Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson was quoted as saying that “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” And it’s those same words that seemingly define Stephen P. Groat, who passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 67. His passion and enthusiasm for the sport of steeplechase racing were palpable.
A lifelong horseman and sportsman, Groat was a graduate of Aiken Prep, former master of fox hounds of the Aiken Hounds, and it was while Groat was working at the Fair Hill Races in Elkton, Md., that he came up with an idea that helped change the complexion of the sport; the Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase. He was also a respected course designer and is remembered for his work with STAR Riding Inc.
“I’ve always told people, other than my family, steeplechase racing has provided me with some of the most fun times in my life,” Groat told the Aiken Standard in an interview in November. “I’ve had the opportunity to go to England, Japan, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve had the chance to make friends all over the world and have been really active in the sport. It’s been very rewarding for me personally. The people who are involved in the sport are wonderful.”
Groat was a National Steeplechase Association senior steward and was a strong presence at many meets, including the races at Ford Conger Field at the Aiken Horse Park.
“He was a fixture at the steeplechase meets,” said Howard Hickey, Aiken Steeplechase Association president. “He was considered one of the finest steeplechase stewards in the country. He ran a tight ship. He was a fine man, who will be greatly missed by the Aiken Steeplechase Association and the community.”
The Aiken resident was also the 2004 recipient of the F. Ambrose Clark Award, presented by the National Steeplechase Association. The award is given to those individuals who dedicate themselves to improving, promoting and encouraging the sport of steeplechase racing. The distinguished horseman received another honor this past spring when the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in Charlotte, N.C., dedicated its steward’s tower to Groat.
“There is a quote from one of my favorite poems, ‘What Will Matter’ by Michael Josephson, which describes the effect left behind of someone who has lived a life that matters,” said Lisa Hall, Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum programs supervisor. “It describes better than anything I could ever say about him. ‘What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.’ Steve lived a life that mattered and will be missed.”
Groat had been battling cancer since 2004, and people admired and respected the horseman for his courage, said Albert Bostwick of the Aiken Steeplechase Association.
National Steeplechase Association racing director Bill Gallo knew Groat for 36 years. Groat committed his energies to becoming a senior steward, when there was an upgrade to the officiating program, and dedicated himself to his position as a steward, which was all volunteer work, and went out of his way to help a lot of young officials.
“Steve was a cherished member of the steeplechase family,” said Gallo. “We’re a relatively small group. We’re very close. We had a wonderful relationship. He was a good friend.”