Sally B. Richardson, a noted Maryland horsewoman who operated a horse breeding farm with her husband and later held positions in the racing secretary’s office at Pimlico Race Course and as a placing judge, died Tuesday from complications of a stroke at Rockville Nursing Home in Rockville. The former Laurel resident was 85.
“Sally’s passing makes me yearn for the bygone era of the smaller, friendlier, half-mile-track atmosphere that pervaded our backstretch,” Ross Peddicord, former Evening Sun racing writer who is now executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, wrote in an email.
“I can still visualize Sally schlepping a feed tub or water bucket between the shedrows at Timonium as she and her family cared for the horses in their racing string,” wrote Mr. Peddicord, a Reisterstown resident. “She knew just about everything going on in the stable area.”
“Sally was an excellent trainer and horsewoman,” said Audrey R. Murray, a thoroughbred breeder who lives at Murmur Farm in Darlington. “She was a very good and close friend, and was a well-liked figure in Maryland racing.”
Georgeanne Hale, former state racing secretary, worked with Mrs. Richardson for 21 years at Pimlico Race Course.
“She was just wonderful and worked hard and played hard. She did everything 101%,” said Ms. Hale, a Fallston resident. “She had a wonderful outlook on life and and really enjoyed life.”
The former Sally Brown Thomas, daughter of William D. Thomas, a thoroughbred trainer and huntsman of the Essex Fox Hounds in Gladstone, New Jersey, and his wife, Esther P. Brown, a homemaker, was born in Morristown, New Jersey.
Mrs. Richardson began riding at an early age and participated in horse shows in New Jersey and outside Philadelphia. She later moved with her family to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and then to a home in West Chester, Pennsylvania.
After graduating in 1953 from Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, she began working with her father, who toured the circuit of old Maryland half-mile tracks from Timonium to Cumberland, and from Upper Marlboro to Bel Air. Her father was also known for training Ned’s Flying, who won back-to-back Maryland Hunt Cups in 1957 and 1958.
She met her future husband, James J. Richardson Jr., who became a thoroughbred trainer after leaving the Army, at the old Cumberland Race Course. For several years, the couple, who married in 1953, jointly operated a stable at race tracks in Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia, until her husband joined Larry MacPhail’s Glenangus Farms in Bel Air in 1957 as broodmare manager.
From 1961 to 1979, the couple lived at their Forest Hill farm, Panorama Farm, before moving to a farm in Monkton, where through the years they owned, trained and bred hundreds of winners, and raced their own horses and those of other owners at mid-Atlantic tracks, all the while raising their five children, who at one time or another were involved in equine activities.
“It’s been 40 years, but I remember writing a story for The Evening Sun about the Richardson family and made a reference to them as ‘The Waltons’ of the Maryland horse racing backstretch,” Mr. Peddicord wrote. “They could just as well been called our ‘Brady Bunch.’ ”
He added: “Sally and her husband, Jimmy, raised their family of five kids in the midst of everything the state’s horse world offers — racing, horse shows, foxhunting, Pony Club, you name it. They always seem to epitomize what’s best in our community.”
“Our children all worked with us once they were 5 or 6 years old, I think that’s the secret of raising children today — giving them something worthwhile to do,” Mrs. Richardson told Maryland Horse in a 1981 interview.
“We always had horses as a common bond. On Sundays while they were growing up, we had our regular afternoon rides around the countryside. We always kept a horse for everybody,” she said.
After her husband’s death in 1991, Mr. Peddicord in his Evening Sun obituary described his family as “clean-cut and horsey.”
Barclay Tagg, a nationally ranked trainer who began his career in Maryland in the 1970s, remained a close friend of Mrs. Richardson.
“She worked for me and was simply great,” said Mr. Tagg, who lives in Elmont, New York. “She was just first-class and always worked hard. She and her husband were just really nice people.”
They later moved to a home on Rogers Avenue, near Pimlico, and Mrs. Richardson went to work in the Maryland Jockey Club’s Racing Secretary’s Office at Pimlico as a racing official and entry clerk. She later became a placing judge at both Laurel Park and Pimlico.
While at Pimlico, she worked with a daughter, Lisa, and a son, Jamie, who was track maintenance supervisor at the Northwest Baltimore race track.
“Sally knew all of the trainers and owners and she’d take their questions and listen to their complaints,” Ms. Hale said. “There was never a problem that she couldn’t handle with a smile.”
“She was very friendly and liked everybody,” Ms. Murray said. “She never said a bad word about anybody, and they never said a bad word about Sally.”
It was said that Mrs. Richardson’s recall off the top of her head of the bloodlines of champion thoroughbreds through the years was simply impressive.
She also occasionally hunted with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt and was active with the Elkridge-Harford Pony Club when her daughters were members during the 1970s, and returned in the 1980s to judge Pony Club’s horse shows.
“For many years she annually attended the Saratoga Race Meet in New York and several times traveled with friends to England,” a daughter, Leslie Gosey of Towson, wrote in a biographical sketch of her mother. “She enjoyed meeting her many longtime friends in the horse racing world and having gin and tonics and dinner or picking crabs on a hot summer afternoon at her daughter Sandy’s home poolside in Darnestown.”
Mrs. Richardson was forced to retire from the Maryland Jockey Club in 2013 after suffering a stroke and then moved to the Rockville Nursing Home.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, plans for funeral arrangements are incomplete.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, J. David Richardson of Herndon, Virginia, and James M. Richardson Sr. of Louisville, Kentucky; two other daughters, Sandra Goodman of Darnestown and Lisa Mitten of Galway, New York; a sister, Margaret Thomas Young of Williamsport, Pennsylvania; six grandchildren; and a great-grandson.