In horse racing circles, Lenny Hale is the Baltimore boy that made good.
He rose from working on the starting gates at Florida tracks to becoming one of six senior vice presidents of the New York Racing Association.
There was a lot of local interest when Hale's firing by NYRA was an ongoing front-page story last week in the Daily Racing Form. More than 60 New York trainers signed a petition asking NYRA to reinstate the popular executive, but to no avail.
All of this happened while Hale was on vacation. Where was the 47- year-old former Marylander?
He was visiting his mom in Baltimore and also devoted several days to one of his passions -- fox hunting. Last Saturday he rode in the 100th anniversary meet of the Green Spring Hounds in Baltimore County and had previously spent an afternoon with noted horseman-art collector Paul Mellon touring Mellon's private collection of sporting art at his farm in Upperville, Va.
L Anything to do with horses is the great love of Hale's life.
When he rode in the show ring, Hale was president of the Maryland chapter of the Professional Horsemen's Association. When he hunted, he served on Green Spring's staff.
He got into racing on the ground floor and ended up overseeing racing operations at Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga.
He kept his own horse, Hale The Tiger, an ex-racehorse that a New York breeder named after him, at Belmont and rode him daily while he visited with trainers.
That was Hale's greatest asset in his job -- the kinship he felt with horsemen and a sense of fairness. He is equally at home talking with a groom or Paul Mellon.
So, what went wrong?
Hale, who had been at NYRA for 17 years and served under three chairmen, chalks it up to "internal conflicts" with current chairman Allan Dragone and executive vice president Gerald Lawrence. The association itself has come under fire in recent days from New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, who has expressed outrage at executive salaries and perks and wants a full-scale re-organization.
"Simply put, I wasn't a yes man," Hale said.
"But I have a great sense of relief it's over. I was overwhelmed by the response from the New York horsemen. Circulating that petition was an unprecedented move. When you're at a low ebb like this, that's a needed boost to your ego and I'll always be grateful to them. I'm still getting phone call after phone call."
There have been persistent rumors that Hale is coming home to Maryland and might be getting a job at local tracks.
Hale will only say he is on NYRA's payroll through the end of April "and right now, I just need to pause and think about things. I talked to an [occupational] counselor, and one thing he has you do is write your own obituary. You jot down things you've done or wanted to do in your professional life. And you write your likes and dislikes. At NYRA, I've done everything from participating in labor negotiations to organizing two Breeders' Cups to writing races to re-designing the winner's circle at Belmont Park.
"I'm interested in architecture and design and am busy working on renovating my house right now. But, of course, if something comes along, I'm outta here."
Recent doings in Maryland horse circles:
Both Brian Handleman and his general manager, Brenda Handleman -- who will operate Laurel-Pimlico's new catering service -- are Baltimoreans through and through.
Brian Handleman grew up near Little Italy and is a graduate of City College.
Brenda Handleman attended Patterson Park High School. She started out training to be a buyer for a Baltimore department store before she got into the catering business.
Lucy Acton, managing editor of the Maryland Horse Magazine, is the new secretary of the Maryland Racing Writers' Association, replacing her father, Snowden Carter, who held the post for 30 years.
Mike Pons, of Country Life Farm in Bel Air, is the new MRWA treasurer.
Laurel Mullen, a 10th-grade student at Oldfields School in Glencoe, won the Grand Hunter Pony Championship at the National Horse Show two weeks ago. The show, the most prestigious in the country, was formerly held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, but now takes place at The Meadowlands in northern New Jersey.