William J. "Bill" Perretti, the founder of Perretti Farms, where champions were bred and the top stallions Muscles Yankee and Rocknroll Hanover stood at stud, died Thursday night (March 13) in Florida, where he spent the winter months and was frequently in attendance at the training centers. Mr. Perretti had turned 87 on March 9.
Mr. Perretti was an owner of Muscles Yankee when the colt won the Hambletonian and he bought into Rocknroll Hanover just prior to that colt's triumph in the Meadowlands Pace. When retired to stud duty at Perretti, both became influential sires for the breed.
Mr. Perretti's entrepreneurial zeal took him from a gas station in Hackensack, N.J., to the plains of a Texas cattle ranch and finally to his showplace Standardbred farm in the rolling hills of central New Jersey. Mr. Perretti was the founder of Perretti Farms, a leading breeder of trotters and pacers for decades. A long journey to his nearly thousand acre farm, distinctive for its pristine stables and miles of coal black, four board fence, started in the 1960s, after the Meadowlands Racetrack opened near his nationally successful car dealership.
Despite modest success with his first racehorses, named with a nod to his nickname, "Wild Bill” set about making a former Cream Ridge, N.J., potato farm into a vision of Kentucky, an equine nursery built for both utility and grandeur.
With vast pastures and a steady stream of racing's brightest stars in their stallion barn, Perretti Farms bred one champion after another. Their stallion roster included Hambletonian winner and sire of Hambletonian winners Muscles Yankee, the prolific and productive Matt's Scooter, Presidential Ball, Malabar Man, McArdle, Revenue S, Artiscape and the late Rocknroll Hanover.
The farm's yearling sale tableau, bedecked in maroon and silver, was often the stage for Mr. Perretti's larger than life personality, accented by his gap toothed smile, ever-present ballcap and unfiltered commentary.
Perhaps his time in the auto industry helped him realize that designing for speed called for a collaborative effort; he knew the stallion's contributions alone would not produce successful racehorses.
Charlie Keller III noted Perretti's attention to detail on both the top and bottom of the pedigree line in a Hoof Beats article.
"He went out and spent a lot of money on good trotting mares to be bred to Muscles (Yankee), and that was very helpful in getting good offspring. He is always willing to make the financial investment. He has spent a lot of his own money for our industry.
"My experiences with Bill have been very good. We have a lot of one-on-one conversations, and I always enjoy them. He's a colorful guy. He's very frank and very strong in his opinions. I'm sure some people find that irritating, but my experiences are good.”
Jim Simpson, president of Hanover Shoe Farms, sees Perretti's photo every time he sits down to his desk, thanks to a dare on which Perretti made good.
"One day I was at his consignment and I saw this beaming picture of him,” he recalls. "I said, ‘If you give that to me, I'll hang it in my office.'
"I was thinking he wouldn't, but he did. He gave me the picture, so it's in my office to this day and as far as I'm concerned, it will be there forever. I get to look at his smiling face every day.
"For the number of horses he bred and raised and raced, he had a tremendous impact on the industry. I do recall at breakfast meetings at the Sheraton Hotel during the Harrisburg sale, he was sincerely concerned for the industry. He was always fussing at someone. He had serious concerns, as we all do, about the whole industry.
"One may not have liked everything he said, but his word, without exception, was golden. He never made an agreement with us he didn't live up to -- never. You just needed his word, not anything in writing.”
For all his concerns about both his own farm and industry, Mr. Perretti also channeled his energies into the small things. Horsewoman Nancy Webster's son Brendan and Bill Perretti struck up a friendship when the lad was in elementary school and Mr. Perretti was nearly ten times his age.
"He taught Brendan how to ride the "Gator” on his farm,” Webster said. "I'd yell for them to slow down and Bill would press his foot on Brenden's, as they roared off in a dust cloud. When Brendan was learning to swim, Bill would not leave his side at their pool and shouted instructions to him until he got to the other side. Brendan sensed the confidence Bill had in him.”
Mr. Perretti was featured in a 2006 story in Hoof Beats magaine. It may be read by clicking on this link.
Mr. Perretti's first top horse was Nadia Lobell, who also became a foundation mare for the farm, which Mr. Perretti founded in 1987. Mr. Perretti built his farm to rival a Kentucky nursery, with a wood-paneled stallion barn and expansive fields for mares, foals and yearlings. Perretti Farm became an automatic destination for trotting enthusiasts attending the Hambletonian once the farm began standing trotting studs.
In 2000 Mr. Perretti, along with Joe Thomson, the Antonacci family and Paul Nigito purchased The Red Mile, with the goal to preserve the racetrack and give the Tattersalls sales a boost. Mr. Perretti bought almost 1,000 acres outside of Lexington, Ky., to raise the farm's yearlings that would be sold at Tattersalls.
Just last year Mr. Perretti tried his hand racing Thoroughbreds and won a stakes race with the colt Forty Tales.
With Mr. Perretti's age, the unexpectedly early demise of top pacing sire Rocknroll Hanover, who died on March 14, 2013, and the difficulties in keeping a New Jersey farm competitive without a slots-enhanced sire stakes program, Perretti Farms sold its last horses at public auction. The New Jersey farm has been on the market for more than a year and is not sold, but continues to be the home of the retired stallion Matt's Scooter.
Mr. Perretti is survived by his wife, Cynthia; two sons, Bill Jr. and Anthony; and a daughter, Veronica. (with files from Ellen Harvey/Harness Racing Communications)