Charles R. Lewis

A Hall Of Fame Rider, He Went On To A 52-year Career Training Thoroughbred Race Horses At Maryland Tracks

December 07, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen ,

Charles R. Lewis, a veteran thoroughbred horse trainer and Hall of Fame rider, died Wednesday from pneumonia at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.

The Ruxton resident was 91.

Mr. Lewis was born in Washington and raised in the horse country of Warrenton, Va.; he began riding when he was 8 years old.

"He got the bug early," said a son, D. Randolph "Randy" Lewis of Sparks. "He was a natural rider."

By age 16, Mr. Lewis was already gaining fame as an expert rider, which led to numerous equestrian events and opportunities to compete and win prizes in hunt races throughout Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida and New York.

"I got into horses as a show ring rider," he told The Maryland Horse Magazine, now Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, in a 1980 article. "I was an exhibitionist at heart. When I was 15 and weighed 85 pounds, it seemed like everybody with show ponies wanted me to ride for them."

In 1940 and 1941, Mr. Lewis broke, trained and rode the grand champion jumper in the American National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. Lewis and other champion riders enlisted in the Army.

Assigned to the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kan., because of his horsemanship and leadership abilities, Mr. Lewis was commissioned an officer and attained the rank of captain.

Mr. Lewis became the featured rider in a 1942 Fox Movietone News film, "Boots and Spurs," about the cavalry, which played in movie theaters throughout the nation.

He was later sent to India, where he served in the China-Burma-India Theater of operations, supervising movements of cargo on mules and horses that traveled over the Himalayas into military installations in China.

Returning to Baltimore after the end of the war, Mr. Lewis launched a 52-year career training thoroughbred racehorses at Meadowbrook, his 170-acre Monkton farm, and later at various Maryland racetracks.

Articles in The Racing Form and Sports Illustrated described him as a "master trainer," and he became a celebrated figure in the world of thoroughbred racing and fox-hunting in the Mid-Atlantic.

A handsome man with a ruddy complexion and carefully combed white hair, Mr. Lewis looked inch for inch like the Virginia gentleman that he was.

Mr. Lewis was impeccably tailored and was easily recognizable by his conservatively cut tweed sport jackets, rep ties, button-down shirts, gray flannels and carefully creased fedoras with snap brims.

During his career, Mr. Lewis trained horses that won millions of dollars in more than 3,000 races. He helped develop such noted jockeys as Chris McCarron and Kent Desormeaux, winners of the Eclipse Award.

"He was a first-rate Maryland horseman of the old school and he came out of the show ring," said The Baltimore Sun's former racing writer, Ross Peddicord, now co-publisher of Maryland Life.

"He was always well-dressed in a coat and tie and treated horse breeding as a very serious profession," said Mr. Peddicord. "He looked like he was the CEO of the firm whose owner's horses he was training."

Mr. Peddicord added that Mr. Lewis was "tough" and always "ran his stables in a first-class way."

Some owners liked calling the shots because it was their horse and money, which was an operating method that didn't sit too well with Mr. Lewis.

"I allow owners under the shedrow, but not under foot," he told The Evening Sun in a 1972 article.

"It is Lewis's contention that if a man thinks enough of him to hire him, he should think enough of him to trust his judgment about training and spotting horses properly," observed the newspaper.

Mr. Lewis explained his philosophy of training horses in the newspaper interview.

"I start from the inside and work out," he said. "I give him a worm ball, cleaned him out real good inside, then when I was satisfied he was okay on the inside, I began his training program. Horses tell you when they're okay on the inside. Their coats can tell it."

His son recalled that his father understood the vagaries of the horse business.

"He understood that someone had to finish last," he said.

After his marriage to the former Virginia Ranier ended in divorce in 1965, Mr. Lewis turned over Meadowbrook Farm to his former wife.

"He began working at several other farms in the Monkton area until retiring in 1997," his son said.

Mr. Lewis said his father stopped drinking 42 years ago.

"He had a soft spot for people down on their luck, and he'd try to help them and stake them until they got back on their feet," the son said.

He was a member of the National Hunters and Jumpers Hall of Fame in Washington and a member of the Virginia Athletic Hall of Fame.

Mr. Lewis had been a member of the board of the Maryland State Fair, where he had chaired the racing committee, and had been a member of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club.

Services for Mr. Lewis are private.

Also surviving are his wife of 41 years, the former Molly Rinker; another son, Jhett Lewis of Monkton; a stepdaughter, Antonia Martin of Ruxton; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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