'Racing the Times' looks at Preakness, and beyond

A scene from the documentary "Racing the Times," airing at 9 p.m. May 15, 2015 on MPT.

If Maryland goes a little thoroughbred crazy this time every year, Nicholas Carter and W. Drew Perkins have made the perfect documentary to tap into the frenzy.

"Racing the Times," making its television debut at 9 p.m. Friday on MPT, offers a detailed and loving look at the history of horse racing in Maryland, going back more than 250 years. While the film pays plenty of attention to the Preakness, which annually brings some 100,000 people to Pimlico Race Course and plays to millions on national TV, its makers are proud that a lot more is covered than just a single Saturday in May.


"A lot of people think that Maryland Thoroughbred racing's just about the Preakness, and it's not," says Carter, 31, who produced the film through his Sparks-based Rubicon Productions. "It's such a bigger industry than that, and we wanted to get that message across."

The 90-minute documentary, filmed at tracks and horse farms throughout the state, traces Maryland's horse industry as far back as 1743, when the first formally organized horse race in America was held near Annapolis. The winning horse, a British import named Dungannon, was awarded a silver bowl known as the Annapolis Subscription Trophy.


That same year, the Maryland Jockey Club was founded. Its early members included George Washington and Andrew Jackson.

"We certainly were aware of the story and the heritage and the great tradition," says director Perkins, 53. "But as we turned stones and looked more into it and researched it, we realized that it was even more fantastic than we had originally anticipated."

Indeed, the filmmakers say they were astonished to discover that there was no comprehensive history of horse racing in Maryland. That lack of a handy road map forced them to do a lot of primary-source research, using letters and contemporary news accounts to piece together a history that stretched from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore.

"Nobody had ever sat down and said, 'Let me tell you this great story of this 200-plus-year tradition,'" says Perkins. By the time they had finished their research, Carter says, "one of the biggest challenges" was winnowing it down to just 90 minutes.

Stuart Janney III, the Baltimore County-based owner of 2013 Kentucky Derby champion Orb, said Maryland's racing industry deserves the attention.

"Good horses have been bred here, and there have been good horsemen that have come from Maryland," said Janney, who was interviewed for the documentary. "Maryland's always had this important horse industry, with people who have accomplished a lot."

Horse racing in Maryland thrived through much of the 19th century, and "Racing the Times" rescues many people and places from obscurity. There's the 1877 Sweepstakes race at Pimlico, so popular that Congress adjourned so its members could watch; jockey George B. "Spider" Anderson, who in 1889 became the first African-American to win the Preakness; and the Maryland-based Triple Crown winners Gallant Fox (1930) and Omaha (1935), the only father-son pair to both win racing's biggest prize.

There's the famed 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral at Pimlico, which attracted some 40,000 spectators, with another 40 million listening on the radio. Seabiscuit won, in a race some old-timers still insist was the biggest horse race — if not the biggest sporting event — of the 20th century.


Jim McKay

"Racing the Times" basks in the glory days of Maryland racing. In 1909, the year the Preakness returned to Baltimore after 15 years in New York, the state's racetracks included not only Pimlico, but also Laurel, Bowie, Bel Air, Havre de Grace, Hagerstown, Cumberland and Marlboro.

Although racing in Maryland has faced hard times in recent years, with attendance and revenue dwindling, the documentary ends on an upbeat note, declaring the legalization of slot machines in November 2008 constituted "a new lease on life for a business on the brink."

Any report of horse racing's impending death in Maryland is premature, says Perkins, not to mention bucking centuries of tradition.

"If you look at the Maryland tradition and industry for racing horses, it's lasted 300 years," he says. "It's survived a Revolutionary War, it survived a Civil War, it survived a Great Depression, urban sprawl. And it's still there."