• The change of ownership of Maryland’s mile tracks became official on Nov. 27, 2002, when the Frank Stronach-led Magna Entertainment Corp. completed its purchase of a majority interest in the Maryland Jockey Club, corporate owner of Laurel Park, Pimlico and Bowie Training Center.
Joe De Francis, who was head of the tracks since the death of his father Frank De Francis in 1989, would remain in charge of the day-to-day operations. De Francis and his sister Karin retained a 49-percent interest in the tracks.
• The Delaware Handicap was elevated to Grade 2 status by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association for its 66th running in July 2003.
The historic summer test for fillies and mares appeared on TOB’s initial list of graded races in 1973 as a Grade 1, a designation it held until 1989 (three of its runnings–1983 to ’85–?were held at Saratoga when Delaware Park was struggling financially). After 10 years, the race has once again achieved Grade 1 status (see Mid-Atlantic Report). Among its winners over the past decade were champions Royal Delta (2012), Blind Luck (2011) and Fleet Indian (2006).
• Within one week in November, Maryland lost two of its most fascinating horsepeople.
Katharine Warfield “Kitty” Merryman, 79, who with her late husband John B. Merryman successfully bred and raced horses in Maryland for nearly 50 years, died Nov. 22. In addition to breeding the likes of 18-time stakes winner Twixt, Smart ’n Quick, Due North and Rebuff, the proprietors of The Orebanks in Sparks, Md., left a racing legacy through their six children, five of whom have made careers as owners and trainers–daughters Katy Voss, Ann Merryman and Liz Merryman, and sons Edwin and John.
Charismatic former Fasig-Tipton sales company auctioneer Milton J. “Laddie” Dance died Nov. 28. A Marylander by birth, Dance, 76, retained strong ties to the state?–?he and his wife Jeanne “Jinny” Vance maintained 250-acre Taylor’s Purchase Farm in Sparks, a top-class commercial operation in the 1960s and 1970s. The couple campaigned champion and 1999 Belmont Stakes-G1 winner Lemon Drop Kid. Dance joined the Fasig-Tipton team in the early 1950s and left in 1993 to start an auctioneering firm with longtime colleague, John Finney. Horsemen’s Bloodstock Services Inc., based in Laurel, Md., disbanded two years later following Finney’s death.
• California-based trainer Bob Hess Jr. shipped Fog City Stable’s D’wildcat across the country in search of his first Grade 1 win, and got it over a rain-soaked track in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel.
The race’s even-money favorite, Thunderello, was seeking to boost his chances for an Eclipse Award after finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1 at Arlington Park in his prior start. But the son of 1993 De Francis Dash winner Montbrook broke a splint bone and chipped a sesamoid during the race and was pulled up. The 3-year-old trained by Scott Lake went off to stud with a record of three wins and three seconds in seven starts.
• One of the region’s most brilliant young sires, Polish Numbers, shattered the tibia in his left hind leg in late November while in his paddock at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City and was euthanized.
The 15-year-old son of Danzig and champion Numbered Account had occupied the same stall as his legendary grandsire, Northern Dancer. At the time of his death, he had sired 35 stakes winners and 37 stakes-placed runners in eight crops, among the best was Grade 1 winner Tenski. His offspring were also popular in the sales ring?–?in 2002, two Polish Numbers yearlings and two juveniles sold for six figures.