Take a poll of what Maryland is known for, and you’ll get consistent responses.
Steamed crabs. Orioles baseball. Ravens football. The Preakness. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the iconic Eastern Shore.
In that same vein, Talk Show Man is about as Maryland as a Thoroughbred gets.
Sire? Perennial state leader Great Notion.
Birthplace? Baltimore County’s Willowdale Farm, since 1961 the family home of equine veterinarian Dr. Michael Harrison, whose silks the bay gelding carried on the racetrack for six seasons.
Namesake? Ron Smith, a fixture on Baltimore radio station WBAL-AM.
Trainer? Old-school local legend Hamilton Smith.
First win? At “The Big T,” Marylanders’ term of endearment for Timonium.
Big wins? Two renewals of the Maryland Million Turf, defeating revered Ben’s Cat in 2014.
Out of the Haymaker mare Mark Me Special, Talk Show Man made 37 of 40 starts in Maryland. When he did cross state lines, it was only to head to Delaware Park, where he made his debut as a 3-year-old in July 2013.
Talk Show Man finished fifth behind Eighttofasttocatch in the 2013 Maryland Million Classic. But the horse’s performance a year later still means the most to breeder/owner Harrison and his family.
“My wife Beth had a type of cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which she had since 2000,” he began. “It’s typically a disease that runs a course of 10-15 years on average. She had a couple crises that required aggressive therapy, and she was literally saved from the jaws of death 18 months prior to Talk Show Man’s first Maryland Million Turf victory. It was determined the best course of action was a bone-marrow transplant which she had in early May. My son Justin was the donor. That October day at Laurel was the first time she was given permission by her doctors to go out in public. It was a big day for that reason, and then holy heck, he wins the race on top of it. And to beat the horses that he did, Ben’s Cat and Roadhog were both accomplished champions. We had a lot of friends and family there, so we got a beautiful win picture with a lot of folks who shared in that. The whole day was just magical and so special.”
Beth Harrison died seven months later.
Talk Show Man had plenty of magic left. He came back in the same race four years later at age 8 and defeated another hometown hero (and son of Great Notion), Phlash Phelps.
After two subpar efforts early in 2019, Harrison had the horse back at Willowdale. He went to feed one morning and found his star with a puffy ankle.
“I scanned it, and he had injured the tendon,” Harrison said. “It wasn’t horrific, but was enough that if he injured himself out in the field like that, I was not about to put him back in training and ask him to perform at that level again. He was giving me signs that Father Time was catching up.”
The horse retired to his birthplace with a record of 40-8-2-7 and $456,556 earned.
Now 13, Talk Show Man enjoys a second career as a competitor and ambassador for the breed. Rider Lindy Gutman never tires of singing his praises. . . and she has plenty to crow about. Gutman and her husband, Adam, are long-time clients of Harrison’s who’ve also owned a few horses in partnership with him. As such, they followed Talk Show Man’s career with special interest. When word filtered through that Harrison had retired the gelding, Gutman reached out.
Competing in the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover was a goal, and Talk Show Man seemed like the perfect partner.
“I saw Mike a few weeks after Talk Show Man was retired, so I asked him what he’d think about me taking him to the makeover,” Gutman said.
Harrison’s reply was, as expected, somewhat cautious.
“Well, I don’t really know much about it, and he’s the best horse I’ve ever had,” is how Gutman remembered the reply. “My late wife Beth and I bred him together, so he’s really special to me. I would never want to lose control of him.”
Gutman didn’t push. She found another prospect. A few months later, Harrison got back in touch. The text message went, “Let’s talk about your plans for Talk Show Man. His leg looks great.”
Gutman met with Harrison a few days later and they reached an agreement. While Harrison maintained formal ownership, Talk Show Man became, for all intents and purposes, Gutman’s horse.
“I told Mike he could have the horse back after the makeover; I just really wanted to do that,” she said. “But maybe 60 days into it, I said ‘You’d have to pry this horse outta my hands with everything you have.’ He saw a friend of mine, and she told him how much I loved the horse and that he’d have a hard time getting him back. Mike told her, ‘She doesn’t have to give him back.’ ”
Gutman’s name is on the horse’s Coggins test, but Harrison retains his Jockey Club papers.
“We sometimes joke about co-owning him. Generally, if it’s a Thoroughbred show I enter Mike as the owner. For all the local shows and regular straight hunter stuff, I enter myself as his owner.”
Talk Show Man hunts with Elkridge-Harford (“in a snaffle – I think it’s important to say that”) and works regularly with trainer Katie Fitzpatrick. The Retired Racehorse Project was canceled due to Covid in 2020, but they made the Mega Makeover in 2021 and placed in the top five among amateur show hunters and field hunters.
In September 2022, Talk Show Man competed in the Real Rider Cup as a mount for NYRA analyst Maggie Wolfendale Morley and America’s Best Racing’s Penelope Miller. The next morning, Gutman rode him in the Fair Hill Thoroughbred Show, winning the pleasure horse division and being named most suitable hunter for the competition.
She keeps Harrison in the loop.
“I’ll show him a picture of us jumping a big fence, and he’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ I’m jumping a 3-foot-6 coop, the biggest jump of my life on a horse that I trained and he owned. But I showed him a picture of us with the Oriole Bird at the (2022) Baltimore Christmas Parade, and he went nuts and said, ‘You gotta send me that picture so I can send it to my kids!’ ”
Harrison’s son Justin founded Farmacy Brewing on the Willowdale property. Among their offerings is Talk Show Man, “a hazy pale ale brewed with fresh ginger, dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Kohatu. Bright passionfruit and white wine notes, zesty ginger, peach, lime.”
Harrison and Gutman rave about the product and its distinctive can featuring a Sam Robinson painting of Talk Show Man before the 2014 Maryland Million.
“It’s the best damn label I have ever seen on a beer . . . and the beer’s good too!” Harrison said.
“I’m not a beer drinker, but I actually enjoy it,” Gutman added before shifting gears back to the horse. “One of the reasons why I advocate for this horse so strongly is because I was so lucky to get him. He has totally changed my life. I’ve always wanted people to know that amateurs can ride Thoroughbreds. You just need to find the right horse.”
“Talk Show Man had a very good career. He did so many other amazing things and continues to do them. He’s had a tremendous impact on Lindy’s life and her equestrian pursuits. And that’s what’s so neat – what a horse can do for a person.