Don’t close Bowie. Well… don’t close the idea of Bowie. Dance to Bristol provided the best advertisement for the place with a hard-charging victory in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga in late July.
The 4-year-old filly is a Kentucky-bred, but she’s as regional as the Chesapeake Bay with a sales receipt from Fasig-Tipton Midlantic to prove it. The daughter of Speightstown learned her early lessons with Cary Frommer in Aiken, S.C. At the sale, Marylander David Wantz signed the ticket for $42,000 and Dance to Bristol went to trainer Ollie Figgins III at Charles Town. He ran her once at his home base, then made a decision. The 5-furlong West Virginia oval works for some horses, but it wasn’t going to fit Dance to Bristol or Figgins’ thoughts on upgrading his stable.
Enter Bowie. The place used to be a regular stop on the region’s calendar, racing in the cold of winter and the blaze of summer, and developing a passionate fan base that frequently arrived by train and even spent the night during a blizzard. Bowie closed its doors as a racetrack in 1985, but has been ticking along as a training center ever since.
Figgins loves the place.
“It’s a mile track and it’s a better surface,” he said after the Honorable Miss. “Charles Town is a hard place to train a horse that’s going to run at this level. I had a couple of horses I thought would fit in Maryland, and her of course, and I wanted to creep in there and get going a little.”
He’s done more than that. Figgins’ horses are competitive anywhere and Dance to Bristol could be in the midst of a championship campaign. The Honorable Miss was her sixth consecutive win (and second graded triumph in New York) after starting the year with a second to Bold Affair in the What a Summer Stakes at Laurel.
The Bowie girl, who races for Susan Wantz, is on a roll. Of course, when Dance to Bristol spent a few days in Saratoga, chickens moved into her stall at home but that’s Bowie being Bowie.
Owned by the Maryland Jockey Club, Bowie is set to close as part of the 10-year deal struck between track management and horsemen. It was the right call. MJC should not be expected to fund the operation of three stabling/training facilities and, set up correctly, Laurel and Pimlico should have enough space. Bowie has some value as real estate in a developed area, which could make it a source of improvements at the other two tracks. Horsemen have to realize the days of unlimited stabling are becoming things of the past.
From any number of standpoints (business, consolidation, maintenance costs, interloping fowl…), the closure makes sense and pretty much has to happen.
But where do guys like Figgins go without Bowie? Where do they creep in to get going? Laurel and Pimlico are supposed to have more room soon, but the concept of another small, quality training center really should have legs. ?Fair Hill’s reputation is well known, but stalls in the showpiece barns are out of reach for some trainers and the added shipping costs can weigh on a big stable.
Bowie works, despite its quirks, because its training surface is a winner and its occupants are loyal. The same concept could work somewhere else.
Dance to Bristol is proof.