Marty Granoff’s latest star, Perfect Sting, puts the owner in the spotlight
by Gordon Waterstone
Breeder-owner Marty Granoff has made plenty of appearances in winner’s circles of some of the sport’s most coveted races, but he generally prefers to stay out of the spotlight.
Granoff has been involved in harness racing since the early 1980s. In addition to racing top horses, he has also become known for acts of kindness and charity, things like helping a caretaker in a time of need or handing off trophies won in stakes races to the horse’s caretaker. Ask Granoff, a native New Yorker who turned 85 on May 27, to acknowledge his benevolence and he’ll avoid the subject. That’s when he’ll talk instead about his horses.
“Few people have the combination of energy, persistence, passion and generosity that he has; he has been blessed with much success, but his success has always been to the benefit of others,” said Granoff’s son, Michael. “He has always been a winner in every sense of the word.”
Marty Granoff has certainly been a winner on the track as he has had plenty of horses to talk about through the years.
And we’re talking great horses. Granoff’s Val D’Or Farms—not a physical farm but an ownership entity named after his primary business—has bred and owned several champions over the past 30-plus years. The big winners include 1986 Breeders Crown champion Masquerade; 1990 Woodrow Wilson winner Die Laughing; 1998 Messenger victor Fit For Life (who also finished second by a nose in that year’s Meadowlands Pace); 2008 Jugette winner Good News Lady; 2013 world champion filly Shebestingin; and 2020 Breeders Crown champion Perfect Sting, the third foal of Shebestingin.
Not bad for a guy who admits he hopes to break even financially with his horses each year.
“If I can break even, it’s a wonderful thing; if I lose a little money, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Granoff, who owns many racehorses and broodmares in partnership with George Segal’s Brittany Farms.
Granoff grew up in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and began going to the races as a teenager, first to Roosevelt Raceway. When The Meadowlands opened in 1976, he became a regular there.
Granoff graduated from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn in 1954, with his classmates including Fred Wilpon, former majority owner of the New York Mets; and Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax, who played his entire career for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Granoff went on to graduate from New York University with a degree in journalism.
“I was a C student in college. I did as little work as you could do in college to get by,” Granoff admitted. “I was very happy to graduate.”
Growing up, Granoff wanted to be a sportswriter, covering his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers. After he graduated with his degree, he got an internship with the New York Times but changed his mind and instead enrolled at the University of Michigan Law School to become a lawyer.
However, that didn’t happen, as he then enlisted in the Air Force Reserve. He eventually discarded his degree and instead, having also worked earlier for clothing companies both as a salesman and designer, founded Val d’Or Apparel/Cannon County Knitting Mills, a manufacturer of private-label clothes for brands including Lacoste, Ralph Lauren and Hanes. While the company is based in New Jersey, Granoff maintained an office in the heart of the garment industry center in New York City.
He stepped into horse ownership in 1984, purchasing Lucky Boy N, a New Zealand import, via Bob McCardle. With Cat Manzi driving, Lucky Boy N made his first start for Val d’Or Farms a winning one at The Meadowlands.
The stable grew the following year with a number of 2-year-olds, including Michael Jonathan (named for Granoff’s son) and the aforementioned Masquerade, who won the 1986 Breeders Crown 3-Year-Old Colt Pace at Garden State Park. Four years later, Val d’Or Farms celebrated a Woodrow Wilson victory with Die Laughing, although Michael’s religious faith nearly caused him to miss the race.
“I began observing Shabbat (Saturday is a day of rest in Judaism) shortly before Die Laughing started racing, and the night of the Woodrow Wilson I stayed at one of the motels on Paterson Plank Road and walked to the track,” said Michael. “When he came flying up the far outside to win by a nose in what was a world record—1:52.1, equaling the world record—it definitely was one of our top thrills.”
Eight years later, the Granoff family was at The Meadowlands hoping to win the track’s signature pacing event, the Meadowlands Pace, with Fit For Life.
With George Brennan driving, Fit For Life closed furiously from fourth at the top of the stretch, but his final quarter of :26.2 wasn’t enough as the bid came up short by a nose of springing the 9-1 upset.
Through the years, Granoff has followed his horses like any fervent owner. If a horse wasn’t racing in the vicinity of his home in New Jersey, he chartered a private jet to make the trip, inviting others along to enjoy the ride.
After all, flying commercially became problematic for Granoff back in 2008. Granoff’s filly Good News Lady, who he bred and owned with George Segal, won a heat of the Jugette but then made a break in the second heat, which was won by Sprig Hanover. That led to a race-off. Good News Lady won the race-off to take home the trophy, but post time for the race was 6:27 p.m. There was barely time to pose with the trophy, and no time for celebrating as Granoff and Segal had to hustle to the Columbus airport so they could catch their plane back home.
Five years later, Granoff was the owner of a world-champion pacing filly.Shebestingin stunned the harness racing world with her 1:47 win in the Garnsey Memorial in Lexington, besting the previous mark set the year before by Put On A Show by three-fifths of a second.
Joe Holloway trained Shebestingin for Granoff, buying the filly as a yearling for $55,000. Shebestingin made just three starts as a 2-year-old and won all three, but by the time she got to Lexington in the fall of her 3-year-old season, she had only one major stakes victory, the Empire Breeders Classic. Holloway knew Shebestingin had speed, but until the 1:47 mile, the filly had not convinced the rest of the world.
Since Segal and Granoff have partnered as breeders, Segal, under the banner of Brittany Farms, bought an interest in Shebestingin before her 5-year-old campaign and she was retained to be bred. (In 2019, the mare was sold to Hanover Shoe Farms.)
She was bred to Captaintreacherous her first two years as a broodmare. When Always B Miki went to stud duty in the winter of 2016, he was chosen as Shebestingin’s next beau. On April 18, 2018, at Brittany Farms in Versailles, Ky., the mare gave birth to a colt to be named Perfect Sting.
Holloway said Granoff usually only “makes a yearling pilgrimage” to the barn to see his horses, but the two have constant communication. Holloway said he told Granoff very early about his high hopes for Perfect Sting. Granoff—who shares ownership with Brittany Farms—tempered his expectations.
“I told him very early—in March or April—that this one had all the tools,” remembered Holloway. “He had the big gait, the pedigree, and I told Marty that if this one wasn’t, you just couldn’t tell. But this one, you could tell.”
It is likely because of Granoff’s experience in 1994 with Stand Alone that he has remained realistic about his horse’s futures. The day after Stand Alone finished second in the 1994 Breeders Crown 2-Year-Old Colt Pace, the youngster—who had won eight of his 11 starts that year—contracted Potomac Horse Fever. Despite the best efforts of the Michigan State University Veterinary Hospital, the colt soon died.
“It was like winning the lottery and losing the ticket,” Granoff was quoted as saying in a 1996 article in Hoof Beats. “What chance did I have of picking out another one who could be number one or number two in the nation?”
Granoff happens to be one of those people who does not seem to be limited in the number of superstars that have come his way. Perfect Sting, of course, is the latest example.
Perfect Sting was undefeated in 10 starts last year with earnings of $534,300 and easily earned Dan Patch divisional honors as 2-Year-Old Colt Pacer of the Year. Although Perfect Sting got beat in his first start this year—finishing second by a head in a Pennsylvania Sires Stakes division on May 16 at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono—Granoff is hoping the colt can bring home a Meadowlands Pace trophy and check a race off his bucket list. His son, Michael, has higher hopes.
“The one thing my dad hasn’t had is a Horse of the Year and I sure hope that’s what he gets this year,” said Michael. “No one deserves it more.”
Perfect Sting is one of 15 horses Val d’Or has in training with Holloway.
“My horses are only with Joe,” said Granoff, who, in addition to his racehorses, also shares ownership in six broodmares with Brittany Farms. “I have fun with Joe and I am partners with having fun. I trust Joe and am loyal. We have a great friendship and kid each other all the time.”
Holloway agrees with Granoff’s sentiments.
“I’ve been blessed to have great guys as owners like Bob Suslow, Lee DeVisser, Ted Gewertz, Marty—they love racing horses and are good people,” he said. “They will do anything to help you, and that’s what Marty does. He has helped me a lot. When I hurt my shoulder, he tried to get me the best surgeon and doctors.” (Holloway was hurt in a training accident earlier this year and has been unable to climb into the sulky since.)
Granoff’s generosity extends in that virtually all of the major trophies won by his horses have ended up in the hands of their caretakers. Most recently, that was the case with Perfect Sting’s Breeders Crown trophy won last year at Harrah’s Hoosier Park. The crystal piece is in the home of longtime Holloway assistant Diane Lewis.
“The caretakers do all the work; they certainly deserve it,” said Granoff. HB
Gordon Waterstone is a USTA editorial specialist. To comment on this story, email us at email@example.com.