For nearly 100 years Glade Valley Farms operated on fertile land in north central Maryland, just a few miles northeast of the town of Frederick. It ranked as one of Maryland’s most important nurseries, turning out champions, standing leading sires and producing bloodstock that can be found in the pedigrees of racing’s elite.
In the fall of 2016, a year after the death of co-owner Howard M. Bender, the era of Glade Valley Farms as a Thoroughbred breeding farm officially came to an end.
All that remains now is the history.
Rich Land and *Challenger II
Retired Chicago advertising executive William Brann had found a new hobby –
racing horses – after meeting racing enthusiast Robert S. Castle, an executive with one of Brann’s former clients, Montgomery Ward. The two teamed up to form Branncastle Stable in the late 1920s, raced a few winners, and took the big leap to breed their own runners. Said Brann of the partnership years later: “We were two tired and retired businessmen who turned to racing and breeding for recreation.”
The decision was made to find a suitablefarm. “In quest of a base for their breeding operations, Brann and Castle spent the best part of a year in an exhaustive search,” wrote Joe Hickey Jr. in a Maryland Horse profile of Branncastle great Challedon. “After countless inspection tours and soil analyses, they decided to settle in Frederick County, Maryland, long considered one of the richest and most productive areas in rural America.” The area is known for it’s limestone-rich soil and mineral-rich water – limestone quarrying had been an important industry in Frederick County, and numerous limestone kilns operated in the region, including one on the farm, from the late 1870s until the mid-1950s.
The precise location of the property the partners named Branncastle was a dairy farm in Walkersville. As the farm was being converted into something suitable for horses, Brann and Castle commissioned bloodstock agent Christopher J. FitzGerald to find a quality stallion to stand. FitzGerald went to England and purchased *Challenger II.
One of England’s top 2-year-olds in 1929, *Challenger II was owned by Lord Dewar (of the Scottish whiskey fame), who intended to race the son of Swynford in the Epsom Derby. When Lord Dewar died in the spring of 1930, the colt was ordered withdrawn from all upcoming engagements due to English racing rules of the time. Brann and Castle reportedly paid $100,000, withthe intention of racing the colt in the U.S. and then retiring him to stud.
Plans went awry immediately, as within 24 hours of buying the undefeated 3-year-old, the partners received word that the colt had severely injured the tendon in his right hind leg while training, having kicked out and getting caught in hidden barbed wire in a hedge. When *Challenger II finally arrived in the United States months later, efforts to get him to the races kept getting derailed as he never fully recovered, and he entered stud at Branncastle Farm in 1932.
Castle, in ill health for many years, made his home on the farm, raising his family and managing the horses, including overseeing the first crops of Branncastle’s young stallion, until the partnership split up in 1937.
*Challenger II was bred mostly to Branncastle mares the first years, and was a hit with his first crop, born in 1933. From a dozen foals, he sired 10 winners, including stakes winner Challephen; all 17 foals in his second crop won, and four became stakes winners. Two Branncastle homebred stakes-winning fillies from that second crop – Savage Beauty and The Schemer – became producers for Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s Sagamore Farm. Savage Beauty was the dam of Sagamore-bred stakes winner Femme Fatale (by Discovery), as well as Little Hut (by Occupy), who for the Nuckols Brothers in Kentucky went on to produce important sires Habitat and Northfields. The Schemer was the dam of champion handicap mare Conniver to the cover of Discovery.
Following Castle’s departure, Brann changed the name of the farm to Glade Valley, for which the area had been known, and expanded the operation. Over the next 14 years, until his death at age 73 in 1951, Brann saw his farm rise in national prominence and *Challenger II rank first on the American general sire list. Brann was elected a member of TheJockey Club.
Bluebloods in Maryland
Brann and Castle had purchased more than a dozen mares the first years, the most important a 3-year-old *Sir Gallahad III filly from William Woodward’s Belair Stud consignment at Saratoga in August 1932. Laura Gal, a winner of two races that year, was bought specifically to be bred to *Challenger II. She was covered by him in 1933 and remained in training at 4, going winless in 12 starts before being retired.
All eight of Laura Gal’s foals were by the Maryland stallion, the first the stakes-placed filly Little Sleeper. Also later purchased by Vanderbilt, Little Sleeper was the second dam of Sagamore’s two-time champion Bed o’ Roses.
Challedon, Laura Gal’s third foal, was born in 1936. The bay colt, bred in the name of Branncastle, was the first horse to be named the nation’s Horse of the Year twice (1939-1940). He won 17 stakes, 20 races in all, from 44 starts, including the Preakness, Whitney, Hollywood Gold Cup, and back-to-back runnings of the Pimlico Special. He was the leading money winner of 1939, earning $184,535, which made up more than half of *Challenger II’s national leading total.
The town of Frederick took pride in Challedon, and the residents became beneficiaries of his success, with a Hollywood twist.
In 1940, the Tivoli Theatre in Frederick was a popular movie house, designed with large built-in fans to circulate air, but during the summers it remained uncomfortably hot for patrons. Installing air conditioning was cost prohibitive for the owners (estimated at more than $100,000).
Challedon was in California that summer to contest the Hollywood Gold Cup, accompanied by Brann and a friend, Frederick surgeon Edward Thomas, who was not only a racing fan, but enjoyed going to the Tivoli.
At a pre-race party, Thomas overheard Warner Studio head and Hollywood Park part-owner Jack Warner say he was going to bet $50,000 on the Gold Cup favorite, *Kayak II. Thomas persuaded the studio mogul to bet on Challedon instead. Warner was rewarded with Challedon’s victory, and asked Thomas how he could return the favor. Thomas requested air conditioning in the movie house and the Tivoli Theatre became the first air-conditioned building in Frederick.
Challedon was named to the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1977, joining another great born at the Walkersville farm, Gallorette, who had been inducted in 1962.
Gallorette, a 1942 daughter of *Challenger II, was bred in the name of Hall of Fame trainer Preston Burch out of the *Sir Gallahad III mare Gallette. Brann had been looking to purchase as many *Sir Gallahad III mares as he could find to breed to his stallion, and Burch had Gallette, but didn’t want to part with her. So Burch and Brann set up an arrangement where the mare was bred to *Challenger II every year, and they would alternate as owner of her foals. Brann got the first one – Gallorette.
The big rangy chestnut proved to be one of the finest distaffers in racing history. She was named champion handicap mare in 1946, but by the end of her career the majority of her races came in the handicap division against males, whom she routinely defeated. She raced 72 times and won 21 (13 stakes) – and retired as the world’s leading money-winning mare with $445,585, but the numbers don’t come close to indicating her greatness.
When she defeated Stymie in the Brooklyn Handicap of 1946, it was only the third time in 58 runnings of the race that a mare had accomplished the feat. She won that season’s Metropolitan Handicap over 13 others, as well as the Bay Shore Handicap in which the previous year’s Preakness winner Polynesian was third. The next year she missed by a head to Rico Monte in the Whitney, with Stymie third, set a track record at Saratoga in the Wilson Stakes at 1 mile, and carried up to 128 pounds. At age 6, she won the Whitney, Carter and Wilson.
End of Act One
*Challenger II died in December 1948 at age 21 after bouts of colic. He sired 316 foals in 17 crops. His largest crops, an average of 32, came from 1940 through 1942. His numbers included 89 percent starters from foals, 79 percent winners from starters, 34 stakes winners. His daughters produced 48 stakes winners and can be found in the tail female lines of the likes of Hall of Famer Zenyatta, classic winner Shareef Dancer, champion 2-year-old Nadir, Dancer’s Image and local legend Little Bold John.
Following Brann’s death, his widow Mabel chose to sell the Glade Valley horses as a group. Arthur B. “Bull” Hancock offered to buy one mare in particular, the 8-year-old Gallita (a full-sister to Gallorette), but had to take the entire lot of 16 mares, eight weanlings, four yearlings and the stallions Pictor and *Fast and Fair. Hancock sold them for the Brann estate at Keeneland in 1953, paying $15,500 for Gallita, who was not in foal. She was bred to Claiborne stallion *Nasrullah the next spring and produced Nadir.
Also among the mares sold was 9-year-old Legendra, stakes-placed daughter of *Challenger II and Lady Legend and a full sister to stakes winner Pictor. Legendra had one foal of racing age at the time, a 2-year-old son named Life Jacket who finished second in that fall’s Pimlico Breeders’ Stakes. Taylor Hardin bought Legendra, barren at the time, for $8,000 and bred three stakes winners in succession from her – Hasty Doll, Rich Tradition and Sky Clipper. From 14 foals, Legendra had 10 winners, five stakes performers, and was behind dozens of stakes performers born at Hardin’s Newstead Farm in Virginia, including multiple Grade 1 winner Mrs. Warren, who sold for $2.1 million at the Newstead Farm dispersal in 1985, and Farouche, a $1.2 million broodmare at the same dispersal. Zenyatta traces five generations back to Legendra through Newstead-bred Mrs. Peterkin.
Glade Valley Finds a Buyer
Mabel Brann sold the Maryland farm (which had grown to more than 400 acres) at the same time she sold the horses. Steamship company owner Col. Harry B. Marcus, of Washington, D.C., bought the farm’s core 152 acres, including the four-stall stallion barn, in September 1953, with no intention of breeding horses.
Marcus trained a few racehorses and planned to use the farm for his runners as well as boarders. By the start of the 1954 breeding season, the farm was standing a young stallion Marcus purchased named The Pincher; the next year four stallions filled the barn, including Alerted, a son of Bull Lea syndicated at the end of 1954, with Marcus taking a few shares.
Enter veterinarian Bob Leonard. An Ohio native, Leonard and his wife Nancy, whom he met when working at an Ohio hunt club while finishing his degree at Ohio State, moved to Maryland to specialize in equine veterinary care. While living in nearby Taneytown, Leonard had Glade Valley as a client, and was soon approached by Marcus, who suggested the young vet purchase the farm as Marcus was tiring of the venture. In a letter about the history of the farm Leonard wrote in November 2009: “I told him I could not afford it at the time. He then said he wanted to introduce me to a friend of his [Jack Bender] who was an animal lover, but did not know much about the racing business.
“Jack and I hit it off immediately; and Col. Marcus, his wife, Jack, Dottie, Nancy and I went to the Saratoga sale, the first of many times for them. While there we sketched out our plans for the partnership. I sold my house at Taneytown, put the proceeds from the sale into the partnership and moved to Glade Valley.”
In January 1960, Bender, president of Blake Construction Company, one of the nation’s largest builders, Marcus and Leonard became equal shareholders in Glade Valley Farms Inc., with Leonard named resident manager. That first breeding season they brought in *Nasrullah’s son Martins Rullah to join stallions Alerted, The Pincher and *Speedy d’Arca. Martins Rullah would be the most successful.
Early Growth in Walkersville
Within two years Glade Valley was bursting at the seams. More stallions were standing at stud – Ephraim Winer’s Panacean was new for the 1962 season – and with the focus on selling yearlings at public auction, more young mares were joining the broodmare band. The need for additional land was evident, and the partners bought two nearby dairy farms, known as the Mt. Pleaseant property, or Meadow Brook Farm, with the focus on training, including breaking yearlings, and rehabilitation. To make it ready for horses, new barns and fencing were installed, older barns and houses remodeled.
The first foals of Martins Rullah made it to the races in 1963, and his first winner was a filly owned by Nancy Leonard named Martinetta. While he would go on to sire 168 winners from 249 foals and seven stakes winners, Martins Rullah would be remembered mostly for Martinetta. She was the dam of five stakes winners from 10 foals, all bred by Leonard, including Glade Valley’s future leading Maryland sire Rollicking and steeplechase star Double Reefed.
The female line tracing back to Martinetta has produced dozens of stakes winners, led by Delaware Handicap-G3 winner Power Play and $691,867-earner and graded stakes winner Gala Spinaway. In 2010, the Kentucky-bred colt Frac Daddy was born. A graded stakes winner of $701,236, he was the sixth generation bred by Leonard from Martinetta.
Marcus wanted to sell his share of Glade Valley in 1964, and his two partners bought him out. Around the same time, the 150-acre Walkersville property was sold to the Maryland Baptist College Corporation, with the condition that the farm would continue to be used as a nursery through April 1965.
The college was never built on the Walkersville property and the land was eventually sold for development. There are still remnants of the old Walkersville farm
– tree lines that used to border the driveway, the four-stall stallion barn that was turned into a cottage – but the vast majority of the acreage was developed for housing. The builders paid homage to the farm’s history – you can travel down Challedon Drive and merge onto Glade Boulevard.
The cottage remains in the Glade Valley family as Larry Murray, the farm’s former general manager, and his wife Janice bought it in 1992.
“You can tell when you go in that it was a four-stall stallion barn,” said Murray, whose mother-in-law Doris lived there for nearly 20 years. “I’ve been dragging my feet about renting it or selling it. I think it’s because I have an emotional attachment because it was Glade Valley.” Murray has recently rented it out.
Glade Valley’s breeding stock was moved to the nearly 300-acre Mt. Pleasant property, which had been owned by the Burrier family for about 60 years, and had been a dairy farm since the 1930s. Nancy Leonard, now 90, remembers all the changes at Glade Valley.
“There is nothing wrong with my memory or recall of many, many years, and they were wonderful years, when we lived on and were developing Glade Valley,” she said. “My husband was instrumental in laying out that farm, including fencing for the paddocks and the barns. [On the Mt. Pleasant property] is where the big [40-stall] training barn was built.”
For a time, the operation was one of the largest commercial breeding farms on the East Coast, with more than 300 horses on the farm and eight stallions at stud.
The unique octagonal-shaped eight-stall stallion barn, built in the early 1960s, was designed by Nancy Leonard’s father Downie W. Moore, a Columbus, Ohio, architect who thought it would be an interesting design.
Moore also helped restore and remodel the farm’s historic stone manor house that dates back to 1757, and stayed with the Leonards for six months to supervise the project.
“Some things could be restored and some could not,” said Leonard. “We had to change some of the walls – there was one bathroom in the house, and it was located in the middle of the downstairs. There were five doors leading into it. I thought ‘my golly, that’s really a problem!’ ”
Jack Bender died in November 1966, and his three sons took over his interest in the farm. Additional properties were purchased, eventually increasing the total Glade Valley acreage to more than 900. One property came to be known as the Hart Farm, for eventual Glade Valley partner Jane Hart, whose husband Philip A. Hart was a senator from Michigan. The Hart family lived in the historic house on Crum Road, which later became the home to Murray and his family.
The farms that make up Glade Valley are well documented in Maryland history, and have been in continuous operation in agriculture for nearly 275 years.
The ownership of the land dates back to Daniel Dulaney in 1724. Less than a decade later, New York widow Susannah Beatty purchased 1,000 acres from Dulaney on the bank of the Monocacy River and moved to the area with her adult children. The house built for her, which still stands, dates to 1732, making it one of the oldest structures in the area. Known as the Beatty-Cramer house, it is owned by the Frederick County Landmarks Foundation and is considered one of the six most important houses in Maryland according to the Maryland Historical Trust.
Beatty subdivided the property for her children, and her son William Beatty and his family built and lived in the stone manor house. There is an unsubstantiated story that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington was a guest at the house after news came that one of the Beatty sons had been killed.
Other significant buildings on the property include one of the few surviving 18th century bank barns in the county.
Modern day Glade Valley stood dozens of stallions over the years, including Dancer’s Image, the disqualified winner of the 1968 Kentucky Derby, Rambunctious, Spring Double and Shelter Half, but no stallion had more of an impact on the region than homebred Rollicking.
“Rollicking was our horse,” said Nancy Leonard. “We owned him. He was one of the many stallions we stood, but probably the most successful. He was a genuine racehorse, always put out 125 percent. And we had a lot of fun with Rollicking. He’s buried on the farm, along with his mama [Martinetta].”
Rollicking, the Maryland-bred co-champion 2-year-old colt in 1969, was retired to stud in 1973 and became one of the most popular stallions in the state. He sired 37 stakes winners and was the first sire to have four offspring win stakes on a Maryland Million Day card (in 1988). Rollicking was 26 when he died in 1993.
The husband and wife team of Howard and Sondra Bender became active with the farm years after the death of Howard’s father Jack. While brother Stanley Bender had been a longtime horse owner, Howard, who was chairman of the board of Blake Construction Company, didn’t take an interest in racing until the early 1980s. In an interview in the March 1987 Maryland Horse, Howard noted that following Jack’s stable dispersal: “We didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the farm after that. Technically we were in the horse breeding business, but Dr. Leonard ran the whole operation.”
That changed when the Benders’ interest was piqued after meeting John Henry’s owners Sam and Dottie Rubin. From the mid-1980s until Howard Bender died in 2015, the Benders bred dozens of top-class stakes winners, all foaled at Glade Valley. They were named TOBA breeder and owner of the year in 2003, and were Maryland Breeder of the Year five times, as early as 2001 and as recently as 2017. Glade Valley Farms was also named Maryland Breeder of the Year, in 1988, two years after the awards were first presented.
The Benders’ racing stable, trained by Murray, included such standouts as La Reine’s Terms, Foufa’s Warrior, Secret River and dozens of others racing in the name of Sondra (who died in 2012) or Howard. Through 2017, the Benders had bred and owned five Maryland Million winners.
As was repeatedly the case over the decades, the class continues to shine with future generations. One of the best Bender runners, the graded stakes-winning Carson City filly Promenade Girl, has since gone on to produce three-time Grade 1 winner and $2,063,000-earner Cavorting.
But time changes all things. The Bender family is no longer involved in racing. The horses have been sold. Murray managed their final starts, and their sales or claims, and retired at the end of 2016.
Late in his life, when Dr. Leonard posted his letter to Howard Bender, he recalled his time at Glade Valley and provided his observations during his tenure. The retired veterinarian, who died at 92 in February 2016, spoke for many.
“Looking back over the 50 years since Glade Valley has been under the stewardship of the Benders and the Leonards, it was an extremely successful venture. Jack and I had many memorable times, and we raised some very good horses. Stanley and I established J.I.B. partnership and raced many good horses. Howard and Sondra became interested in racing and developed a very fine stable with many superior racehorses. We all have had a lot of fun, leaving great memories for all involved.”