LAUREL, MD – The 30th anniversary of the $1 million Jim McKay Maryland Million will be celebrated Saturday at Laurel Park amidst abounding optimism for the state’s rebounding thoroughbred racing and breeding industries.
Buoyed by dramatic increases in business at Maryland Jockey Club racetracks, Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, as well as significantly enhanced purses, the Maryland thoroughbred breeding industry welcomed six new stallions for the 2015 breeding season, several of whom stand at Heritage Stallions, the state’s first new breeding operation in nearly a decade.
Located south of Chesapeake City in the northeast corner of Maryland near the Delaware border, Heritage Stallions was founded in November 2013 by veterinarian Dr. Brooke Bowman and longtime horseman Louis Merryman. Bowman’s father, Tom, also a respected veterinarian, joined as a partner last January.
Though Heritage has been in operation for only a couple years, its principals have a rich breeding history in Maryland. Merryman hails from a family of several generations of leading Maryland breeders and formerly served as general manager of neighboring Northview Stallion Station.
A co-founder and former partner in Northview, Thomas Bowman and his wife, Chris, have been among the top breeders in Maryland for the past decade. Their son, Brooke, has worked at several breeding establishments as the attending veterinarian, including Northview.
“My family has been in the business for generations, and their family has gotten quite well established being in the running for champion state breeder year in and year out. It was the idea of carrying on the heritage,” Merryman said. “With the significant enhancements for Maryland breeders and the lucrative racing opportunities available at Maryland racetracks, we believe Heritage Stallions is the beginning of a new legacy.”
Heritage Stallions spans 47 acres and incorporates adjoining pastures on part of what was the old Windfields Farm, where Hall of Famer Northern Dancer and Halo once stood and close to the famed Woodstock Farm owned by Allaire du Pont, where Hall of Famer Kelso and multiple stakes-winning Maryland-bred mare Politely were raised.
Bolstered by the enthusiasm and experience of the Bowmans and Merryman and encouraged by the prospect of a resurgent and more opportunistic Mid-Atlantic thoroughbred industry, a group of investors purchased the land and leased it to Heritage and also financed the stallion barn, breeding shed, paddocks and other upgrades.
“All of us were at Northfield and none of us were happy in our situation over there. The combination of that and seeing kind of what we thought was coming and what we hoped was coming in Maryland, for me, I felt like it had to be done,” Merryman said.
“We went all the way down to the line. We didn’t have a place to set up until December of 2013 and we were taking mares in by January and we were covering mares by February,” he said. “We built our stallion barn and breeding shed in about three weeks. I would have had a broken heart if we were not up and running for the 2014 breeding season.”
Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs and Virginia-based R. Larry Johnson provided Heritage with its initial roster of stallions that included 2005 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Giacomo, Grade 1 winner Showing Up and Group 3 winner Hunters Bay. Merryman said in the first year they bred about 150 mares, a number that jumped 86 percent to more than 280 in 2015.
Dr. Brooke Bowman and Adena Springs recognized the importance of having a major stallion early on.
“Adena recognized when we met with them first off we needed a name to put us on the map, and they gave us a great opportunity to put that horse there. Right off the bat to have a Derby winner, that was awesome,” Dr. Brooke Bowman said.
Along with a Kentucky Derby winner, it was Johnson’s stallion Street Magician that helped Heritage get rolling when My Magician, a first crop Street Magician two-year-old filly, won the Maryland Million Lassie last year.
“It was Larry’s stallion. Larry bought the filly at the yearling sale and it was so cool to be with him in the winner’s circle. That was a great story, it couldn’t have gone any better,” Bowman added
Four of the original six stallions remain at Heritage led by Giacomo, whose offspring includes 13 stakes winners. The current roster includes Street Magician, winner of the Hirsch Jacobs (G3) at Pimlico and Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park as a 3-year-old in 2007; 2009 Hill Prince (G3) winner Despite the Odds; and Plan, a Group 3 winner in Ireland who was second in the 2008 Secretariat (G1) in his first of four U.S. starts.
Also at Heritage are 7-year-old German-bred Seville, Group 1-placed at 2, 3 and 4 who became a Group 1 winner at 5; and Grade 2-placed Tritap, a 6-year-old track-record holder at Churchill Downs who is the first son of runaway leading sire Tapit to stand in Maryland.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Dr. Brooke Bowman said. “We had to work a good bit to get shareholders. We had a ton of support. For our second year we were hoping and praying to get enough horses to Tritap and Seville. We thought realistically 80 mares for Seville and 40 for Tritap and we end up with upper 90 for Seville and 65 for Tritap. Larry’s horses are still going strong getting 40 to 50 mares. It was a huge year.”
Merryman said Seville, by Galileo out of the Silver Hawk mare Silverskaya, was contracted to 100 mares in his first year at stud and covered 95. Though he won just two of 20 career starts, Seville placed in six other group stakes and earned nearly $1.2 million. He is the first son of champion Galileo, the leading sire in Europe, to stand in the Mid-Atlantic region.
“He’s a really neat horse. I love the horse. He’s kind of a tenacious little horse that’s really honest and never threw in the towel. We have really high hopes for him. He covered some real nice local mares,” Merryman said. “It was not for any amount of skill that we got in on the horse. We got the horse and it was that November sale that followed that all of a sudden the mares in foal to Galileo just took off. You couldn’t touch him.
“In America he was recognized for his quality, but people weren’t prepared to bring him over yet because they weren’t sure that he would work here,” he said. “In my opinion, Galileo is sheer quality everywhere else in the world and if he gets a shot and you get his son to shine in America, and you get some American mares, they’re going to do just fine.”
Looking to the future, Merryman is optimistic that the leap of faith that produced Heritage will pay off as higher purses, a strong state-bred incentive program and slots legislation slowly rebuild Maryland’s thoroughbred industry.
“Things have gone very well, all things considered. We’ve been pleased with how things have gone and we’re looking forward to improving on that going forward,” Merryman said. “The stallion game is a tough game. A couple horses I was kind of personally working very hard on fell through, one of them at the absolute last minute. You pick up your pieces and try again.
“The national inclination is that stallions belong in Kentucky. You’re playing this little game of trying to persuade people why they should give you a shot with your horse in Maryland. There are a lot of mares that live in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia that ship to Kentucky to get covered and come home to foal up here. I know that most of the other guys in the Maryland stallion sector agree that it would be beneficial locally to bring in a horse that could peel off some of those mares. The competition to get one of those horses is fierce.”