After playing host to thoroughbred racing for 71 years, when it was known as Bowie Race Course, the Bowie Training Center has withstood the test of time over the past quarter century. But many of the trainers, grooms, exercise riders and backstretch employees who work there every day know that invariably the facility is running out of time.
In what has become a common trend within the racing industry, tracks across the country have been reluctant to keep the backstretch stable areas open, and various newer tracks have been built without them. Maryland’s two harness racing tracks, Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and Ocean Downs in Berlin, have already closed their backstretch areas. Owners and trainers ship horses into those tracks on the day they race and then depart after they compete. The 170-acre training center in Bowie gives owners and trainers a place to both stable and train their horses in the same location.
According to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, the Bowie Training Center employs about 200 people and costs the Maryland Jockey Club roughly $2.5 million annually to operate. Legislation passed in 1992 prevents the training center from being closed as long as Laurel Park conducts live racing. For a time last year, Laurel Park’s future as a live racing venue was in doubt, but Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) brokered a deal in late December that created a 146-day schedule for 2011 between Laurel and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
The Bowie Training Center currently is home to more than 600 horses and nearly 100 trainers, and both human and equine residents alike would have to find an alternate home if the center were closed. A limited number would move to nearby Laurel Park and others would likely head to the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton. But some would be forced to leave the state for tracks in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Others might simply sell their horses and find other means of employment.
“The Bowie Training Center situation is a complex issue that will require serious analysis,” said Maryland Jockey Club President and CEO Tom Chuckas Jr. “Wherever the horses go, the trainers and grooms are going to follow. Right now there simply is not enough room to relocate everyone at Bowie to Laurel. While operating the Bowie Training Center year-round is somewhat costly, it still is considerably cheaper than the alternative of building new barns at Laurel to accommodate those horses.”
Trainer Eddie Gaudet of Upper Marlboro has been a fixture at the Bowie Training Center for 50 years. Last month, for the first time, he had a horse in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the middle jewel in thoroughbred racing’s triple crown and the highlight of the racing season in Maryland. Gaudet, 81, his wife, Linda, 55, and their daughter Lacey, 22, are at the barns every morning and at the track until training hours end at 10:30 a.m. Lacey can be seen galloping most of their horses, including Concealed Identity, who finished 10th in the Preakness last month and was second in the $200,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park two weekends ago.
“You probably could not ask for a better place to train horses,” said Eddie Gaudet, who has 25 horses in training at Bowie. “The track surface here is in excellent condition all year. We probably have days here when we can train and other tracks can’t because this track drains so well. We’ve seen a lot of good horses train here.”
Lacey Gaudet went to Holy Trinity in Bowie for four years before being homeschooled through high school. She attended Anne Arundel Community College for one semester, but was lured back to the track where she has worked for her parents since high school.
“I think we all know that it’s not going to be here forever,” Lacey Gaudet said of the facility. “I’m sure by the time I turn 30 it won’t be here. But this is something that I love doing. I’ve been to a lot of tracks, like Gulfstream Park, Monmouth Park, Philadelphia Park and Aqueduct and none of them are anything like here. It’s a great training facility and horses that have trained here have gone all over the country to win major races.”
Although Bowie has not played host to live racing since 1985, the finish line is still intact, as are all of the poles that mark the distance from that point on the track to the finish line. The grandstand survived until 2002, then was finally razed. The starting gate remains and is used on a daily basis for schooling young horses. On a typical morning, more than 200 horses will gallop over the track.
“On any given day, we might get 20 to 80 horses coming over to use the gate,” said Scott Daniels, who has worked the starting gate at Bowie for nearly 25 years. “Almost every year there’s talk about this place closing. But we’re a resilient bunch. We’ve been here for over 20 years and we keep coming back.”
Bowie-based trainers still have various vantage points to watch their horses train each morning, but Chris Grove prefers to view the track from a small paved section close to the finish line. Grove arrived at Bowie 10 years ago with only a handful of horses. He now has 60 horses under his care.
“It’s quiet here and the track is in great shape,” Grove said. “It looks like they could run a whole meet here. People often wonder why they don’t run a few days a year here. Maybe at some point they won’t decide to keep it open, but they’ll have a heck of time clearing all of those barns on the backstretch. That would be an expensive project.”
Trainer Kelly Lynn Deiter spent the early part of her career in racing as a jockey, based primarily at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa. She has been a regular at the Bowie Training Center for 30 years and enjoys the calm and serenity the former track has to offer.
Like most of her counterparts on the Bowie backstretch, Deiter knows that at some point the facility will cease to exist and she will have to relocate to another training facility.
“It’s so quiet here,” Deiter said. “It’s nothing like a lot of the other tracks where I ship to race. You know it’s not going to be here forever. It’s like a cloud hanging over you. But when the day comes I’ll hope to get into Laurel or Fair Hill. Right now I’m close to home, racing at Laurel. But anywhere else you have to ship to Charles Town, Colonial Downs, Philadelphia Park or Penn National. I’ve always enjoyed being here and I would hate to see it close.”