10 STORIES THAT MATTERED: Passings
Among the many ways that 2020 seems likely to stick with us, most difficult were the passings. It’ll be remembered as the year that took and took and took.
In the wider world, of course, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that took most of all – more than 380,000 Americans gone at the time of this article.
Mid-Atlantic racing suffered more than its share of 2020 passings, too. Expected, unexpected, in some cases shocking: all left a mark on those they touched and on the industry in which they participated.
Here, in no particular order, a few of the 2020 passings that brought us up short:
- Maryland trainer Jack Kousin had one of the most interesting careers imaginable, enjoying a successful decadelong run bridging the 1970s and 1980s, teaming up with owner Alan Kline to win several stakes with a small but overachieving stable. Then he left the industry altogether – for more than 30 years – before returning to it in 2019. Kousin passed in August.
- Fritz Burkhardt, a Delaware steward for more than 30 years – he retired in 2019 – passed away in September.
- Joy and tears as Caravel sets sailPennsylvania-bred Caravel won the G3 Caress at Saratoga. in a bittersweet last start for breeder-owner-trainer Lizzie Merryman.
- “Accidental trainer” Sean McDermott gets first winJump jockey Sean McDermott, now what he calls an “accidental trainer,” got his first career training win July 23 at Pimlico.
- Bell Gable hoping Maryland Brando a contenderMaryland Brando was a flashy first-out winner at Delaware Park for Gary Contessa and Bell Gable Stable. Will he, like his namesake, hope to be a contender?
- Leslie Condon, a Charles Town-based trainer died in August in a motorcycle accident. She was just 49. Condon, a popular member of the CT backside, had kept a frenetic horse-related schedule – a friend of hers described her to me as “too horse-crazy” – training and breeding horses, as well as doing sales prep and more. Friends mounted a campaign to provide homes for the nearly three dozen horses in her operation.
- Maryland owner and breeder Don Dean, 85, died in October. A genial and unassuming man, Don was active in the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America and Maryland Racing Media Association and was an avid collector, and donor, of antique items that often fetched high prices at silent auctions.
- Longtime Parx-based groom Dennis Dougherty passed in mid-December. Dougherty – the husband of The Racing Biz correspondent Linda Dougherty – was described as “a true racetrack character” who for many years had a pet goat named Happy.
STORIES THAT MATTERED
- Doug McCoy, a longtime chartcaller who in recent years was the Delaware correspondent for The Racing Biz, died unexpectedly in late May. He was 72. Described by jocks’ agent and longtime friend Tom Stift as “old-school racing,” McCoy published his final story in March.
- Longtime Maryland breeder and owner – and onetime co-owner of the Maryland racetracks – Bob Manfuso died in March at age 82. Manfuso, by turns gruff, outspoken, and charming, was involved in Maryland racing in just about every possible capacity and at the time of his passing operated, with partner Katy Voss, Chanceland Farm, as well as serving on the board of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
- John Wayne, who served for more than two decades as the executive director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission, passed away unexpectedly in February; he was 65. Wayne, a burly bear of a man, was often willing to step on toes and even break precedent if he thought it would advance the integrity of the sport.
- Martin Mora, 56, passed away in April. The good-natured Mora served as the winner’s circle guard at Laurel Park and Pimlico and also assisted track photographer Jim McCue.
- Fillies rule at MHBA Yearling ShowA Street Sense filly was named Grand Champion while a Great Notion filly was tabbed reserve champion at the 2021 MHBA Yearling Show August 1.
It’s not a complete list by any means, but one more reminder that’s it’s been, by any measure, a helluva year, 2020.
Perhaps best, in this year of loss and struggle, to recall the words of the poet Langston Hughes:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.