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First Posted July 11, 2007
Aug 3, 2010

Thoroughbreds-Mid Atlantic States in Horseracing

by Margie Wolson

My wonderful friend, Margie Wolson, is an avid thoroughbred horseperson. I call her my walking encyclopedia on horsemanship. I asked Margie if she would share some of her knowledge on my web site. She has graciously agreed. The following information comes to you through Margie's research and personal experience with thoroughbred horses. I would like to add that Margie and I met in the 1970's and are friends for life. She gave me a race horse, Go VanGough; pasture name, Little Bee. Little Bee was with us to her last day. She was all heart and just a wonderful animal. In fact, Little Bee taught my husband, Bill, our daughter, Lindsey, and me to ride. Thank you, Margie, for everything!

The Mid-Atlantic States Rich History In Horseracing
Thoroughbred Racing, Breeding, and Steeplechasing

Not too many years ago, Maryland was thick with racetracks and horse racing. Many local people are familiar with Laurel Park, Rosecroft Raceway, Ocean Downs, Bowie (now P.G. Equestrian Center), and Pimlico, home of the Preakness, second jewel in the thoroughbred Triple Crown. These tracks are the remaining vestige of what was once a center of racing on the east coast.

An article in the National Trust website archives, National Trust describes the gradual move to the back seat of entertainment that horse racing has become.

In the 1740s, Maryland governor Sam Ogle imported thoroughbreds to the colony and formed the Maryland Jockey Club, the oldest sporting organization in the United States, effectively establishing thoroughbred racing in America. Many fans saw Baltimore's historic Pimlico racetrack while watching the movie "Seabiscuit," based on the best-selling book of the same name. "The movie had some flaws," says Baltimorean Chick Lang, who witnessed the real Seabiscuit race at Pimlico."But it gave people an idea of the popularity of racing in that era. Racing is a different sport today. Back then, there was no simulcasting or Internet betting. You went to the track and you bet nine races and left." Lang's family tree dates back to the turn of the last century in the annals of racing immortality-his grandfather trained a Kentucky Derby winner, and his father was victorious aboard Reigh Count in the 1928 Derby race.

"There was a tradition of a father taking his son to the races, and it continued generation after generation," Lang says. "That isn't true anymore." Fathers hoping to bring their sons to the same racetracks of their boyhoods may have some difficulty." Horseracing, prior to television, was the #1 spectator pastime in the country. More than baseball, people went to the track to watch the ponies, bet and socialize. Tracks in many cities were located with railroad station stops just for them, Belmont Park in New York is still a prime example, and the average person could get their day's entertainment cheaply. Racehorse ownership was not for the average person but they could watch all they wanted for the inexpensive price of admission.

As land values have increased, many tracks and breeding farms have disappeared from the landscape, not only in Maryland, but Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well. More people living in the highly popular DC - Baltimore - Philadelphia corridor demands more housing. The commonality of cable TV, internet access and DVD rentals makes staying home and inside enticing to people who may have in past years gone to the races for a fun afternoon outing.

That aside, the thoroughbred industry in Maryland alone, is estimated at being worth over 2 billion dollars annually to the state. With the addition of slots at nearby West Virginia and Delaware tracks, the thoroughbred industry in those states has a renewed vigor. Virginia's only pari-mutuel racetrack, Colonial Downs, is supported by a dedicated group of horsemen and the Great Meadow Field Events center in northern VA. It is host to spring and fall steeplechase meets and the Virginia Gold Cup run the same day as the KY Derby. With the recent success of Smarty Jones' racing career, based out of Philadelphia Park; racing is on the upswing of popularity in Pennsylvania as well.

Fading into history, however, are the lost tracks, the historic farms and the people who made them great in the annals of racing. In a history of the town of Bowling Green in Caroline County, VA, the importance of horse racing in Colonial Times is mentioned. Horse racing Bowling Green, Caroline County, VA

American Horse Racing

Perhaps the most interesting piece of history connected with Old Mansion is that it was the site of the first horse racing track built in America. No sooner had Maj. Hoomes moved into his new home than he built a race track along the oval in front of this mansion. When other settlers arrived in the section, he persuaded them to breed horses and developed match races. His heirs and the heirs of his neighbors continued this custom and Bowling Green became the horse racing center of Britain's American colonies. In the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the Virginia Jockey Club held its annual races at Bowling Green, and frequently the area was the site of the races of the larger American Jockey Club. There were at least three race tracks, one on the Old Mansion grounds and two located on the road leading to Milford.

To maintain local racing supremacy, Caroline breeders imported horses from abroad. In 1764, Col. John Baylor of New Market (Route 301, 3 miles south of Bowling Green) brought in the celebrated stud, Fearnought, from England at the huge cost of 1000 guineas, and a few years later the Hoomes' acquired Sterling. These two famous studs became the patriarchs of American race horses. Horses of their bloodlines still race on all major American tracks.

After 1800, horse racing declined at Bowling Green, but in the second quarter of this century C.T. Chenery revived the breeding and training of race horses in Caroline when he established a horse farm at the Meadow, Here Hill Prince, the horse of the year for 1950, was foaled and trained. Triple Crown Winner Secretariat and Riva Ridge were also raised in Caroline County.

Secretariat's name is widely recognized in the present day but only horse racing historians and enthusiastic followers of the breed remember the other highly regarded horses bred and raised at Meadow Stud, his birthplace. Barbara Livingston, acclaimed thoroughbred photographer, tells of visiting that historic place in Virginia in her archived article, "The Ghosts of Meadow Stud."

Virginia has long been known for breeding fine racehorses. In relatively recent years, Buckland Farm's Derby winner, Pleasant Colony, Rokeby Stables' champions Mill Reef, Quadrangle, Key to the Mint and Arts and Letters (to name only a few), Newstead Farm's famous Derby winner, Genuine Risk all called Virginia home. St. Liam, Horse of the Year in 2005, was born and raised at Spring Hill Farm in Casanova, VA. Blue Ridge Farm in Upperville is one of the oldest thoroughbred breeding farms in the country and Audley Farm in Berryville, one of the United State's well respected thoroughbred nurseries, was once home to Sir Barton, Triple Crown winner, more widely known now by those who recognize his name as the horse that Man O' War defeated in a famous match race. These are just a few in a proud heritage. Maryland, too, has pride in its racing giants. Man O' War Man O' War was raised and trained throughout his racing career on the eastern shore at Sam Riddle's Glen Riddle Farm in Berlin, MD. Taylor House Museum Discovery and his famous son, Native Dancer spent their stud careers at Alfred Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm near Glyndon, MD, and Northern Dancer, grandson of "the gray ghost of Sagamore" out of his daughter, Natalma, spent the majority of his stud career near Chesapeake City, MD at what was the US branch of Canada's Windfields Farm. Handicap champion, Kelso, spent his retirement as a foxhunter for his breeder, Allaire DuPont. Perhaps the most historically significant, BelAir Stud, was built by MD Governor Samuel Ogle who played an instrumental part in promoting the thoroughbred in his state. Later purchased by the Woodward family, Belair was home to the only father and son Triple Crown winners, Omaha and Gallant Fox, as well as the great champion, Nashua. Until it's closing in 1957, Belair was the oldest thoroughbred-breeding farm in the country. The city of Bowie and the Friends of Belair Estate now maintain both the Belair mansion and the stables as a museum, open to the public free of charge. City of Bowie

Sadly, now all that remains of Glen Riddle are the stables and an indoor track, being renovated as a golf course clubhouse in a planned community. Glenriddle

Sagamore Farm has been divided up but remains mainly horse oriented and a portion of the land is now home to the Maryland Stallion Station. Windfields was also disbursed after the peak in the 1980's and now is home to both a standardbred farm, Winback, and Northview Stallion Station, which occupies the famous stallion barn that was once home to Northern Dancer and currently is one of the top breeding farms in the state. Champion sons of Northern Dancer bred at Windfields include Epsom Darby winners Nijinsky II, Secreto and The Minstrel.

Maryland's horse industry is also home to such notable farms as Country Life, Bonita Farm (home now of Kentucky Derby winner, Go For Gin) and Roedown Farm, familiar to many as the site of one of the popular Washington DC area steeplechase meets. Maryland is also home to the Fair Hill Training Center

formerly an estate owned by William DuPont, Jr. In 1974, the estate was purchased by the state and the 5,700 acre Fair Hill Reserve was created, including the training center and over 3,000 acres of parkland open to equine access. http://www.marylandthoroughbred.com/breeders/

Timber horses race each weekend in the spring and fall

Steeplechasing in Virginia

VA Steeplechase VA Steeplechase

http://www.vasteelechase.com/ and Maryland Steeplechasing websites Maryland Steeplechasing
http://www.marylandsteeplechasing.com/ list upcoming race meets in the spring and fall. Popular with city dwellers, these meets offer the opportunity to witness firsthand the friendly competition of area thoroughbred enthusiasts. Race goers pack picnic lunches and head to the countryside to soak up a bit of colonial tradition.

Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and other Mid-Atlantic horse breeders are proud to carry on the historic tradition of breeding and racing quality thoroughbreds. Attracting top stallions to the area helps ensure that local thoroughbred owners are less likely to send their mares out of state to be bred. This not only keeps the stud fee money in state, it also keeps the mares local, generating enormous money for the supporting industry of boarding farms, feed dealers, veterinarians and farrier care for the horses. Local farmers who supply hay and straw benefit, as do the communities that provide housing and shopping for the large number of people employed by the horse industry. What, on the surface, seems to be a day at the races to most people, is a very important part of the economy of the area.

Black Tie Affair, winner of the Travers Stakes and Breeder's Cup Classic, and Prized, winner of the Breeder's Cup Mile are among the stallions who currently stand at O'Sullivan Farm outside Charlestown, WV. Black Tie Affair was purchased by a syndicate and brought to Virginia's Blue Ridge Farm from Japan prior to relocating to O'Sullivan. Black Tie Affair at Blue Ridge Farm, Upperville, VA.

Black Tie Affair Racehorse

Lord Avie, retired at Blue Ridge Farm
Bop, at Legacy Farm in VA prior to relocating to O'Sullivan
Go For Gin joined the rank of stallions sharing the barn with homebred old favorite, Preakness winner Deputed Testimony, at Bonita Farm.
Bonita Farms

Curious yearlings at Bonita Farm

Northview Stallion Station is home to the grand old man of Maryland Breeding, Two Punch and his son, Not For Love, currently among the leading sires in the country. Northview Stallions
Polish Miner, one of the young stars at Northview, is a grandson of the Great Northern Dancer.

Polish Miner

Champion Awad, record setting winner of the Arlington Million at Northview. Awad now retired from stud, makes his home at Old Friends in Kentucky.

Maryland Stallion Station is home to a group of extremely well bred stallions, sons of the top sires in the nation. Maryland Stallions

Read about Safety Kept/Maryland bred filly: Safely Kept Racehorse

Excellent Links for Retraining Ex-Racehorses:

The Bold Jumper Training Ex-Racehorses for Hunters
Retraining Ex Race Horses-Canter Mid-Atlantic
Tranquility Farm Retraining Ex-Racehorses

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