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Beauty in Sport: Celebrating Horse Racing in Harford County

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“Beauty in Sport:  Celebrating Horse Racing in Harford County,” an exhibit featuring photography, paintings, silks and other horse racing memorabilia, takes place at the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College from Saturday, October 20, through January 2013. The exhibit is open Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.


The Hays-Heighe House was once the centerpiece of Robert and Anne Heighe’s 225-acre Prospect Hill Farm from 1921 until Mrs. Heighe’s death in 1953. The Heighes established a successful thoroughbred stud farm and raced winners at race tracks up and down the East Coast. Prospect Hill was also the last home and burial location for the 1914 Epsom Derby winner, Durbar II, whom Mr. Heighe inherited from his aunt.


The “Beauty in Sport” exhibit includes more than 30 race day photographs from the 1930s and 1940s; family photographs from the personal collections of the Heighe, Boniface and Mergler families; Prospect Hill racing silks; stadium seats from Bel Air Race Track and other memorabilia related to Prospect Hill and Harford County horse racing. The exhibit also features the legacies of Prospect Hill trainers Jack Boniface and Joe Mergler and racing writer and historian Joseph B. Kelly.


The Boniface Family is synonymous with horse racing in Harford County. Fritz Boniface, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, managed Prospect Hill Farm in the 1930s. During that time three of his four sons developed a passion for horse racing—Jack and Sydney became trainers and William became racing editor for The Baltimore Sun. Jack Boniface trained various winners for Prospect Hill over the years including Zay, Emmy Fish and Rehearsal.


The Boniface family continues its legacy in Harford County horse racing with Bonita Farm in Darlington, which was the home of the 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony, who died at age 32 in September. J. William Boniface, grandson of Fritz, is currently the general manager and partner of Bonita Farm. In addition to training and owning a Preakness winner, he also holds the distinction of having trained three horses to win at the 1987 Maryland Million. His sons continue the Boniface family tradition in horse racing. Billy Boniface is breeding division manager at Bonita in addition to serving as Harford County Council president; his brothers Kevin and John are trainers as is his sister, Kim.


Joe Mergler also came from a family long involved in horse racing. Before becoming a trainer for Prospect Hill Farm in the 1940s, he rose through the ranks as a hot walker and then a jockey. When he found he had trouble keeping his weight below the maximum 105 pounds, the Heighes asked him to stay with the farm, and he became a trainer. Some of his more famous winners included include Adroit, winner of the 1946 Black Helen Handicap; Rene B., who won the 1944 Lady Maryland; and Seer, winner of the 1951 Maryland Futurity.


Also recognized in the exhibit is Joseph B. Kelly, recipient of the first Robert and Anne Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian Journalism. Mr. Kelly has covered horse racing in Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region for nearly 70 years.


Mr. Kelly witnessed Citation’s first win at Havre de Grace Race Track in 1947. Also that year, he was part of Baltimore’s first live remote television broadcast on October 30 on WMAR-TV, when he called the fifth and sixth races at Pimlico with his then Baltimore Sun colleague Jim McKay.


Mr. Kelly began his career at The Baltimore Sun in the 1940s then moved to The Washington Star in 1955 where he spent the next 26 years covering racing. He won a national honor from the Thoroughbred Racing Association for a story about the 1968 Kentucky Derby winner Dancer’s Image, a Maryland bred and only Derby winner to be disqualified from the top spot because of a medication violation discovered in a post-race test.


Over the years he has worked as a track publicist for Laurel and Pimlico and contributed to the Maryland Horse Magazine. He became the founding publicity director for the Maryland Million in 1986. He continues to work in horse racing and is a historical consultant to the Maryland Jockey Club. The Maryland Racing Media Association awarded Mr. Kelly its Unsung Hero Award in 2007.


Several events are planned in association with the “Beauty in Sport” exhibit. Patrick Smithwick, author of the new book “Flying Change:  A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing” and “Racing My Father” and the son of legendary steeplechase rider and trainer A.P. Smithwick, will discuss his books and life in the racing world at a luncheon on Friday, October 19, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Chesapeake Center. A book signing follows the luncheon. Tickets cost $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information or reservations, visit http://tinyurl.com/beautyinsport or call 443-412-2316.


“A Day at the Races,” on Saturday, October 20, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Hays-Heighe House is a family event that includes pony rides, pony grooming, horseshoe toss, making and racing stick horses and designing a hat for race day. Food will be available for purchase. For more information, visit http://www.harford.edu/library/events/kidsday.pdf.


Harford Community College is located at 401 Thomas Run Road in Bel Air. For more information, visit www.harford.edu or call 443-412-2495.

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