Sara B. Secor, 80, horsewoman, master of foxhounds

March 22, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Sara Bosley Secor, former master of foxhounds at Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club and owner of the fabled sprinter Chase Me, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at her residence, Inverness Farm in Monkton. She was 80.

She established the storied tale of Chase Me, a horse that inspired newspaper headlines, a hit Broadway play and a Warner Bros. film with a spectacular -- if bittersweet -- career from 1933 to 1934.

Described by friends as naturally relaxed and gregarious, Mrs. Secor loved children and kept her door open to any in the neighborhood.

"She was the most unforgettable character I've ever known, in addition to being a fabulous horsewoman," said Bonsal White, a friend for many years. "She was the confidante of practically everyone. She was never judgmental."

Born Sara Bosley in Baltimore, she was raised on Fox Hill Farm, 500 acres of rolling Monkton hills and meadows. Her parents kept horses for themselves and others. She attended Notre Dame of Maryland and was schooled in England, where she developed a British accent that she never lost.

"She was the earth mother of My Lady's Manor," said Charles B. "Sprat" Reeves Jr., a family friend. "She was a dominant personality loved by all."

When she was 12, she began training a brown colt her parents had acquired and given her. Named Chase Me, the horse became a family pet and hunter. She taught him to retrieve sticks, shake hands with his foot, stick out his tongue and extract handkerchiefs from pockets. She rode him over the Maryland countryside until she and her parents decided he possessed the speed to race at the Havre de Grace track.

At the starting gate, Chase Me approached the starter and pulled a cigar from his breast pocket. A sprinter, he won by 20 lengths and dazzled the crowd.

"I'd seen plenty of horses and couldn't believe what I saw that day," Mr. White recalled.

Chase Me soon became the undefeated star of Maryland's 1933 fall racing season, earning an editorial titled "An Equine Marvel?" in The Sun.

The next spring, after more victories at Pimlico, Chase Me was entered at New York's Belmont Park in the Metropolitan Mile.

"Oddly enough, while Chase Me was being ridden to hounds, in the show ring and probably doing everything but pull a wagon, he never gave a hint of his sudden speed," the New York Herald-Tribune reported.

Racing against Equipoise and Mr. Khayyam, Chase Me stumbled and broke a leg. He was humanely destroyed in the woods behind the track. It was the only time he was defeated.

The legend of Chase Me became part of the story line in the hit play of the 1935 Broadway season, "Three Men on a Horse," which was made into a Warner Bros. movie starring Joan Blondell and Sam Levene.

In 1937, Mrs. Secor rode the winner in the Powder Puff Derby, a race run at Pimlico the morning of the Preakness.

"Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt had the track and ran fun promotions," said Mr. White. "He got a lot of society girls in the race. Sara won because she was the best rider, of course."

She rode every day -- and hunted twice a week -- until she was in her 60s. In 1972, she became joint master of foxhounds for Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club.

Friends recalled that Mrs. Secor was a keen judge of horses -- she had 20 on her farm -- who peppered her conversations with malapropisms.

When a situation failed, she said it went over like a "lead pipe balloon." She described a friend who went into the hospital for a biopsy as getting an "autopsy." When a servant's body was being sent to the board of anatomy, she said it was going to the "anemone board."

She married Louis McLane Merryman in 1942. They later divorced.

In 1950, she married Jay Ketchum Secor, a lawyer, legal aid official and former Yale polo team captain. He died in 1960.

A memorial service for Mrs. Secor will be held at 4: 30 p.m. today at St. James Episcopal Church, 3101 Monkton Road, Monkton.

She is survived by three sons, John B. Secor, Stephen B. Secor and Jay Ketchum Secor, all of Monkton; a daughter, Elizabeth S. Campbell, and a sister, Elizabeth C. Bird, both of Unionville, Pa.; and six grandchildren.

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