Happy Preakness, Max Merryman

Fifty years ago Secretariat thundered into racing history, stopping in Baltimore long enough to set a Preakness Stakes record in a race jockey Ron Turcotte has called the horse’s best.

Fifty years on, Big Red remains so beloved that a giant statue of him is touring the racing nation, it, too, stopping in Baltimore for a Preakness sojourn.

All of which makes the photoshopped image of Max Merryman, five or so months old at the time, atop Secretariat simultaneously more amusing – baby jockey atop the horse many call the greatest ever – and, when you look a little more closely, more moving.

Little Max was born last December 16 – more than three months premature.

“It was a totally normal pregnancy. I wasn’t sick; I felt great. I was super-active,” Max’s mother Grace Merryman recalled. “I left to go to New York with my mom and my sisters, and then I went to Cape Cod to visit with my family before Christmas, and I went into labor there.”

In the picture, Max is all decked out in a little jockey outfit bearing the logo of his parents’ business – Anchor and Hope Farm. He’s got the cap and the goggles, Secretariat’s number three on his sleeve.


He also has a breathing tube attached to his cheek, delivering his brain and body the oxygen his lungs couldn’t.

“No one really knows why he was so early. I don’t check any of the ‘this is why it happened’ boxes,” Grace explained. “It’s going to be kind of one of those things that we wonder about forever, but there was no specific reason for it.”

Max’s birth, at just 24 weeks, is considered extremely preterm, according to the Mayo Clinic. That can bring all sorts of complications: brain bleeds, breathing issues, heart murmurs, vision problems. At best it means months in the hospital.

At worst?

“When all of this first happened, there was no guarantee that he was going to be ok,” Grace said.

  • Max Merryman. Photo courtesy of Grace Merryman.
  • Louis and Max Merryman. Photo courtesy of Grace Merryman.
  • Grace and Max Merryman. Photo courtesy of Grace Merryman.

He spent the first five months or so of his life in Boston’s Tufts Medical Center. Grace stayed up there with him, with plenty of support from her nearby family. Dad Louis Merryman went back and forth between their Maryland farm and Boston “until the foals started arriving,” Grace said. Anchor and Hope stands four stallions and has several mares on the grounds.

“He’d come up for probably five or six days at a time, and then go home for a couple days and then come back,” she explained. “Kim Myers, who works for us, was just unbelievable in not taking days off and being so accommodating so Louis could be up here as much as possible.”

When he wasn’t, she said, he called every day to read to his son on the speaker phone.

“They’ve read ‘The Hobbit’ and have put a good dent in ‘Lord of the Rings,’” she added via text message.

Over time, things began to trend in a better direction.

“Louis and I, the first month here, it was just like, total dissociation from reality,” Grace explained. “Where are we, what happened to us, what was going on. But, you know, as we eased into it, it got a little bit easier. And then we started getting positive updates and this hope that, you know, this was gonna go in our favor.”

It was the team at Tufts that made Max’s jockey outfit. It was also the team there that provided the care he needed to grow bigger, stronger, to thrive, and eventually to come home, back to Maryland, to the rolling green countryside of the farm near the Susquehanna River.

“It’s like we’ve been here the whole time – pretty remarkable,” Grace said in early May, a couple of weeks after she and Max had returned home.

Call it the remarkableness of normalcy.

Back in 2019, the Merrymans had suffered a near-catastrophic loss when the main barn at Anchor and Hope was destroyed by fire. The actions of barn forewoman Heather Cellinesi saved all of the horses, 18 all told, but the 90-year-old barn was a total loss. Then, the support of the Thoroughbred industry helped buoy the family in a moment of need.

That same community has once again stepped forward. A Gofundme started by Wanamaker’s CEO Liza Hendriks has raised more than $36,000 towards expenses expected to reach well into the six figures.

“It’s just been such peace of mind, you know, knowing that our community once again, the fire being the first time, has rallied around us. Really, really moving,” Grace said.

Max is back home and doing well. There’s still a lot of medical care in his future – and a lot of expenses for Louis and Grace — but he’s gotten to a place now that a month or two ago might have seemed out of reach.

“So much has changed for him, and the light is at the end of the tunnel,” Grace said. “But that wasn’t a guarantee. And just seeing all of the support coming in: there’s nothing you can say to properly thank someone for that.”