Memories of Bowie

From the Baltimore Sun: On Feb. 2, 1961, at 1 p.m., a train carrying fans to Bowie Race Course derailed near the race track, killing six and injuring more than 200. Undaunted, a number of passengers scrambled over the dead and wounded, smashed windows and hurried on foot to Bowie, in 15-degree cold, to place their bets before the first race.

One man walked to the track with a broken collarbone. Another limped out of the woods nearby carrying a bag of money and one of his shoes.

“I saw people with blood all over them, standing there (at the mutual windows) betting,” trainer King Leatherbury, 77, recalled. “That’s what you call hard-core horseplayers.”

Once, Bowie elicited such passion from the fans it courted. They came from all over the East to a blue-collar, unpretentious, no-frills track.

But when those crowds dwindled, Bowie dropped racing and became a training center in 1985. Now, a quarter of a century later, it seems likely the track will close for good.

On Monday, the Maryland Racing Commission is expected to consider the Maryland Jockey Club’s operating plan for 2011, which calls for Bowie to be shuttered completely.

“How saddened I am by the prospects of it going by the wayside,” said Chris McCarron, a Hall of Fame jockey who got his start at Bowie in 1974. “All good things must come to an end, but (the track) literally has been dying a slow death. The clock started ticking 25 years ago.”

Now, four years shy of turning 100, Bowie appears to have run out of time.

“There’s a lot of history there,” said Mario Pino, 49, a veteran jockey on the Maryland circuit. “And a lot of ghosts.”