The Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College has acquired a photogravure portrait of Durbar II, the second American-owned horse to win England's prestigious Epsom Derby and whose life will have a center role in the upcoming fall equestrian exhibit at the campus museum.
Durbar's victory in 1914, the most important of his career as a racehorse, preceded the outbreak of World War I by several weeks. The story of his racing and post-racing career, how he survived on the war-torn continent and how he came to his final home and resting place at Prospect Hill Farm east of Bel Air, the future campus of HCC, would be good grist for Dick Francis style novel.
According to a statement from the Hays-Heighe House, the portrait of Durbar was acquired from Peggy McNamara, a riding instructor and trainer in Boston.
McNamara inherited the portrait from her great aunt and uncle, the late Bridget Delaney Lang and Walter Michael Lang, of Watertown, Mass.
"Durbar hung in my uncle's library for as long as I can remember as a small child and the library is where I stayed during visits, mesmerized by the beautiful horse picture," McNamara writes.
According to the Hays-Heighe House and HCC library director Carol Allen, the Durbar picture is inscribed by, and seems to be the work of, Clarence Hailey, an artist, racehorse owner and bloodstock exporter who worked in Newmarket, England, from 1903 to 1933. It bears a signature that appears to be that of Herman B. Duryea, Durbar's American breeder.
"We are so excited to acquire our first piece of art depicting Durbar II," Allen said. "It is especially timely that Ms. McNamara contacted at this time to offer the picture to us. Our annual equestrian exhibit this year will commemorate the centennial anniversary of Durbar's 1914 win."
Duryea was a sportsman, thoroughbred horse owner and breeder and philanthropist. Upon his death, his racing interests, including the stallion, passed to his widow, Ellen W. Duryea, the aunt of Robert H. Heighe, owner of Prospect Hill Farm. She in turn bequeathed the horse to her nephew. Upon Durbar II's passing, he was interred on the grounds of the farm.
The upcoming Hays-Heigh House exhibit, which is guest curated by the Historical Society of Harford County's Director Maryanna Skowronsi, is titled, "The Racehorse, the Royals, and the Writer: The Legacy of Herman Duryea." It will open in mid-October.
Allen said Thursday that they aren't exactly sure where Durbar, who died in late 1931 or early 1932, is buried on the HCC campus.
"There is an oral history recording that was done with the late Bill Boniface in which he speaks about remembering were Durbar was buried; however, other anecdotal information that has come to folks here at the college over time suggests that it was a different location," she explained in an email.
Mr. Boniface, who was a longtime equestrian writer and editor for the Baltimore Sunpapers and a prominent race horse owner and breeder in Harford County, spent his teenage years at Prospect Hill, where his father, Fritz Boniface, was the farm manager.
"At one point we contemplated bringing in a company to look for evidence of bones, but our anthropology professor (Sharon Stower) who did some research on what this would entail, found that it would be cost-prohibitive to do," Allen said. "Since it is likely that other horses in addition to Durbar may well have been buried on the property, it would be difficult to determine whether any bones that might be found remaining were actually his."
Allen said they still are hoping to one day have plaque or some other marker made to commemorate Durbar.