Looking Back

This month in mid-atlantic thoroughbred history! For Looking Back archives click here.

In celebration of the Maryland Hunt Cup’s 100th running, the steeplechase community reflected on the world’s greatest race over timber fences and its legendary winners. Wrote Peter Winants: “. . . tradition, leadership, consistency and courage are still integral characteristics of the great race.”

D.M. “Mikey” Smithwick, the winner of six Hunt Cups in 12 rides from 1946 to 1960 and considered more closely linked to the Hunt Cup than anyone else, said if they were allowed one race a year, everyone would pick the Hunt Cup. “You get it in your blood,” Smithwick said. “The race is still lots of fun to me. There’s nothing like horses running and jumping big fences.”

  • Racing historian Edward L. Bowen reflected on Pimlico’s oldest stakes race, the Dixie Handicap, originally known as the Dinner Party Stakes and first run in 1870. During a dinner party in Saratoga hosted by Milton H. Sanford in 1868, Maryland Governor Oden Bowie proclaimed his state could host a race of significance and would see to it that a track be built. It led to the Maryland Jockey Club negotiating to lease a tract of land outside of Baltimore, known as “Pemblicoe,” to serve as the host site of the race, with Bowie offering a purse of $15,000.

    “The Dinner Party Stakes was the feature of [Pimlico’s] opening day, and Sanford and Gov. Bowie both had horses in the 2-mile event. The winner was Sanford’s Lexington colt Preakness, who was making his first start.”

    When a Pimlico spring meet was added in 1873, the opening feature was named after the first Dinner Party winner, and a classic was born.

    The Dinner Party Stakes was called the Reunion Stakes in its second running, and renamed the Dixie Handicap in its third. Over the years it moved to the turf, distances changed and it was opened to older horses for the first time in 1924.

    Last year, the name of the Grade 2 stakes was changed back to the Dinner Party. It will be run for the 120th time this year.

  • Virginia’s first off-track betting site opened in February in the town of Chesapeake and was considered an instant success as the facility handled $3.7 million in its first five weeks of operation.

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