Passion for horses, life Horse racing: C. Oliver Goldsmith, who fit a lot of living into his 69 years, played many favorites, especially an old mare named Turn Capp.


The pastures are quiet, his mansion still. C. Oliver Goldsmith, who roared through life, is gone. And nearly all his horses, who raced and bred with their owner's gusto, are going.

One of Maryland's most prominent horse owners and breeders, and also one of its foremost characters, Goldsmith died in May at age 69. But before he succumbed to a malignant brain tumor, his Turn Capp, one of the most amazing broodmares anywhere, gave birth to a filly.

For the 25-year-old mare, this was her 18th foal -- although not a record, an achievement rarely matched.

Of Goldsmith's 45 horses at his beloved Longwood Farm in Howard County and his trainer Ron Cartwright's barn at Laurel Park, 43 have been or will be sold -- but not Turn Capp. Before he died, Goldsmith directed that she be spared the auctioneer's gavel.

Turn Capp, perpetual mother, has been retired.

As life and death become intertwined, the aging mare is the fitting legacy of her former owner. Turn Capp spent her lifetime producing life. Goldsmith spent his embracing it.

With a fervor as great as his 300-plus pounds, he embraced it to the end. After undergoing brain surgery Feb. 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital and spending several weeks there and at Howard County General and St. Agnes, Goldsmith told The Sun upon his return to Longwood:

"I debauched three hospitals. Had a party every night. Tell everybody I'm up and around. I'm tough as mule meat, and I ain't going away from here till I get good and ready."

Josh Pons, manager of Country Life Farm near Bel Air, recalls Goldsmith blowing in with Turn Capp for a 1994 breeding to the stallion Carnivalay.

As the session took place in the breeding shed, Goldsmith remained outside in his van blaring Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries," the stirring charge that propelled Robert Duvall's helicopter attack in the film "Apocalypse Now."

"You could hardly talk above it," Pons said. "But that was Oliver. It was always an experience when he came to breed."

In a remembrance in The Maryland Horse magazine, Goldsmith's longtime friend, Snowden Carter, wrote: "Big, bossy and brilliant, he never indicated self-doubt about anything. What a character. What a man. Ever so many admirable traits were, at times, overwhelmed by pomposity."

Don Litz, a friend and bloodstock agent now dispersing his horses, said Goldsmith was larger than life -- "a real bull at everything."

"But he had a lion's heart," said Barbara Norton Goldsmith, his third wife. "His friends were his friends forever. If somebody couldn't get past the rough edges, they never got the chance to know what he was really like.

"I used to tell him he was the nicest son of a bitch I ever knew."

Oliver Goldsmith's father, Robert H. Goldsmith, known for his snappy attire, worked in the insurance business and provided a comfortable living for his wife and six children, of which Oliver was youngest. They lived in Guilford.

In his mid-60s when Oliver was born, Robert Goldsmith died when the boy was 3. Then the Depression struck. Oliver sold flowers on street corners to earn money for his mother. He also spent time with relatives in Howard County who owned horses. At 8, Oliver began fox-hunting. Three decades later, he became master of the Howard County Hounds.

Oliver quit school in the sixth grade to work for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, shoveling coal on steam engines. At 15, he lied about his age and joined the Marines, soon hauling a flame thrower across blood-stained islands in the Pacific during World War II.

Starting a career

Back home after the war, he started a construction business, earned his high school equivalency diploma, worked his way through the University of Maryland and its law school, launched a successful career as a lawyer, married and bought a small horse farm in Howard County.

After his first wife, Ann, died of a brain tumor, Goldsmith married Jean Edgar, daughter of Margaret and Walter A. Edgar, owners of a large horse farm near Ellicott City. Walter Edgar was president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. Oliver was vice president when he died.

In the mid 1960s, he and Jean bought Longwood Farm on Route 97 in Glenwood. They remodeled the 25-room mansion with its six pillars the size of redwoods, and transformed Longwood into a dynamic horse farm.

At the core loomed Goldsmith -- delivering foals, arranging breedings, watching his horses train mornings at the track and then, when work was done, devouring parties as if they were life's main course.

"Oliver was a true sportsman," said Tim Capps, executive vice president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association. "He genuinely liked horses. He believed they were God's greatest creatures.

"He also recognized that horse racing was a social and sporting thing wrapped together. He loved to go out and mix with people who shared his feeling about horses."

Turn Capp arrives

With his second wife's expertise in pedigrees, and stallions and mares from her parents' farm, Goldsmith built a profitable breeding and racing business: runners such as Leematt and Miss Slewpy, stallions such as Prince Dare and Turn To Reason, and broodmares such as Sun Rondeau and, of course, Turn Capp.

On May 16, 1972, Goldsmith and Leroy Matthews, his employee of more than 30 years, helped deliver the slippery foal.

"We delivered Turn Capp, the boss and me," said Matthews, 67, who lives with his wife in an old log cabin at Longwood. "Ain't nobody on this earth treated me better than he did.

"The boss was more than a boss to me. He was just like family. I didn't want for nothing. If I needed a favor I knew I'd get it before I even asked. That's the way it was. That's the way it is."

A filly Goldsmith later described as "scatty" and "a bundle of nerves," Turn Capp developed into an outstanding racehorse, winning 20 of 44 races.

And then she embarked upon a second career at which she had few peers. If her 18 foals weren't a record, her offspring that won at the racetrack -- 13 so far -- may be approaching one.

"That by itself is huge," says Cindy Deubler, research editor of The Maryland Horse and Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred. "And not only was Turn Capp prolific, but her daughters are too. The family just keeps growing."

Litz, the bloodstock agent, has arranged for the dispersal of Goldsmith's horses -- except Turn Capp and her companion, the 7-year-old gelding Redcall -- at regular sales in Timonium.

Twenty-four were sold in May, fetching $670,000, including $205,000 for the young racehorse Wolf Talk. The rest will be sold in September and December, including Turn Capp's last foal, another daughter of Carnivalay.

Next for Longwood

The future of Longwood is uncertain. Laurie Ryer, the oldest of Goldsmith's five children -- all with his second wife, from whom he was divorced -- said the children are still deciding whether to keep it in the family.

"None of us are horsemen," Ryer said. "But we all share a great love for the place. We hope at least it remains a farm."

Regardless of what happens to Longwood, Ryer and Litz say, Turn Capp will live out her years in comfort. That is what Goldsmith had in mind as he contemplated his own death.

"He had an enormous amount of respect for that horse," said Barbara Goldsmith, whom he married in November. They were married only six months after six years together. "His feeling was genuine admiration -- not some kind of soppy feeling. He was proud of her, very proud of her."

A nurse, Barbara hardly knew a healthy Goldsmith. He suffered from osteoarthritis. He struggled with artificial knees. But in the face of discomfort, and later in the face of death, he threw his arms open to life.

He insisted upon driving his mares to breedings, visiting the peaceful backstretch at Laurel Park and accepting party invitations when most strong men would have been flat on their back in the hospital.

"There was not a party Oliver Goldsmith would deny," Barbara said.

One last foal

Thirty radiation treatments -- five per week for six weeks -- couldn't stop him from attending the Maryland Horse Breeders Association awards dinner in April, where he managed to climb on stage and accept the award for Turn Capp as 1996 broodmare of the year.

But finally, he could resist no longer.

In May, when he entered Johns Hopkins Hospital for the last time, Turn Capp had not yet delivered her foal. She was due any day. No one knew which would come first -- life from Turn Capp, or death for Goldsmith.

At 9 p.m. May 10, Turn Capp gave birth to a filly -- wet, awkward and promising.

The next night, Barbara leaned over her husband in the hospital. She said softly: "You'll be very proud to hear that Turn Capp had her baby last night."

Although Goldsmith had been unresponsive, he crinkled his brow. Barbara believes he understood.

The next day, he died.

Pub Date: 7/27/97

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