Henry 'Hal' Clagett II

Lawyer raised thoroughbreds on Southern Md. farm for six decades and developed Maryland-Bred Race Fund

February 05, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Henry Contee Bowie "Hal" Clagett II, scion of an old Southern Maryland family and elder statesman of Maryland racing whose name has been synonymous with the sport for more than six decades, died Monday of pneumonia at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

He was 93.

"Hal was an icon in horse breeding in Maryland and maintaining the thoroughbred breed was his life," said Joseph B. Kelly, retired Washington Star racing editor and turf historian. "And he was the picture of the typical English-style landowner and horseman."

Ross Peddicord, who is co-publisher of Maryland Life and a former Baltimore Sun racing writer, was a longtime friend.

"Hal Clagett really does belong to the pantheon of great Maryland horsemen, both for his dedication and devotion to breeding his particular lines of Southern Maryland thoroughbreds, such as the Little Bold Johns of this world, his most accomplished home-bred runner," said Mr. Peddicord.

He was "one of the pioneers in developing the Maryland-Bred [Race] Fund program, the first breeding incentive fund of its kind in the country," Mr. Peddicord said.

With his patrician bearing, which Mr. Clagett reinforced with a trim white mustache and his wardrobe of tweed hats, perfectly cut sports coats that were worn with vests and corduroy trousers, he was an ideal vision of the horseman and country squire.

"He and his late brother, Fendall, cut quite a figure when they came to the track to see their horses run," Mr. Peddicord said. "Hal had the Old Southern charm and eloquence of a country lawyer like Atticus Finch coupled with the wry humor of a riverboat gambler."

Born in Washington, Mr. Clagett, a ninth-generation Marylander, was descended from two Maryland governors - Robert Bowie and Oden Bowie - and generations of Bowies and Clagetts.

"I think he used to say he was related to himself something like 13 times," Mr. Peddicord said with a laugh.

The son of a tobacco farmer, he was raised and spent most of his life at Weston, his family's 800-acre farm near Upper Marlboro, an English land grant that dated to the 1670s.

British troops swept over its gently rolling hills during the Revolutionary War and again in the War of 1812, each time burning part of its historic manor house, which was rebuilt.

A graduate of Mercersburg Academy and Princeton University in 1938, Mr. Clagett had completed two years of law school at Georgetown University before he enlisted in the Army Air Forces.

Trained as a fighter pilot, he was assigned to the 5th Air Force in the southwest Pacific and later flew B-29s based in Okinawa, Japan.

He attained the rank of colonel, and his decorations included a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Air Medal with clusters.

After the war, he returned to Georgetown and completed his education. He entered the practice of law with his then-father-in-law, Lansdale G. Sasscer, later becoming a partner in the Upper Marlboro law firm.

A trial lawyer, Mr. Clagett practiced law for more than 50 years until retiring from Sasscer, Clagett, Channing and Bucher in 2000.

In 1965, Mr. Clagett was appointed to the Maryland Constitutional Convention Commission by Gov. J. Millard Tawes, which later organized the Fifth Maryland Constitutional Convention, whose charge was to draft a new state constitution.

After the death of his father in 1948, Weston passed down to Mr. Clagett, who purchased his first horse in 1932. He began converting Weston from a tobacco farm into pastures that were suited for breeding and raising thoroughbreds, which by the late 1940s he began doing in earnest.

"Clagett's breeding style is unique, even considered eccentric and flamboyant by some of his more conservative colleagues," according to a 2000 profile in The Washington Post.

"He consults zodiac charts before deciding to wean foals, subscribes to labyrinthine notions about tracing bloodlines, insists on waking at any hour of the night to help deliver foals and often drives the tractor," said the article.

"He could go on and on for hours on end about the equine families of the horses he bred - he knew every little detail about their dams and granddams and great-granddams," Mr. Peddicord said. "I think he was even foaling his own mares up until he was 92 and was present at the birth of the hundreds of horses he raised over the years."

Mr. Clagett had horses in every Maryland Million since the race began in 1986, including five winners.

Perhaps his most famous thoroughbred was Little Bold John, who raced 105 times and won 38 races, and whose 25 stakes wins have never been equaled, ranking him fourth in stakes victories among North American thoroughbreds.

Mr. Clagett's lasting and most far-reaching contribution to Maryland racing was in 1962, when he wrote the legislation that resulted in the Maryland-Bred Race Fund.

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