Betty Moran was an automatic. In the early days of Steeplechase Times, my first real foray into writing about Thoroughbred racing, I’d ask Mrs. Moran (she was always Mrs. Moran to me, even if she probably would have been OK with Betty) to buy an advertisement for the Radnor Hunt Races. She’d say yes to a full page, we’d run it on the back cover and send her a bill.
In exchange, I’d give a talk about steeplechase racing to Radnor’s race sponsors every year. I’d tell a story or two, discuss the horses and the horse people, take some questions, have a world-class lunch at the Radnor Hunt Club and make some other advertising connections with the various banks, travel agencies, car dealers and investment advisors on hand. Mellon Bank, later BNY Mellon, signed on for some ads –
and had me speak at the company tent on race day – as did the local Subaru dealer.
None of it worked without Moran, a steeplechase and flat owner, Thoroughbred breeder and all-around good person with far loftier causes than steeplechase or even flat racing. She somehow connected steeplechase racing to major players in Philad-elphia-area business and philanthropy.
When I heard she died in January, the various connections came flying back. Moran might be (must be) the only person in history to win the Belmont Stakes and Aintree Grand National as an owner. The lists get a little bit murky, but she seems to be in an exclusive club there. If you need more qualifiers, add wins in the American Grand National hurdle stakes and Arlington Million to the mix. And she was probably just as proud of her horses’ wins in the Tom Roby hurdle stakes at Delaware Park, Pennsylvania Derby and National Hunt Cup hurdle stakes.
Just leave it that Moran was one of a kind – in all sorts of ways.
Her Brushwood Stable horses won those races, and far more, during a lifetime in Thoroughbred racing. Based on a former dairy farm 30 miles from Center City Philadelphia in Chester County, Pa., Brushwood bred and raised champions Unique Bella and Russian Rhythm, was the retirement home of her 1985 Belmont winner Creme Fraiche, gave future Grade 1 winner Hard Spun his early lessons, raised million-dollar yearlings and provided a home to some of the world’s most valuable broodmares. Moran’s horses were trained by Morris “Pop” Dixon (known equally for 1945 Preakness winner Polynesian and 1970s Mid-Atlantic hero Grey Beret), Burley Cocks (a Hall of Famer who helped fellow Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard get started), Hall of Famer Bill Mott, classic winner Michael Matz, Irish legend Ted Walsh and others of various resumes including son Michael Moran, then son-in-law Chuck Lawrence and former jockey Gregg McCarron.
Moran reveled in all of it – wins in 7-furlong turf races at Fair Hill meaning as much as the Grade and Group 1 scores the world over. Her involvement at Radnor spanned decades, including 30 years as chair of the meet. Because of her, and co-chair Frolic Weymouth, the races became a major fundraiser for the Brandywine Conservancy – a land-preservation group known for saving farmland around the Brandywine Creek in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The May race meet is known for its motto, “Racing for open space,” and delivers on it every year. The 2020 running will be its 90th, and it promises to be a magical day for anyone who knew Moran.
We’re all bigger than horse racing, perhaps no one more so than this woman. Name a cause dear to Thoroughbred racing and breeding and the Morans have surely supported it – from New Bolton Center’s critical care center to the Thoroughbred Charities of America and far beyond.
Beyond horses, Betty Moran in 2011 received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the greater Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She was a founding member of the Chester County Community Foundation and received the Jordan Award for Philanthropy in 2000. In addition to the Brandywine Conservancy, she served on the boards of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, the Bryn Clovis Charity Foundation, Paoli Hospital, Community Volunteers in Medicine, Operation Warm, Home of the Sparrow and the Chester County Food Bank. Those and many other organizations (from Boy Scouts of America to La Comunidad Hispana health center in Chester County, Pa.) benefited from her time and contributions.
Years ago, my wife and I accompanied our son Nolan to the Kettlebell Classic swim meet in Philadelphia. The competition takes place in the Jimmy Moran competition pool at the Salvation Army community center. It’s a beautiful place, a fixture in its neighborhood, benefitting children, adults and families from all walks of life. The pool is named for Moran’s son Jimmy, who died in 2008. For her support, the Salvation Army gave Betty Moran its Others Award in 2009. In a gracious acceptance speech you can find on YouTube, she said Jimmy “had a good heart and a wonderful ability to find the true goodness in everyone and everything he encountered.”
At least some of that came from his mother.