. 



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