The story of how thoroughbred racing and the rural communities of Harford County became intertwined is told in artifacts and pictures through January as part of an exhibit at the Hays-Heighe House on the campus of Harford Community College.
The exhibit opens this weekend and is entitled "Beauty in Sport: Celebrating Horse Racing in Harford County." Featured are photographs, paintings, racing silks and equestrian memorabilia, some dating from as far back as the early 1900s.
Part of the allure of "Beauty in Sport" should be the venue. The Hays-Heighe house was once the manor house for Prospect Hill Farm, one of the region's largest thoroughbred horse farms that later became HCC's campus 50 years ago.
The exhibit opens to the general public with an event billed as "A Day at the Races," from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, on the grounds of the college at 401 Thomas Run Road in Bel Air. Saturday's event is geared to families with children and features pony rides, pony grooming, horseshoe toss, instruction on making and racing stick horses, and an opportunity to learn how to design a hat for race day. Food will be available for purchase.
Friday, on the eve of "A Day at the Races" will be a reception featuring noted equestrian writer Patrick Smithwick, author of the new book "Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing," as well as the memoir, "Racing My Father."
Patrick Smithwick is the son of legendary steeplechase rider and trainer A.P. Smithwick, and hie is expected to discuss his books and life in the racing world. Tickets for the reception and luncheon cost $15 in advance and $20 at the door. It is being held in the Chesapeake Center on the college campus and will be followed by a book-signing event. For reservations, go to or call 443-412-2316.
As of Wednesday, about 100 tickets to the reception had been sold, according to Carol Allen, director of library and information resources at the college and also director of the Hays-Heighe House.
After this weekend's opening events, the exhibit will be open Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.
What you'll see
The "Beauty in Sport" exhibit includes more than 30 race day photographs from the 1930s and 1940s; family photographs from the personal collections of the Heighe, Boniface and Mergler families; Prospect Hill racing silks; stadium seats from the old Bel Air Race Track, which once stood at the site now occupied by Harford Mall, and other memorabilia related to Prospect Hill and Harford County horse racing.
The exhibit also features the legacies of Prospect Hill trainers Jack Boniface and Joe Mergler and racing writer and historian Joseph B. Kelly.
The core of the exhibit consists of race day photographs of Anne Heighe's horses during the years when Joe Mergler worked as the Prospect Hill trainer.
Hays-Heighe director Allen recounted in an e-mail: "Ann Persson and I stumbled onto a small number of these photographs about a year ago, while shopping for house furnishings at Seneca Cannery in Havre de Grace. We soon learned of the connection between the cannery and the Mergler family and proceeded to purchase additional photographs. Mr. Mergler has kindly loaned for this exhibit other artifacts from his father's days at Prospect Hill. Members of the Boniface family, in particular Carol Himmer, have generously made photographs and memorabilia available for the exhibit, as have Mrs. Eleanor Edwards (whose parents lived and worked at Prospect Hill), Mr. Allen Fair and the Historical Society of Harford County."
Allen went on to note that another family associated with the Prospect Hill Farm, the Weavers, represented by Sam Weaver, has contributed photographs to be used in the exhibit.
Though autumn may not seem like a natural choice for opening a horse racing exhibit, there good reasons for the timing.
Allen said in her e-mail: "We chose the month of October since there are so many important events each October pertaining to horse racing within the county and the state – including the Maryland Million and the Graw Days Festival in Havre de Grace. In particular, since 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of The Graw race track in Havre de Grace, we felt this was a good time for our first significant exhibit related to horse racing and horse breeding in Harford County."
Graw days was celebrated this past Saturday, so this weekend's festivities at Harford Community College don't conflict with the centennial celebration in Havre de Grace.
The Boniface connection
The Boniface Family is synonymous in Maryland with horse racing. The late Fritz Boniface, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, managed Prospect Hill Farm in the 1930s. During that time, three of his four sons developed a passion for horse racing: Jack and Sydney Boniface became trainers and William became racing editor for The Baltimore Sun. Jack Boniface trained various winners for Prospect Hill over the years including Zay, Emmy Fish and Rehearsal.
The Boniface family continues its legacy in Harford County horse racing with Bonita Farm in Darlington, which was the home of the 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, who died at 32 in September. J. William Boniface, grandson of Fritz Boniface and son of William Boniface, is the general manager and partner of Bonita Farm. In addition to training and owning a Preakness winner, he also holds the distinction of having trained three horses to win at the 1987 Maryland Million.