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Robert A. Leonard, veterinarian owned prize-winning thoroughbreds

Dr. Robert A. Leonard died of pneumonia Feb. 10 at his home in Chester. He was 92.
Dr. Robert A. Leonard died of pneumonia Feb. 10 at his home in Chester. He was 92.

Dr. Robert A. Leonard, a retired veterinarian who co-owned a horse breeding farm and was a leader in the Maryland thoroughbred industry, died of pneumonia Feb. 10 at his home in Chester. He was 92.

Born in Cincinnati, he was the son of Robert Francis Leonard, an executive with the Ford Motor Co., and Mary Harrington Leonard.

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His studies at Ohio State University were interrupted by his service during World War II. He enlisted in the Army and served in the infantry in Germany, France and Austria as part of Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army. He was also an Army guard at an internment camp where Nazi party members were held pending the Nuremberg Trials.

After his military service, he resumed his studies and earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at Ohio State.

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He met his future wife, the former Nancy Moore, at the Rocky Fork Headley Hunt club in Ohio, where he rode and showed horses.

The couple married in 1950 and settled in Maryland a year later. In 1956 the Maryland Racing Commission named Dr. Leonard as State Veterinarian, a post giving him oversight of thoroughbred and harness racing tracks. He held the position for more than a decade.

In 1959, he and partners, Col. Harry B. Marcus and Jack I. Bender, created a partnership to buy and continue the operation of a well-established thoroughbred farm, Glade Valley Farm in Frederick County.

A 1979 Baltimore Sun article described Glade Valley acreage as "rolling countryside criss-crossed with miles of board fences and more than 100 horses at any time."

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"Dr. Leonard was one of the pillars of the turf in Maryland for decades," said Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. "He knew the ins and outs of racing horses after serving as chief veterinarian for many years at our tracks. He saw what worked and what didn't work, and then took that knowledge into building a powerhouse breeding operation at Glade Valley Farm."

"He was an exacting and shrewd horseman. A perfectionist. A great judge of horseflesh and very selective in the quality of the mares he bred to his stallions," Mr. Peddicord said. "He didn't suffer fools."

"He is probably best known for breeding, racing and standing Rollicking — a top sprinter who sired top sprinters and was once the leading thoroughbred stallion in Maryland," Mr. Peddicord said. "Rollicking still pops up in pedigrees of horses racing in Maryland today although he died generations ago."

He said Dr. Leonard and his partners carried on a tradition of equestrian excellence at Glade Valley, which he said covered 900 acres.

"At one time, it was known as Branncastle Farm and was the home of such national champions as Challedon, a double U.S. Horse of the Year, and Gallorette, a national champion mare. Both are installed in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame," Mr. Peddicord said. "Dr. Leonard and the Benders preserved and added to the farm's historic reputation as an establishment that produced and raised high-quality thoroughbreds."

The farm was one of the largest commercial thoroughbred horse farms in Maryland. The farm housed as many as 10 stallions, his family said. Horses bred there were often sold at the Saratoga sales in New York, Fasig-Tipton sales in Maryland and Keeneland Yearling sales in Kentucky.

In addition to Rollicking, the farm also counted Martinetta, Power Play, Skipper's Mate and Frac Daddy among its notable thoroughbreds.

In a 1979 Sun article, Dr. Leonard said of his thoroughbreds: "I can tell each one and who its sire and dam were, and grandsire and granddam, and most of peculiarities of temperament of each of them. They can be the same color, the same size and they still look different to me."

Dr. Leonard was the farm's managing partner and veterinarian until he retired in 1994.

"He gave me an opportunity. He took me under his wing and pushed," said trainer Larry Murray, a Frederick resident. "Doc gave me a big step up. He could be a stern taskmaster, but he gave me and others who worked with him a great foundation."

Dr. Leonard served two terms as president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

He enjoyed fox hunting with the Rocky Fork Headley Hunt. He also raised vizsla and German short-hair champion show and field-trial dogs. He read widely and sailed the Chesapeake Bay, the Bahamas and along the Maine Coast.

At his request, no public service will be held.

Survivors include his wife; a daughter, Cynthia Dianne Leonard of Cape Elizabeth, Maine; and nieces and nephews.

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