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Steeplechase racer Billy Barton’s final resting place is in Elkridge. But was he really buried standing up?

Steeplechase racer Billy Barton’s final resting place is in Elkridge. But was he really buried standing up?
Fred Dorsey (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The horse is buried at his home at Belmont Manor in Elkridge beneath a granite headstone that reads:

Billy Barton

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1918-1951

That’s nice, says Fred Dorsey, the horse’s historian, but it doesn’t do justice to a thoroughbred whose steeplechase exploits nearly a century ago earned him a spot on the cover of Time magazine. Billy Barton flew over fences and once won three timber races (from three to four miles each) in as many weeks. In 1928, he took second in the 87th English Grand National, a prestigious race only one American horse had ever won.

“Billy Barton was strong-headed, with stamina and strength,” says Dorsey, 82, who gives tours at Belmont, his ancestral 18th-century home and now a Howard County park. Incorrigible on flat tracks, where he began racing, Billy Barton bit his handlers, kicked other horses and once jumped a guardrail to “mingle” with the crowd. Banned from those venues, he was sold to Howard Bruce, a Baltimore steel magnate who owned Belmont, and turned out there to vent his energy.

Billy Barton won three timber races (from three to four miles each) in as many weeks. In 1928, he took second in the 87th English Grand National, a prestigious race only one American horse had ever won.
Billy Barton won three timber races (from three to four miles each) in as many weeks. In 1928, he took second in the 87th English Grand National, a prestigious race only one American horse had ever won. (Check with Baltimore Sun Photo)

To Billy Barton, those were Elysian fields. A natural jumper, he took to timber racing. Once, he approached both a hurdle and a downed horse and “in one magnificent leap went over the horse, the jockey and the fence,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

In 1927, the Elkridge Hunting Club held a dinner in Billy Barton’s honor for 100 prominent socialites. There were place cards with his likeness; his bridle graced the wall. During the repast, as if on cue, the horse peered through the window “and nodded his appreciation.”

Upon his death, Billy Barton was reportedly buried standing up, in full tack, a nod to an old Celtic custom for laying warriors to rest. A year later in 1952, Laurel Park paid homage by unveiling a life-sized statue of the dark brown gelding near its entrance.

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