Merrall MacNeille

[ Age 98 ] The steward of thoroughbred racing owned 200 acres where he raised cattle, sheep, horses and foxhounds.

November 25, 2007|By Stephen Kiehl and Jacques Kelly | Stephen Kiehl and Jacques Kelly,Sun reporters

Merrall MacNeille Sr., a former steward of Maryland thoroughbred racing who judged numerous Preakness and thousands of other races, died Monday of complications from old age at his home near Butler in Baltimore County. He was 98.

Mr. MacNeille spent his career in the racing industry, joining the state racing association in 1948 as a turf official. He worked myriad jobs, including horse identifier, paddock judge, entry judge, placing judge and patrol judge, before becoming a steward.

But horses weren't his only passion. He was devoted to animals of all kinds. In 1948, Mr. MacNeille bought King's Eye Farm near Butler, a 200-acre spread of rolling hills, forest and grassland. There he raised cattle, sheep, horses and foxhounds, and also kept pigeons and chickens.

His wife, Margie MacNeille, said he would rise at 3 a.m. to milk the cow and feed the horses before heading to the racetrack. After he retired in 1978, he spent his days on the farm, caring for the animals and working to preserve other farms and open space in the area.

Mr. MacNeille was born in New York City, the younger of two boys. He graduated from Scarsdale High School, fell ill but survived the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, and at the age of 16 was sent to Yale University with his brother, John Robert MacNeille. His mother, Ada Merrall MacNeille, sent both boys together because she didn't want them separated.

At Yale, Mr. MacNeille played polo and earned a degree in English literature. After graduation, he worked in advertising in New York.

In 1938, he moved to Maryland to run a farm in Howard County with his wife at the time, the former Adelaide Close Riggs. They had two children before they divorced. He married Margie Fisher in 1950. The couple had three children.

Mr. MacNeille was promoted to the steward's stand in 1956 and worked at all the state tracks as well as Delaware Park in Wilmington. He was known for his fairness and affability. "Everybody liked him. I never heard a bad word about him," said Bill Passmore, a steward at Laurel Park who rode under Mr. MacNeille as a jockey.

"He was a real gentleman," Mr. Passmore said.

In 1968, Mr. MacNeille was one of three stewards at Pimlico who were accused of admitting a newcomer horse into a race without its published workouts being recorded. The horse, Mobs Rule, won the race against 19-to-1 odds. But the charges were false: The horse's workouts had been published.

An article in The Sun by racing editor William Boniface called the criticism of the stewards "ridiculous, erroneous and certainly incompetent on the part of the accusers."

In 1977, Mr. MacNeille was a witness for the prosecution in a Valentine's Day race-fixing case, in which several jockeys were convicted. His ethics and standards were of the highest caliber, family and friends said. They also recalled his antic sense of humor, sunny disposition and photographic memory.

Recognizing the importance of preserving land in the state, Mr. MacNeille placed a conservation easement on his farm with the Maryland Environmental Trust, a public land trust that preserves farmland and other open spaces. The easement means the 200-acre farm cannot be subdivided.

"He did not want the place broken up. He wanted to preserve it as it is," said Mrs. MacNeille. "It's a beautiful place, and we wanted to keep it that way."

No services are planned.

In addition to his wife, Mr. MacNeille is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Ellen Charles of Washington and Melissa Cantacuzene of Aldie, Va.; three children from his second marriage, Margie MacNeille of Anchorage, Alaska, Merrall MacNeille Jr. of New Zealand and Ann MacNeille of Baltimore; 12 grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.

stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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