By Bill Finley
Known for owning fast horses and a mischievous side that led him to slip a number of salacious names by The Jockey Club, owner Caesar Kimmel died Saturday in Delray, Florida. He was 91.
His son, trainer John Kimmel, said he had a stroke about three months ago and died peacefully in his sleep early Saturday morning.
“He was an amazing person,” said Jimmy Toner, one of Kimmel’s primary trainers. “One of a kind. There was only one Caesar. He enjoyed life. He was a very good family man and had wonderful children, John and Karen. I went places I never would have gone without him taking me there. I worked for him for over 20 years, but besides that, he was a great friend to me. He’ll be missed by many people. But he’s a person nobody will ever forget. Everyone who knew Caesar knew he was a special type of person, and I have so many fond memories. He was such a practical joker. You never knew what was coming next.”
Kimmel was a long-time executive with Warner Communications, but his son said he true passion was horse racing.
“He was someone who always identified with racing,” Kimmel said. “He did so much in the business world, but he got much more enjoyment out of racing than anything else. He enjoyed all aspects of the sport. He was so enthusiastic about racing and he was always driven to come up with a good horse.”
Kimmel was introduced to racing by his father, Manny, who was a legal bookmaker before pari-mutuel wagering began in New York. John Kimmel said that his grandfather began taking Caesar to Saratoga in the early 1940s.
Kimmel began owning horses in the early 1960s. One of his first good horses was I’m For Mama, a three-time stakes winner in the early seventies.
“That was the first horse that he really had fun with,” Kimmel said. “She was a terrific mud horse. He had that old ‘X’ mark they used to put in the Form for a good mud runner. He loved that horse.”
Over the years, Kimmel would go on to campaign several stakes horses, including Grade I winners Flat Fleet Feet and Flying Chevron, 2007 GII Pennsylvania Derby winner Timber Reserve, and Miss Golden Circle, who won four Grade II stakes
Caesar Kimmel always remained loyal to Toner and allowed him to train many of his horses after John Kimmel began training in 1985. At that time, he divided up the stable between the two and the younger Kimmel said winning big races for his father was among the greatest thrills of his life.
“We had so much success together,” Kimmel said. “He was a very generous man and he provided me with a great life. I am very grateful.”
Caesar Kimmel was also known for his off beat sense of humor and his love of a good joke.
“When I first started working for him, we went to the sale down in Lexington,” Toner said. “I don’t know how he arranged these things in advance, but we checked into the hotel, and the desk clerk told me, `I hope you don’t mind, but there was somebody murdered in your room last week.’ And I’m like, `Well, why do I have to be the one to stay in the room?’ So I check into the room and then I hear a knock on the door, and Caesar’s got a mask on and he’s holding a hatchet in his hand. I started screaming. When I found out it was him, I said, `Why would you do something like that?'”
Toner continued, “But that’s the sort of thing he did all the time. He had this pet mouse he’d take with him, and he’d take it out on the plane, or in the room when the maid was there. He got me a lot. It took me a while to catch on. He was one of a kind. There will never be another.”
Kimmel loved to pull fast ones on The Jockey Club and got away with naming many a horse names that probably never should have been approved. There was Titular Feast, Cold as A Witch’s, Sock Tucker, Bodacious Tatas, Cunning Stunt and Peony’s Envy.
“He got more thrills and giggles trying to fool with names,” John Kimmel said. “Everyone knew him as the guy always coming up with funny names and giving The Jockey Club fits. He’d sit in his office at Warner Communications writing names down to play jokes on The Jockey Club. He wanted to keep them on their toes.”