The inscription on the tombstone reads: "Here Lies Mountain Rose II, an honest faithful horse who did his best to the end Destroyed Oct. 24, 1924."
Like horsemen throughout the ages who fell in love with their courageous steeds, B. E. Chapman revered his Mountain Rose II. When the 11-year-old thoroughbred was put to death after breaking a leg in a race at Laurel Park -- they shot horses then -- Chapman buried him in a corner of the track's stable area.
Now, 75 years later, the gravesite has returned to prominence. Overlooked for decades in a thicket along Brock Bridge Road, the stone marker was rediscovered during planning for Laurel Commons, the dorms for backstretch workers to be constructed at Laurel Park. A groundbreaking ceremony was conducted Friday for the $1.85 million project.
The marker is not in the way of construction. In fact, the area around it will be cleaned up so that Mountain Rose II will again receive the attention his trainer and part-owner thought he deserved.
"There's a little folklore with this," says Bob Di Pietro, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club. "We thought it'd be nice to preserve it."
Virginia Scagliarini, 77, who works in the security department at Laurel Park, is the daughter of "Benny" or "Chap" Chapman. He apparently claimed Mountain Rose II in mid-career and then raced him enthusiastically.
Scagliarini is the lone remaining link to the horse; her parents died years ago, and a search of racing archives turned up no overall record for Mountain Rose II. But charts of some individual races exist, and Scagliarini retains a few old newspaper articles.
She says a portrait of Mountain Rose II hung over the fireplace of the family home in Laurel. She recalls asking her mother why. "Because he bought this house," her mother replied.
Scagliarini assumes that her father, who trained horses for about 50 of his 84 years, made a healthy profit placing Mountain Rose II in races on which he could then back the brown gelding with wagers.
"He obviously must have," Scagliarini says. "You didn't make your living back then just training horses."
Mountain Rose II's final victory apparently occurred Oct. 10, 1924, a 1 1/6-mile claiming race at Laurel. After charging from 11th in a field of 13 to win by a neck, he earned $1,000 of the $1,300 purse. Two weeks later, however, he broke a rear leg in another claiming race at Laurel, but managed to beat one horse under the wire.
News accounts said that Mountain Rose II was "idolized by Maryland racing fans." They said that Chapman, trainer and owner, broke down in tears after the injury. Veterinarian J. H. McCarthy related this story to one reporter:
"As I walked up to the horse with my gun in hand, I noticed an expression in the horse's eyes that I had never seen before in the eyes of an animal. I lowered my gun to shoot. As I did, Mountain Rose II started to lick my hand as his eyes seemed to express thanks for the emancipation of his pain."
Chapman buried Mountain Rose II with his silks on a hillside on the backstretch. About 10 years later, his daughter says, Chapman's War Saint won a stakes in Chicago, and part of the prize was a blanket of American Beauty roses.
Chapman shipped the blanket back to Laurel. His wife, Kathryn, draped the blanket over Mountain Rose II's grave, and seeds dropped, and bushes grew, and soon the final resting place of the game old gelding was kisses, embraced and smothered by roses.
Equine nasal strips in Md.?
Are nasal strips for horses coming to Maryland?
John Franzone, chairman of the state racing commission, says that he expects horsemen here to ask for permission to use them since three of the eight Breeders' Cup races were won by horses wearing them.
Franzone says he sees no reason why the commission wouldn't approve their use. They're legal in a few states, including Kentucky and Florida. Like the Breathe Right strips worn by humans, the equine strips supposedly improve oxygen intake -- and in some horses reduce bleeding in the lungs.
At the Breeders' Cup last weekend at Gulfstream Park in South Florida, the winners of the Juvenile (Anees, $62.60 to win), Juvenile Fillies (Cash Run, $67) and Classic (Cat Thief, $41.20) wore nasal strips. They were by far the three longest shots of the eight Breeders' Cup winners.
But before getting carried away here, let us point out that 25 horses wore them in the eight races. Only seven finished first, second or third. In the Juvenile, for example, the horses finishing 10th through 14th (last) wore nasal strips.
Starting tomorrow, subscribers in Maryland to the Dish Network will begin receiving Television Games Network (TVG, the horse-racing channel) in their basic programming package. TVG officials are negotiating with cable providers in Maryland to get the 24-hour channel onto cable TV.