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Harry Meyerhoff, builder and co-owner of Derby, Preakness winner Spectacular Bid, dies

In 1979, Spectacular Bid is offered a token of the city's appreciation by Mayor William Donald Schaefer, far right, at Pimlico. Spectacular Bid won two legs of racing's triple crown. Looking on are trainer Buddy Delp and owners Teresa and Harry Meyerhoff (between his wife and Sschaefer). File
In 1979, Spectacular Bid is offered a token of the city's appreciation by Mayor William Donald Schaefer, far right, at Pimlico. Spectacular Bid won two legs of racing's triple crown. Looking on are trainer Buddy Delp and owners Teresa and Harry Meyerhoff (between his wife and Sschaefer). File (DIPAOLA / Baltimore Sun)

Harry Meyerhoff, a builder and businessman who co-owned Spectacular Bid, the 1979 winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, died Thursday of stroke complications at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. He was 86.

He lived on Hawksworth Farm on the Miles River on the Eastern Shore.

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Born in Baltimore and raised on Ocala Avenue, he was the son of Jacob "Jack" Meyerhoff and his wife, Beatrice Meyerhoff. His father worked alongside his brother, Joseph Meyerhoff, in real estate development at their Property Sales Co.

Mr. Meyerhoff was a 1947 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and received a degree in engineering at Lehigh University, where he played lacrosse and was named to an All America team.

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He and his brother, Robert E. Meyerhoff, who survives him, pursued careers in the family real estate development business. The pair developed numerous garden apartments in the region through their Robert and Harry Meyerhoff Building Co. Among their projects were Tall Pines in Glen Burnie, Dulaney Springs in Timonium and Essexshire Gate in Essex.

The Meyerhoff brothers also shared a love of thoroughbred racing. They began buying racehorses in the early 1960s and later established separate racing stables. Harry Meyerhoff raced under the stable name Hawksworth Farm and owned 330 thoroughbreds during his life. He retired from the development business in 1974 and focused on his racing interests.

While attending the Keeneland auction sales in Kentucky in 1977, he purchased a charcoal gray yearling. His son, Tom Meyerhoff, said his father, who was a competitive bridge player, initially wanted to name him "Seven No Trump," but that name was not accepted by racing authorities — most likely it had been taken by another thoroughbred.

Mr. Meyerhoff then composed a new name based on the horse's sire, Bold Bidder, and Spectacular, his mare — Spectacular Bid.

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He was the majority owner of the horse; other co-owners were his son, Tom Meyerhoff, and then-wife, Teresa.

"It was a horse we liked. We liked the pedigree," said Tom Meyerhoff, who stood alongside his father at the 1977 auction. "We couldn't tell if he would be that special. Nobody is that good at predicting the future in racing."

Spectacular Bid lived up to his name. He won 26 of 30 races, including the 1979 Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

"Being from Baltimore, we had a lot of fun winning the Preakness, maybe more fun than winning the Kentucky Derby," said Tom Meyerhoff.

The president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, Josh Pons, recalled Spectacular Bid as "an all-Maryland story, except for being born in Kentucky. He was trained by Buddy Delp from Harford County and ridden by Ronnie Franklin from Dundalk."

Franklin, the jockey, recalled in 1990, "Sometimes I felt like he was taking me for a ride. It's like driving a Rolls Royce."

Mr. Meyerhoff received so many telegrams, letters and phone calls after Spectacular Bid's win in Kentucky that he invited the public to view the horse's workout on the Sunday preceding the Preakness. The free event drew thousands of spectators despite rainy weather.

Heavily favored to win the 1979 Belmont Stakes — and thus take the Triple Crown — Spectacular Bid injured himself on a safety pin the night before the race and wound up finishing third.

In 1980 he ran in the Woodward Stakes in New York in an odd contest: No other horse ran against him, and he completed a rare walkover. He did not compete again but went on to earn $22 million in stud syndication.

Spectacular Bid was the 1980 Horse of the Year, racing highest honor.

When Spectacular Bid died in 2003, at age 27, a Baltimore Sun article said, "His passing marks the end of an era. Spectacular Bid, who was probably the greatest living racehorse, was the last of the great horses of the 1970s, the golden decade of racing in America."

Mr. Meyerhoff continued his interest in racing and attended sales at Keeneland until 2014. He bought another thoroughbred, Marengo Road, that year. The horse, co-owned by his son Tom, won the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park on Monday.

"It was a bittersweet moment," his son said.

"He was a wonderful man to work for," said Michael Trombetta, who trained horses for the Meyerhoff family. "We acquired some good horses every year, always with the goal of getting a good 3-year-old into a top stakes race."

Mr. Meyerhoff lived on a Talbot County farm and often went by boat to the Crab Claw in St. Michaels. He saw the property, liked it and bought it. He planned to construct homes on it.

"As an afterthought he said, 'Let's open a restaurant,'" recalled his Tom Meyerhoff.

That led to the Inn at Perry Cabin, a restaurant that originally had six rooms. Mr. Meyerhoff ultimately sold the inn, which was later owned by Sir Bernard Ashley and Laura Ashley, the decorating business owner. It remains a luxury spa resort.

Mr. Meyerhoff was also a founder and board member of Center Stage.

"As a family, we traveled — places such as Acapulco in Mexico," said his daughter, Karen M. Sweet of Newton, Mass. "I also recall that my parents loved to throw parties."

In addition to his brother, son and daughter, survivors include another son, Jack Meyerhoff of Easton; a stepson, David Williams of Columbia; five grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren. Mr. Meyerhoff's wife, Mary Jo Harper, who operated a landscaping nursery, died in 2013. His marriages to Marilyn Shemer and Teresa Riberdy ended in divorce.

Services are private.

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