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  The Bowie Breed !     

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If they ever decided to make a movie about Bowie, it certainly wouldn't be a comedy. No other track could ever match the history of Bowie, it was named for a governor, it brought a governor down, it had it's own railroad spur, it had a train crash, plane crash, fires and blizzards. People died there, people were stranded there, horses died there, it itself died there in 1927 when it burned to the ground, it was involved in a political scandal, what more can be said for it's 70 years of existence

 Bowie was located roughly twenty miles between Baltimore and Washington D. C. Starting out as an open air grandstand, it was modernized to a glass enclosed facility to accommodate winter racing. The track itself was a one mile dirt oval. In it's final years the grandstand could seat 7,500, the clubhouse another 3,500, which included the Terrace Room, the track restaurant that sat 750 diners. The stables could house 1,194 horses, and there was parking for 10,000 vehicles.       

The train is nearing the station, suddenly there is a derailment, people are sent flying. Survivors are climbing over bodies, franticly smashing windows trying to escape the wreck. Zombie like creatures appear from the woods lumbering toward the giant structure straight ahead. Is this the latest thriller to hit the big screen? Nope,  just the actual events of  February 2, 1961 when the race track special from Philadelphia crashed near bowie, killing six and injuring 200, as frantic bettors scrambled to get their double bets in. The engineer driving the train was nearing the spur to Bowie at about 55 miles per hour, when he should have been at fifteen. The crash was so bad, the engine came off the tracks and was laying on it's side.  When it came to racing at the track that pioneered winter racing on the east coast, the fans were definitely a "breed" of their own.

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 There were plenty of tales to tell about the track that started winter racing in 1957. In 1953 a jet fighter exploded over the track and crashed in the nearby woods. In 1955 a cabin cruiser was found floating in the infield lake. In it's second year of winter racing a blizzard engulfed the area and most fans were left stranded and overnighted at the track. Jockey Danny Wright should remember a few days as a rider at Bowie, other than having to put up with the elements.

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In 1972 Wright, piloted a zebu to victory over a llama, camel, and a reluctant buffalo in the first (only) Noah's Ark International. Three years later Wright was riding in the heavy slop when his mount stumbled and threw him, Wright disappeared from view to the horror of the trainer waiting at the finish line. The trainer and others rushed out to find him submerged in two inches underwater. The position he fell in afforded him a small pocket of air which kept him alive till help arrived. When asked about the event, Wright comment was "what can I say I'm a mudder". Unfortunately all good things must end.

By the early seventies winter racing was everywhere on the east coast, Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey were all running year round. The trains and busses, full of hungry racing fans had long stopped running, Bowie was just a minor player in the game. It was time for the one time mecca of blue collar horse players to fade away like the melting snow that signaled the end of the yearly meet. Starting with the opening of Liberty Bell the attendance numbers started to drop from over an average of 10,000 per day to a little over 6,000 in the final year. Eventually with both New York and Pennsylvania running the number of horses dwindled as well. The odd thing is, those fewer people must have bet more money, because the daily average handle only dipped below one million, one time in 1984. 

in 2012 the grandstand is long gone, but the racing surface is still used for training. That could also be about to change, the track that pioneered winter racing and even help take down a governor of Maryland, could be itself going down. 

I was able to make it to Bowie, for three cards of the 1967 winter meet and was there for closing day featuring the John B. Campbell Stakes. It was a pretty much up in the air affair, I was in the mutual line still trying to make up my mind when I noticed the last line of the last horse in the race, it was from the previous years Kentucky Derby. The horses name was Quinta, which didn't ring a bell, who had an jockey named Steve Brooks, nearing the end of his career. Well it sounded good to me, so down went my money, about a sixteenth from the wire I was looking at a hunch gone bad, Quinta was mounting a drive but couldn't make it to the front before the wire.

The chart sounded like it was routine, but I got to see why Steve Brooks was a hall of fame jockey, he was all over that horse and got up by a nose in a ferocious drive, maybe it was just to many beers but that was I ride I will always remember as an impossible victory. Being from New England, Bowie at that time seemed like going to my local track, horses like Erin's Luck, Faultless Light, Sandoval and my personal favorites, Mr. Hatfield and Sub Call were campaigning there. It also didn't hurt my wallet that a young rider who had lost his bug in New England, was hot as a pistol down there, his name was Chuck Baltazar, who was taking the next step in his career.