Bowers' breakaway startles staid horsemen

ON HORSE RACING

February 22, 2004|By TOM KEYSER

A mere 90 days after creating the Maryland Thoroughbred Racing Foundation, John Bowers has obtained land for an equine museum and horse retirement center in Havre de Grace.

He's also declared: "This project will happen. We're on the road of no return."

Bowers, 59, has advanced his plan so quickly and forcefully that leaders of the Maryland racing industry don't know exactly what to make of it. A native of Havre de Grace, Bowers says he has been involved in racing for 37 years as an owner, trainer and breeder and in the resort industry for 25 years in sales and marketing.

He has assembled a team of some of Havre de Grace's most influential citizens and, in three short months, has done what racing advocates in Maryland have talked about doing for years.

That is, he has taken major steps toward constructing a horse museum and even a horse park that would promote the state's horse industry and serve as a long-term marketing tool for breeding and racing.

"We're actually 30 years too late doing something like this," says Bowers, who has studied similar projects in Kentucky. "The Maryland industry has never been united around a plan like this."

And it hasn't united, at least not yet, around this one. Industry leaders say Bowers barreled ahead without involving crucial segments of the industry and with little regard for similar proposals in the works.

People begin their statements with, "I endorse the concept," and, "I think everyone applauds what he's trying to do," and, "No one argues against the notion of a museum."

But then they question the way Bowers has gone about it and, especially, the idea of locating an equine museum in Havre de Grace.

Jim Steele is chairman of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, which operates under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. One of the board's charges, Steele says, is to come up with a recommendation for a Maryland horse park and museum.

The board would be glad to work with Bowers, he says, "but can we slow the train down?"

Industry advocates have floated ideas for an equine museum in Annapolis or, in greater Baltimore, at Pimlico, Sagamore Farm or Shawan Downs.

"The industry needs to reach a general consensus on a location and, more important, on the scope and funding of it," says Tim Capps, the Maryland Jockey Club's executive vice president.

Bowers bristles at the resistance. Getting consensus among industry leaders about anything is next to impossible, he says. The industry has been in decline for years, and still, he says, factions bicker and fail to address its long-term health.

Bowers has recruited Allen Fair and Cecil Hill, Havre de Grace real-estate moguls, and Frank Hopkins, former member of the Maryland Racing Commission, to join him as Maryland Thoroughbred Racing Foundation directors. He brought in Havre de Grace Mayor David Craig as a partner.

Developer Clark P. Turner has agreed to donate land for their museum and retirement center at Route 155 and Interstate 95 in Havre de Grace. That is the location of Turner's 1,100-acre Bulle Rock development.

Bowers says the museum would feature memorabilia from the old Havre de Grace racetrack and, he hopes, from all aspects of Maryland's racing and equine history. The retirement center would consist of a six- or eight-stall barn with paddocks for some of Maryland racing's retired stars.

A horse park - suitable for timber races and show-horse events - could be constructed nearby on land adjacent to the Steppingstone Museum, one of six museums in or just outside Havre de Grace, Bowers says.

Craig says the Harford County legislative delegation has filed a bill seeking $400,000 in state money for the planning, designing and initial constructing of the museum and retirement center. The project would cost an estimated $1.2 million, he says. Craig says the foundation would raise the balance.

"This is to focus people's minds and hearts back on horse racing," Bowers says. "We can rekindle the spirit and restore the pride."

Derby contenders?

Only two Kentucky Derby contenders remain undefeated after as many as four starts: Halfbridled and White Mountain Boy.

Halfbridled, of course, is the well-known filly trained by Richard Mandella who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and was selected last year's champion 2-year-old filly.

White Mountain Boy is trained by Phil Schoenthal at Bowie and little-known outside Maryland. That may change next Saturday in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., where the Michael Gill-owned colt is to race for the first time away from Laurel Park.

"He has beaten state-bred horses, so we're just trying to take the next step," Schoenthal says. "We know he can go long. It's just time to test his class."

Gill paid $50,000 last February for White Mountain Boy, a Maryland-bred son of Meadowlake and La Sarto, a Cormorant mare. After three wins, White Mountain Boy opened his 3-year-old campaign on Feb. 7 with a gutsy win in the Goss L. Stryker Stakes.

"We're going to keep leading him down the road to Louisville," Schoenthal says. "We're all in this sport for one thing: to get there."

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