On Saturday, horses, jockeys and infield revelers alike will brave the expected rainy weather at Pimlico Race Course to see if Kentucky Derby winner Justify can repeat his muddy, rugged run to secure victory in the Preakness Stakes — or if Good Magic, Bravazo, Sporting Chance or some dark horse can upset the Derby winner.
The “run for the Black-Eyed Susans” is Maryland’s day to bask in horse racing glory, if not sunshine, and Carroll County, too, has its share of racing history worth celebrating.
“Many people aren’t aware of the deep connections to the thoroughbred racing world our local community has,” said David Richardson, executive director of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “Two recent National Racing Hall of Fame horses have connections to our community: Dark Hollow Farm’s Safely Kept, who won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and numerous other Graded Stakes, and Finksburg trainer John Salzman’s sprinter Xtra Heat, who earned over $2.3 million.”
But Carroll’s racing roots go deeper still, and run straight through to Pimlico. There are two horse trainers — Bob Baffert, who trains Justify, and D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Sporting Chance and Bravazo — who have a chance Saturday to tie the record for most Preakness wins. Each man currently has six to his name.
The record of seven wins belongs to a giant figure in horse racing: Robert Wyndham Walden.
From 1872 until his death in 1905, Walden trained horses and lived at the Bowling Brook Farm off Middleburg Road in northwest Carroll County.
“You would have to be a pretty old-school racing historian to recognize the name,” said Brien Bouyea, director of communications for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. “I think he’s gotten lost a little bit in history. The only time you really hear about him is on Preakness Stakes weekend.”
Born in 1843 in New York, Walden was the trainer for horse owner and tobacco magnate George Lorillard, with whose horses Walden won six Preakness stakes, according to Bouyea, including a five-year streak from 1878 through 1882. Walden won his seventh Preakness with his own horse, Refund, in 1888.
“Bob Baffert and Wayne Lukas are both in the hall of fame and, if they win this, they could tie his record here,” Bouyea said. “But Walden — this record has stood for 130 years and he did it all in a 13-year span. It was pretty impressive.”
Walden also won numerous other stakes races with other horses, Bouyea said, including four Belmont Stakes wins. During a career spanning 31 years, he trained 101 stakes race winners, according to his entry on the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s website.
“There really hasn’t been a run similar to this in any of the other Triple Crown races except for Woody Stevens, who in the 1980s won five consecutive Belmont Stakes,” Bouyea said. “It’s something only a couple of guys have done here in these major races, so it’s pretty impressive stuff.”
If Walden’s name is not widely known, Bouyea said, part of that can be chalked up to time, and another to the times: Horse trainers were just not as respected as the owners were in Walden’s era.
“Walden was well-known, he was well-respected; the accomplishments obviously spoke for themselves,” Bouyea said. “But in context, a Bob Baffert or a Wayne Lukas, they are much more known and prominent in their era than Walden was in his.”
Walden was inducted into the racing Hall of Fame in 1970, but the foundation of the physical portion of his legacy was laid nearly a century earlier, in 1872, Bouyea said, when he and his wife moved to Middleburg in Carroll County. Perhaps the equivalent, he said, of a major league baseball manager moving in down the street, rather than an all-star player.
“They were able to buy this farm that they called Bowling Brook and that’s where he did a lot of the training and breeding some of the horses he had,” Bouyea said.
Bowling Brook was quite the place in its heyday, according to current owner Mark Gross, who purchased the property in 1988 and boarded horses there for a time.
“He had, like, 44 employees. A lot of them were young teenagers and he even had a dormitory set up right behind the mansion for teaching them reading, writing, arithmetic,” Gross said. “He had a railroad spur put in so he could get his horses to Pimlico. Back in the 1870s and 1880s, it’s not like we could truck horses that easily.”
Walden used a large, ⅞-mile outdoor track for training, Gross said, but there was also an octagonal barn that contained 50 stalls and an indoor track.
“The first one he built burned down in 1892. It got hit by lightning, and he lost a lot of horses because the stalls were on the inside of the track. He couldn’t get them out because he had too many walls up,” Gross said. “So he rebuilt the thing, this time with the stalls on the outside of the track. It was a sixth-of-a-mile indoor track. It was really quite beautiful.”
Gross said he purchased the property in part because of the history of the place and the stories surrounding it, such as Walden’s great love of his Preakness-winning horse Refund.
“He and his wife used to hook Refund up to the carriage and they would take a ride every evening that it was suitable, a ride around Middleburg and the farm,” Gross said. “When Refund died, he had Refund buried in the back off the back farm lane and he had him buried standing up attached to the carriage.”
As for any grave marking Refund’s fate, “I’ve never found it,” Gross said.
While Gross enjoyed restoring the property, particularly the barn with its indoor track, things didn’t go well for him forever.
“I spent a lot of money refurbishing the thing in 1990 and ’91, and damn if it didn’t burn down in ‘92 for me. It was exactly 100 years after it burned down for him,” he said. “I was kind of disheartened about the whole thing and I decided, ‘Well, I’ll just take the mansion and make a bed and breakfast out of it.’ ”
Today, Gross is renovating the property and hopes to place it on the market over the summer, but he said he thinks it’s a shame more people are not aware of Walden and the history the property represents.
“I just don’t think Carroll County does enough to advertise horse racing as a part of its heritage,” he said. “It’s not just a county gem and it’s not just a national gem: Bowling Brook was known internationally.”
Or as it was put in a Times 2001 article on Walden’s son, Robert J. Walden, who himself trained the 1899 Kentucky Derby winning horse Manuel: “It has shrunk to 300 acres and the track has fallen into disuse, but it remains the site of much that was best in the development of race horses and racing ethics in Maryland.”