Chris Mara has experienced some of the greatest heights in professional sports.
Mara, the New York Giants’ senior vice president of player personnel and part owner, knows what it feels like to win a Super Bowl. He was a member of the front office for all four of the Giants’ Super Bowl victories. As a part-owner of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify, he is hoping to know another feeling after Saturday’s Belmont Stakes: what it is like to own a Triple Crown winner.
“Excited, nervous, all of the above,” Mara said when asked about his feelings going into Saturday’s race.
Justify, the heavy favorite to win the Belmont Stakes, would become just the 13th horse (and first since American Pharoah in 2015) to successfully complete racing’s Triple Crown. Justify, the only Kentucky Derby winner in history to not race as a 2-year-old, would also join Seattle Slew (1977) as the only Triple Crown winners to go undefeated.
“There’s a lot of luck involved, and these horses can be pretty fragile, so there’s a lot of disappointment in this sport,” Mara said. “But when you get to this stage right now, it makes up for a lot of it.”
Mara is a part of owner of Starlight Racing, a racing syndicate that has the rights to Justify and Audible, the third-place finisher at this year’s Kentucky Derby. Until this season, Mara was never part of an ownership group that had rights over a Triple Crown winner.
“I’ve had three horses in the Derby, two in the Preakness, and one in the Belmont,” Mara said. “Best finish was fourth in the Belmont. We have not been very successful in those big races.”
Mara will watch the race from the Belmont Room. His wife Kathleen, granddaughter of Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., will be in attendance. Mara’s sons, Daniel and Conor, will also be there along with head coach Pat Shurmur and his wife, Jennifer. Mara’s daughters, Kate and Rooney, have previous acting commitments and are unable to attend.
Mara says his Saturday before the Belmont will be similar to Sunday afternoons before Giants games.
“I’ll leave by 9:30 am and I’m kind of miserable to be around, like I am before a Giants game,” Mara said. “So, I get in my little space and have the family meet me later.”
Mara mentioned he is still close with former head coach Bill Parcells. Parcells raises horses but doesn’t have in the race. Parcells wished Mara good luck with his indomitable Tuna wit.
“He’s legit happy,” Mara said. “He’s in the business himself. He just wants to know whether I leave the track with a wheelbarrow of money, or enough to buy a bunch of bologna sandwiches for the year.”
“It’s a similar excitement,” Mara said. “I probably jumped a little higher when we won the Super Bowl, but it’s close. Obviously, with the Giants, being an owner and employee, there’s a lot more satisfaction because you put a lot of work into it. You’re there for the disappointment, too, when you take the blame when there’s a year like last year. But the high is the same. The exhilaration of winning is the same.”
Mara will continue make history of his own if Justify completes the Triple Crown. He is already the only person to have an ownership stake in both a Super Bowl champion and a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. This is not lost on him.
“But it would sound better, if it was a Super Bowl and a Triple Crown,” Mara said.