Creature Comforts: At Maryland agriculture center, rescued and retired Thoroughbreds redefine aftercare by helping humans in need

After 30 years of military service that included two overseas deployments, Gail Watts returned to civilian life – an unfamiliar, less regimented life – and discovered she needed help getting back to who she was.

Strong and willing in the military, Watts engaged civilian life with an array of new emotions that left her tired and miffed. When Veterans Affairs doctors and medications failed to help, she agreed in 2015 to participate in a nascent therapy program called Saratoga WarHorse, a nonprofit venture established in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

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Big Job: Lillis steps in, stands up for backstretch community

Bobby Lillis may be physically small, as he measures just 60 inches. But he stands tall and, like Secretariat, he has an outsized heart.

Most days, he sits at his aging desk in a cramped office inside the building that houses the backstretch cafeteria at Laurel Park. He has two titles – executive director of the Maryland Horsemen’s Assistance Foundation (MHAF) and director of benefits for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) – and his door is always open.

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All About Bob-Justify sets stage for Triple Crown bid as Baffert ties record with seventh Preakness victory

Long after training hours the day before the 143rd Preakness Stakes-G1, Bob Baffert kicked around Pimlico Race Course. His horses ate hay or dozed in the stakes barn, his staffers attended to their duties, he’d done his interviews and was – for a Hall of Fame trainer who has made the Triple Crown his personal playground for the better part of 20 years – briefly alone without much purpose.

He chatted with fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas for a while, stepped in and out of the stakes barn to avoid intermittent rain that settled into the Baltimore area for what seemed like weeks and chit-chatted with various members of the press corps lingering around, digging for details or making up for lost time. 

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Doubling Up-Senior Senator collects a second Maryland Hunt Cup

Twenty-two times Senior Senator sized up a timber fence at the Maryland Hunt Cup. His eyes saw it first, then his ears – instantly flicked forward. The signals went to his feet, his knees, shoulders, those long muscles across his back, his stifles, gaskins, hocks and he was up and over and galloping off to the next one. 

Behind him, eight foes tried to do the same. And mostly failed.

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Why Timonium?: Mix of factors push May sale to new heights

Why Timonium? Hey, it’s a question. Especially when you start to think about most of the other venues for North America’s public Thoroughbred auctions – Lexington, Saratoga, Ocala, Gulfstream Park, Del Mar and so on. 

Good old Timonium would not win anyone’s glitz and glamour contest, nor would the sales pavilion next to a McDonald’s capture the imagination of an equine artist or resident historian. But, there it is – as important a cog in the Thoroughbred sales engine as the Humphrey S. Finney pavilion, Newtown Paddocks or that weathervane atop the Keeneland pavilion. Never is that more evident than in May, when the 2-year-olds arrive. Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic sale runs May 21-22, with public workouts May 15-17. The catalog includes 600 horses, up 25 over last year and pretty much the maximum for the barn area and racetrack. 

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Catalog Surfing: Two-year-olds boast plenty of promise in advance of sale

Some 600 horses will fill the stable area at Timonium, Md., for Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s annual sale of 2-year-olds this month. Though some people do manage – somehow – seeing them all is a challenge.  

Simply, it’s a big group of horses. They were bred in 15 states (one each from Arkansas and Kansas if you’re keeping score of the obscure), one Canadian province, plus Ireland and Korea. They represent consignors from Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Louisiana, Texas and Kentucky. They are by stallions whose names begin with every letter of the alphabet save X and Z. 


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Den Mother: Holden makes it work at Country Life

The first assignment Christy Holden was given when she showedup to work at Country Life Farm as a 15-year-old may have sealed her future.

“Josh Pons handed me a piece of paper, a pen and a thermometer and told me to go out in the field and take the temperatures of the foals,” Holden, now 48 and general manager of Country Life and Merryland farms in Maryland, remembers on a cold, snowy morning early in 2018.

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Back in the Game: Three new stallions at Bonita join crowd in Maryland

When first-year stallion Norumbega died last June from colic, Bonita Farm’s Bill Boniface considered the prospects of starting over – again – and talked himself out of it.

“This is the end,” he said of Bonita’s stallion program. The Darlington, Md., farm stood Etched, but the stallion wasn’t proving to be a commercial success and he would soon be sold to Korea. The aging Mojave Moon, pensioned and reduced to the role of teaser, would keep the stone stallion barn from being empty but Bonita had stood its last stallion.

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Loose Horse: Ben’s Cat gone too soon

Turned loose. All those times Ben’s Cat had risen like a ravenous black wave, gathering, menacing, consuming what hindered his path. His late-rushing gusto turned witnesses breathless and exhilarated, the outcomes confirming him a natural phenomenon.

Turned loose. In the surreal shadows of stall 28, King Leatherbury’s Laurel Park barn, Fern Augusti made one last round on a warm June Wednesday turned stifling by its consequence. She ducked under the webbing, as she’d done a thousand times across nine years as his groom, prettied Ben’s Cat’s forelock and embraced him. It was time to let go.

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at Pimlico

We found ourselves in the gloaming, the twilight often summoned by Bill Nack in his racing stories to represent the awareness of time passing that doesn’t seem like a real thing until you find yourself in it.

After the Woodlawn Vase had been presented for the 142nd Preakness Stakes, we hung around for the 14th race that followed because why hurry off from something you don’t want to see end?

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A Hunt Cup at Long Last

Back when he taught ninth-grade government at Towson High, Gerry Brewster listened to a kid talk about horses.

“I ride eventers, show horses, that kind of thing,” was how the kid put it. 

Brewster had a simple question, “Have you ever heard of the Maryland Hunt Cup?”

“What’s the Maryland Hunt Cup?”

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Faith in a Field

Frustrated, exhausted, angry and hurt, Becky Davis sat on the ground and cried. There was nothing else to do. Molly, the Connemara cross pony Davis bred to a Thoroughbred stallion, and her unborn foal were going to die. Technically, they were still alive, but there was no way to save them now. The foal, in the wrong position for birth, was declared dead by two veterinarians, Davis’ father and brother. Molly, injured from the labor and near death, would be euthanized.

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Trusted advisor

Mary Jo Pons, matriarch of Maryland's Country Life Farm, passed away on Monday evening, Jan. 1 at the age of 87. We remember her fondly with this small piece of Pons history from the September 2007 edition.

As the matriarch of a large brood growing up on a working Thoroughbred nursery, Mary Jo Pons had watched a vast mélange of pets roam the grounds of her family's Country Life Farm over the years.

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Speculate fueled lifelong passion of Bayard Sharp

In the 20th century, 63 runners bred in the Mid-Atlantic were named national champions. Mid-Atlantic Thor­oughbred takes a look at one of those luminaries.

Among Bayard Sharp’s priorities after he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1940 was to buy land to pursue a foxhunting passion. He chose a property, sight unseen, in Middletown, Del. He then looked for horses to populate it. One of his first purchases launched more than 60 years of racing, and later breeding, achievements.

Sharp spent $2,500 in late 1940 for a 4-year-old Virginia-bred gelding named Speculate owned by Sid Holloway. The son of the Ultimus stallion Westwick, bred by the late Capt. P.M. Walker and foaled at his Pagebrook Stud near Boyce, had competed exclusively in steeplechases, getting his first win that October in his sixth start.

Turned over to noted jump rider and trainer William L. Passmore, Speculate carried Sharp’s colors for the first time in July 1941 at Saratoga, and won. The lanky brown gelding became Sharp’s first stakes winner when he took Saratoga’s Shillelah Steeplechase next out. In his first seven starts for his young owner, all with Tom Roby in the irons, Speculate never finished worse than second, five in stakes. By far his biggest score came in Belmont Park’s Grand National, the richest steeplechase race in the county, that October. The easy 6-length win was not only lucrative, it secured a national championship.

Morgan A19575 Speculate Grand National 1941 finish

The Grand National was the highlight of Speculate’s career, as he struggled with injuries and bad racing luck in his final four starts. After finishing third in the 1943 Shillelah at Belmont Park, he pulled up lame and never raced again.

Sharp had other steeplechase stars, but soon shifted his stable to flat runners. His 39 stakes winners, many homebreds, included Grade 1 winner Mississippi Mud and her son, Dixieland Band, a multiple graded winner who excelled as a sire. An original director of Delaware Park and steward of The Jockey Cub, Sharp remained active with his horse interests until his death at 89 in August 2002.


Late-blooming Open Fire

In the 20th century, 63 runners bred in the Mid-Atlantic were named national champions. Mid-Atlantic Thor­oughbred takes a look at one of those luminaries.

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Hopes, dreams at 30: Anniversary spurs thoughts of past, future in West Virginia

“I didn’t believe it,” Buck Woodson said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Even then, nearly 30 years past, doubt had no residence in Woodson’s West Virginia stable, the space long occupied by back-at-the-knees sensation Onion Juice. Race after marvelous race, the conformational misfit had outrun better-made rivals, winning stakes, stoking hope, assuring Woodson that certain gallant homebreds surmount odds far beyond the tote board.

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One last trip to the Timonium sale

Plunked down in the middle of the strip malls of suburban Baltimore is a place. This place is the Maryland State Fairgrounds. Home to conferences, cat shows, and yes, the state fair, I know it better as a racetrack and home of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Thoroughbred sales. 

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Hansel’s home, and so much more

In the mist of early morning, Lazy Lane Farms lies gentle on Virginia’s rolling green hills. Just outside of historic Upperville, along Route 50, the colonial, pale yellow manor house sits stately on a hill at the end of the long drive lined with inviting Bradford Pear trees and looks almost translucent in the filtered light.

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Riding Great: Dominguez wrote Hall of Fame ticket with signature perfomances

Two years ago, Ramon Dominguez stood on a red carpet between Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Manny Ycaza as part of Saratoga Race Course’s first Jockey Legends Day. Later, the two-time Saratoga riding champion posed for a photo among the greats. Laffit Pincay Jr. sat to Dominguez’s left. Angel Cordero Jr. was there. So were Jorge Velasquez, Ron Turcotte and other greats.

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At Long Last: Preakness winner Tom Ochiltree joins peers from Pimlico’s ‘Great Race’

It took more than a year for the race to come together, but when it did, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore in October 1877, the nation was riveted. Five-year-old superstars Ten Broeck, the sensation from the West, and Tom Ochiltree, representing the famed East Coast stable of George Lorillard, were finally to meet, and joining them was the equally talented Pennsylvania-bred 4-year-old Parole.

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A Legitimate Favorite

Editor’s Note: The National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame adds former editor of the Maryland Horse (precursor to Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred) Raleigh Burroughs to the Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor this year, along with writer Steve Haskin. Former Maryland Horse Breeders Association executive director Rich Wilcke remembers Burroughs and his tales.

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Murphy's Masterpieces

Nobody had a spring season like Cyril Murphy. The Irish-born, Maryland-based trainer won 12 races from just 24 starts, including the Iroquois Steeplechase and Temple Gwathmey with Rawnaq (Ire), the My Lady’s Manor and Virginia Gold Cup with Ebanour (Ire), the David Semmes Hurdle Stakes with Charminster (Ire) and the Margaret Currey Henley Stakes with One Lucky Lady (GB).

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Worth Waiting

Keith Desormeaux saw a visitor walk up the shedrow and say hello to the sleepy dark bay horse in Stall 21 of the Pimlico Stakes Barn.

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Cathryn the Great

The young fillies at Chanceland Farm ripped and raced and ran, bolting from one end of the field to the other in a never-ending game of Who’s the Fastest? They ducked and dodged and dived, stopping to nibble some grass, sip some water, grab a nap in the sun or a roll in the dirt. Then off they’d go again.

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Region sends quality 3-year-olds to major races as 2016 stakes get higher

Stuart Grant thought about the question, then tried to answer.

“The gameplan is I have 32 mares, they’re going to produce 24 or so foals a year. The idea is to sell a dozen and keep a dozen and hopefully the ones you sell support the ones you keep and you get them to the races at zero cost. That’s the business plan. It doesn’t always work, but . . .”

Bob Manfuso thought about the question, then tried to answer.

“We go to the sale and try to be realistic. We put a fair value on the horses and if they sell, they sell.”

Christian Hansen thought about the question, then tried to answer.

“We are commercial breeders. We do not retain a lot of horses. We race a little bit, mostly fillies we either buy or we bred to retain.”

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Line of Duty

Joe Miller is a big, strapping man. He measures 6 feet tall and weighs approximately 265 pounds. People who don’t know him look at him and think he is perfect for his job?–that of horse ambulance driver.

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The Washington D. C. International: A Comeback Story?

No one event solidified Laurel Park’s place in racing history more than the Wash­­ington, D.C., International. Now, a bill that would help resurrect the Washington D.C. International has sailed through the House 137-0 after passing the Senate 46-0 last month.

The bill, which only needs the signature of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to become law, would give $500,000 for three years to the Maryland International, a turf race to be contested at Laurel Park.

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Next Steps in West Virginia

Measured opinion might suggest racing in West Virginia is at a crossroads. For those who have watched legislative cuts blast the state’s racetrack purses in recent years, it’s perhaps more of a dead end that’s in sight.

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Win or lose, they’ve got game

On February 21, Maryland lost horsewoman Gretchen Mobberly at age 84. She and her family made a big impact on Maryland racing. In our August 2009 issue, as our cover feature, writer Vinnie Perrone crafted a wonderful story about the Mobberly women.

Gretchen Mobberley and her daughter, Bird, carry on the Howard County, Md., breeding and racing enterprise launched in the 1960s.

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All in a Day's Work

“Did you bring your riding gear?”

Jimmy Day, slumped against the rain, water dripping off the salt and pepper stubble on his chin, navy rain coat and pants long defeated, looked up from the back of allowance winner Our Emerald Forest (Ire) and asked that simple, yearning question. With one set still to go, Day was looking for reinforcements.

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The Rest of the Story

Mercedes-Benz uses the slogan, “The best or nothing” for its marketing in the United States, but probably didn’t have our February Past Time photo in mind.

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Past is Present

Sitting in the Tastee Diner in Laurel, Md., Clark Bedwell Shaffer Jr. orders scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and a cup of coffee and settles in to tell his family’s story. On a warm, summer morning, he is nostalgic and happy to dip into the past and into a little-known piece of Maryland’s Thoroughbred racing history.

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The Man Behind Glade Valley

There must have been times during the last 30 years when the challenges seemed overwhelming: auction sales that turned out to be an exercise in frustration; fences that needed re-building; housing developments sprouting up on all sides. Dr. Robert A. Leonard, manager, part-owner and founder of present-day Glade Valley Farms, takes it all in stride.

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A Training Life

Across the miles, man’s grandest plans have bowed to whim, chance and nature. Columbus set off for Asia and alighted famously short. Fleming, researching influenza, happened to discover penicillin. The second Atomic bomb struck Nagasaki, Japan, because clouds hid Kokura.

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Hall of Fame Ride

Maryland trainer Leatherbury takes place among Thoroughbred racing’s legends.

Vinnie Perrone was recognized for “Hall of Fame Ride: Maryland Trainer Leatherbury takes place among Thoroughbred Racing Legend,” a profile of King T. Leatherbury, which appeared in the MHBA publication Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred in August 2015. Perrone is a previous Eclipse Award winner, having won for his 2008 story on the late Clem Florio which appeared in the magazine.

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October 1987: City Boy Larry Murray Supervises Glade Valley

Photographs by Neena Ewing

When Larry Murray moved into the farm manager's house at Glade Valley Farms back in January, 1979, he didn't feel much at home. "Here I was, a city boy from Brooklyn . . . I don't think I really expected it to work out," says Murray, who was only 26 years old when he stepped right into the job of farm manager at the huge, 560-acre commercial breeding establishment in Frederick (Md.).

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Horses, and history, at The Meadow

What became of Meadow Stud after the heady days of the 1970s? Until a few years ago, that remained the question, as the Doswell, Va., property underwent ownership changes, failed grand plans, decay and disrepair.

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Regional Hall of Famers

There have been 23 Mid-Atlantic-bred Hall of Fame horses, plus many other connections and horsemen inducted with strong ties to the region. This year we will add a few more to that list.

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Chris Antley, King Leatherbury, Lava Man and Xtra Heat elected to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Jockey Chris Antley, trainer King Leatherbury and the racehorses Lava Man and Xtra Heat have been elected to the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame in the contemporary category. The electees will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday, Aug. 7 at 10:30 a.m. at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion.

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Maryland's One and Only King

Maryland legend King T. Leatherbury is finally on the Hall of Fame ballot, so we're rereading Vinnie Perrone's masterpiece on the King from our May 2010 magazine.

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Tides have turned for Atlantic City race course

With the announcement this past Friday that the last open day of business for simulcasting at Atlantic City Race Course will be Friday, January 16, 2015, we revived this previous story by Bill Mooney from the September/October 1995 magazine.

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Heroes rise in the Hunt Cup

2013 AHP Award: Second Place Editorial Event Coverage Single Article circulation under 20,000 (print)


Jacqueline Ohrstrom and Tim Beecher watched the Maryland Hunt Cup from different vantage points, but thought about the same thing as Professor Maxwell put on a galloping and jumping clinic to win the 117th running of the historic timber race in Glyndon April 27.

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Taking His Turn

2013 AHP Award: Winner Editorial Event Coverage Single Article circulation under 20,000 (print)

Orb delivers Derby win for old-school trio of McGaughey, Janney, Phipps

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A Belmont Dream with the Masters

2013 AHP Awards: Honorable Mention Feature Single Article circulation under 10,000 (print)

Cot Campbell walked into the track kitchen at Aiken Training Center, went behind the counter, poured himself a cup of coffee and found a seat. More disappointed than an abandoned basset hound, the master of Dogwood Stable had just watched Palace Malice run in the Kentucky Derby and needed some advice.

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Change of Pace

2013 AHP AWARD: Winner of Feature Single Article circulation under 10,000 (print)

After building a Thoroughbred business in Pennsylvania, Abbotts make plans for the future

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Student of Life

2013 AHP Award: 3rd place Personality Profile Single Article circulation under 10,000 (print)

Achievements with legendary Jay Trump just a part of legacy left by Tommy Smith

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Finish Line

Winner 2013 AHP Award: Personality Profile Single Article circulation under 10,000 (print)

Newspaperman, racing historian Joe Kelly gets the win in remarkable life, career in racing

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A Return to Glory

Winner of the 2014 David Woods Award, this post-Preakness piece was published in the July 2013 Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred.

"What's different?"

Jerry Bailey asked Gary Stevens the question Friday before the Preakness as the two Hall of Fame jockeys–one retired and one recently un-retired–met in the kitchen of the Pimlico jocks' room.

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Life lived large: the tale of Dickie Small

The Thoroughbred world suffered a great loss with the death of Richard Small this past weekend. Read Vinnie Perrone's award-winning story from the February 2009 Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred of this Maryland icon. He captured the man like no one else ever could:

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Racing's Great Mystery Man

This weekend the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point runs at the Voss family's Atlanta Hall in Monkton, Maryland. The locals call them The Voss Races. Mostly due to one man's overwhelming influence on the event, Tom Voss. This past January, the industry lost this great horseman and friend. He will be notably missed by many who attend tomorrow's event. We dug into our archives for Joe Clancy's August 2002 story.

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