The Maryland Jockey Club and the Introduction of Organized Thoroughbred Racing in North America


Iron stirrup recovered from the stable (1711-1730 context) at the Smith St. Leonard site (18CV91).

Iron stirrup recovered from the stable (1711-1730 context) at the Smith St. Leonard site (18CV91).

May and June bring the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing—the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes—and Maryland is proud to claim the Preakness as its own.

Horse racing has a long and storied history in Maryland and this stirrup from the Smith St. Leonard Site (18CV91), a 1711-1754 tobacco plantation in Calvert County, is representative of the state’s long history with horses. This site contains remains of the only known eighteenth-century stable (c. 1711-1730) in Maryland, from which this stirrup was recovered. Estate details from the inventory, taken at the time of plantation owner Richard Smith Jr.’s death in 1715, reveal that he was breeding horses for sale.  The value of the individual horses however indicates they were work, rather than racing, animals (Cohen, personal communication 2010).

This conclusion is perhaps not surprising, since Thoroughbred breeding and racing did not really get underway in Maryland until the mid-eighteenth century; indeed the first Thoroughbred horse in the American Colonies was imported to Virginia in 1730 (Robertson 1964:16).

Darley Arabian, one of the three horses from which all Thoroughbreds are descended.  Painting by John Wootton.

Darley Arabian, one of the three horses from which all Thoroughbreds are descended. Painting by John Wootton.

The Maryland Jockey Club, the oldest sporting association in the United States, was founded in Annapolis in 1743 to regulate the sport of horse racing (Papenfuse 2003).  It is given the credit for introducing organized Thoroughbred racing in the American colonies, with the first race held later that year (Rogner 2002).  Over the years, the club had a number of noted members; prior to the Revolutionary War, George Washington attended a number of meetings and in the 1830s, President Andrew Jackson became a member.

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum’s history and that of the Maryland Jockey Club connect through John S. Skinner.  Skinner, the corresponding secretary for the Maryland Jockey Club in the 1830s (Berryman 1981), owned the land that today makes up Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum, including the former Richard Smith property.

Logo of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Logo of the Maryland Jockey Club.

Today, the Maryland Jockey Club administers the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, the second oldest horse race track in the United States. This racecourse is home to the second “jewel” of racing’s Triple Crown – the Preakness Stakes.  Originally known as the “Dinner Plate Stakes”, the race was first run in 1870 and renamed the Preakness in 1873 in honor of its first winner.  In a nod towards the importance of racing in Maryland’s history, the Thoroughbred Horse became the State Horse of Maryland in 2003 (State Symbol 2015).

References

Berryman, Jack W.  1981.  John S. Skinner’s American Farmer: Breeding and Racing the Maryland “Blood Horse,” 1819-1929.  Maryland Historical Magazine v.76.2.

Cohen, Kenneth.  2010.  Smith Stable.  Email correspondence dated April 12, 2010.

Papenfuse, Edward C.  2003. Recognizing the Contribution of Thoroughbreds and Horse Racing to Maryland History.  Remarks in support of Senate Bill 43.  Website accessed May 21, 2015.  msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/stagsere/…/horsetestimony.doc

Robertson, William P. 1964. The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America. New York: Bonanza Books.

Rogner, Bud.  2002.  Tales of the Delmarva and Other Places.  Lincoln, NE: Writer’s Club Press.

State Symbols 2015. Maryland State Horse – Thoroughbred Horse.  Maryland at a Glance, State Symbols.  Website accessed may 21, 2015 at http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/symbols/html/horse.html

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