Man o’ War’s Old Training Ground Changing to Golf

Glen Riddle Farm, a former equestrian facility in Berlin, Md., where the fabled Man o' War trained, is being transformed into a golf community. Though it’s been closed for decades, the farm still has remnants of its former life. An old arch contains a reminder that one of the greatest racehorses in history once stabled there. “WAR,” the letters read in testimony to Man o' War, sire of horse-racing’s 1937 Triple Crown winner, War Admiral, and grandfather of Seabiscuit.

Site prep is now underway at Glen Riddle Farm; the transformation of lush, green pastures into the GlenRiddle Community, a 1,000-acre golf-housing development, is in full swing. In addition to a pair of championship-caliber semiprivate 18-hole golf courses, the project under development by Centex Homes includes 650 single-family homes and townhouses, a marina, miles of nature trails, and recreational amenities.

In the years following World War I, Man o' War emerged as one of the most famous athletes in the world. The legendary horse set five racing records in 1920 alone. The thoroughbred trained at Glen Riddle Farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, on a mile-long track which today is inhabited only by deer and swarms of mosquitoes.

Memories of the fabled racehorse had been growing dimmer in recent years, that is until the 2001 release of Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, “Seabiscuit: An American Legend.” The book was subsequently taken to the silver screen to much acclaim in the movie, “Seabiscuit.” The book and movie have reignited interest in the “sport of kings.” Now, Centex is hoping that same interest will help it sell homes and golf memberships.

According to GlenRiddle’s project manager, Frank Kea, the farm’s history will be the primary draw (the development’s web site says, “GlenRiddle is the choice of champions”). “I think people will buy in here because we have tried to adapt the history and character of the place,” he told Washington Post writer, Nelson Hernandez. “There’s nothing like Riddle Farm out here.”

Though it’s removing most of the original buildings, Centex is embracing the farm’s history. According to Hernandez, the developer plans to call its golf courses War Admiral and Man o’ War. Centex also plans to convert an old stable and barn into the golf clubhouse, and build a road along the old oval racetrack.

Some locals aren’t too keen on the project, which has taken 15 years to receive approval from local agencies. Local history buff, Robert Carr, says it’s not right to build a gated community on such hallowed turf. “Make it accessible to the people,” Carr says. “It’s American history.” Another critic, Kate Hastings, the owner of the Globe Theater in Berlin, adds, “I just can’t believe the county couldn’t have purchased it.”

The farm was named for its owner, Samuel D. Riddle, who, in 1918, paid $5,000 for Man o’ War. The doors in the stalls are still scarred from the striking of hooves from the spirited steeds. (A relative of Man o’ War once stomped a groom to death.) Newspapers from the 1950s litter the floor of the dormitory where the jockeys once lived, and there are still remnants of a small indoor track – about an eighth of a mile long – where Man o’ War, War Admiral and Hard Tack, Seabiscuit’s sire, went through their paces.