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Harford already well represented in new equine hall of fame [Commentary]

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Better late than never is what I'll call this column.

Back in mid-May, when I was spending a few days in Baltimore helping out with The Sun's coverage of the run-up to the Preakness, I completely overlooked another horse-related story with a strong Harford County connection.

It was around this same time that the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, in collaboration with the Maryland Racing Media Association, announced and inducted its inaugural class of the Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. The first class has a dozen members, two of whom, Cigar and Jameela, have ties to Harford County.

Cigar was born at Country Life Farm in Bel Air on April 18, 1990, while his mother, Solar Slew, was waiting to be bred by owner Allen Paulson to his top stallion Allen's Prospect, who was standing at the Pons family's farm.

Though he showed very little promise in his early years, when he ran mainly on the turf with middling results, Cigar began to blossom late in his 4-year-old season. The next winter, when he captured the 1995 Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in Florida, beating heavily favored Holy Bull, he became a horse to be reckoned with at the sport's highest level.

Cigar finished with 10 victories in 10 starts in 1995, capping off the undefeated campaign with a win in the Breeders Cup Classic. He was named American Thoroughbred of the Year in 1995 and repeated the honor in 1996, when he won the inaugural Dubai World Cup and ran his consecutive race winning streak to a record tying 18. At the time he retired, Cigar had won just shy of $10 million in purses, then an all-time record.

Cigar is one of just two Maryland bred horses to be named Horse of the Year; the other is Challedon, who received the honor in 1939 - when he won the Preakness - and again in 1940. Challedon is also in the first class of the Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame, along with Broad Brush, Find, Gallorette, Politely, Safely Kept and Vertex, all of whom were flat racers, and the steeplechasers Elkridge and Jay Trump.

Considering that the likes of Kauai King, the only Maryland-bred to win the Kentucky Derby – and a Preakness winner, and the Preakness champs Deputed Testamony and Bee Bee Bee – a couple of Harford breds, didn't make the first group, nor did the great Maryland-based handicap horse Dave's Friend, among other standouts, this inaugural hall of fame class would appear to be pretty special.

As for Jameela, I have to admit some prejudice here, because she was bred and initially owned by Betty Worthington, the wife of my late boss, Dick Worthington, and the three of us traveled together to several of her races. I've also most likely paid for a few dinners, nights out on the town and home improvements from the winning tickets I cashed on her between her first race in April 1979 (at 14 to 1!) and her final victory in the Delaware Handicap, then a Grade I race, in August 1982. I still have a C-note lying around somewhere that was signed by her jock that day, Cowboy Jack Kaenel.

Jameela has the distinction of being he first thoroughbred in Maryland to win $1 million in purses. In her four-year racing career, she started 58 times, with 27 wins, 15 seconds and six thirds, meaning she was off the board just 10 times. She was twice voted Maryland Bred Horse of the Year, raced at tracks on both coasts and in between and was among the top female horses in the country in 1981 and 1982, finishing second both years in the Eclipse Award balloting for top filly or older mare.

The day Jameela captured the Maskette Mile at Belmont Park in September 1981, Worthington sold the filly to New York horseman Peter Brandt. She raced in Brandt's colors for the remainder of that season and until her retirement with a leg injury following her Delaware Handicap win.

Jameela's story is compelling on several levels. She was modestly bred. Her father, Rambunctious, had been a successful stallion but was nearing the end of his breeding career and was standing for a fee of maybe $2,000 tops when Betty Worthington bred her mare Asbury Mary to him in 1975.

There's no question that the filly born from that mating was, as her name means in Arabic, "beautiful," dark bay in color – almost deep purple in the sunlight – with a distinctive white star on her forehead and an exquisitely proportioned body. She was also, as befitting the name of her sire, quite rambunctious and headstrong as a youngster.

She carried her success on the track to the foaling barn during an albeit brief career as a broodmare that ended prematurely when she died from colic in Kentucky shortly after her second foal was born in 1985. Gulch, her first foal from the top stallion Mister Prospector, received the 1988 Eclipse Award as the top sprinter and later sired the 1995 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Thunder Gulch, whose own son, Point Given, won the 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes and was named Horse of the Year.

The Maryland Horse Breeders Association says it intends to enshrine two horses a year going forward, and the organization is looking for a permanent home for the new hall of hame.

A couple of places they might want to consider are the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College or possibly a location in Havre de Grace, where I'm still of the belief our state should establish a Maryland Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, preferably on the grounds of the old race track.

For now, you can read more about the Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and the first class of inductees at mdthoroughbredhalloffame.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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