Oct 14th 2010 03:49 pm |
This past weekend, I finally checked off something that has been on my list of things to do for many years. My friend and fellow racing historian Teresa from Brooklyn Backstretch visited the Belair Stable Museum in Bowie, Maryland
The museum is housed in a stable building that is all that remains of a breeding operation that started in the middle of the eighteenth century. The building itself dates to around 1910, the period after William Woodward Sr. inherited the farm from his uncle, who had purchased it at the end of the nineteenth century. Prior to the purchase by the Woodward family, the Belair farm had been owned by five generations of the Ogle family, who started breeding race horses there in 1745.
During the period when the Ogle family owned the land, they bred horses whose bloodlines live on in many of today’s thoroughbreds. Selima, considered one of the foundation mares for the American race horses, bred ten foals at Belair after being purchased by Samuel Ogle in 1752. The farm remained in the Ogle family until 1871. In 1898, James T. Woodward, the New York banker and prominent figure in thoroughbred racing, acquired the Belair property.
It was James’s nephew, William Woodward Sr., racing under the name Belair Stud Farms, who built a legacy of champions that few could match during the first half of the twentieth century. Under the direction of Woodward, Belair Stud bred two Triple Crown winners, the “father-son” combination of Gallant Fox and Omaha, in addition to, numerous stakes winners and five winners of the Belmont Stakes. Gallant Fox and Omaha were foaled in Kentucky but brought to Belair as weanlings and raised there before being sent off for training and racing (this was the process followed for much of Belair’s history under Woodward).
After the death of William Woodward Sr. in 1953, the operation fell to his son. While initially disinterested in the Thoroughbred operation, success with the great Nashua in 1955 sparked an interest for the young Woodward. Tragically, in that same year, William Woodward Jr., was accidentally shot and killed by his wife in their home in Oyster Bay, Long Island. In 1957, the vast 3,200 acres of land, home to two centuries of horse breeding, was sold to William Levitt, father of the Levittown and, for better or worse, modern day suburbia.
The current building that houses the Belair Stable Museum was saved by the City of Bowie when they purchased it from William Levitt. If it were left to Levitt, all physical evidence of Belair Stables would have been entirely swallowed up by housing development.
Today, the city of Bowie represents the great legacy and the unfortunate failure of racing in the state of Maryland. Not only is Bowie home to the Belair Stable Museum but it’s also home to the Bowie racetrack. Bowie opened in in 1914 and closed in 1985 — it stood just a few miles from Belair. The track now continues as a training track but the grandstand is gone along with the hopes of a racing revival there.
Russ Davies — the museum facility specialist in charge of the Belair stable–served as a wonderful guide for us on Sunday. He now stands watch over the town’s racing legacy at the museum. He is a perfect caretaker. He has lived in Bowie much of his life, has been to racetracks all over the country and saw many of the greats including Secretariat at Laurel. He still keeps a (losing) $50 win ticket on Damascus among his personal collection of racing memorabilia; he worked as a trainer for a number of years; and, visited the Bowie Racetrack countless times during his life including the final day of racing in 1985. He’s a passionate about racing and a wonderful steward of the museum — if you are ever in the area, I encourage you to stop by for a visit. Russ will be happy to see you and will surely share a memorable story or two.
Be sure to check out Teresa’s post and pictures from our road trip…
Here are some pictures of the Belair Stable Museum:
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!