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In the winners circle

Meyerhoff '50 stands in front of his trophy-filled mantle.

Harry Meyerhoff ’50 has owned more than 330 horses over the half-century that he has been involved in horseracing.

His advice for choosing a racehorse is simple: “Look for a horse with good parents and good legs.”

That sage counsel never paid off more than when Meyerhoff bought the aptly named Spectacular Bid in 1976 for a bargain price of $37,000. Of course, he had no idea that the uniquely gray-and-white spotted horse would become the sport’s all-time money winner at the time—earning $2.78 million—while winning two out of the three Triple Crown races in 1979.

One of the greatest horses ever

Back in 1980, Spectacular Bid won the Eclipse Award given annually to the Horse of the Year.

“Bid,” as the spectacular racehorse was nicknamed, ran 30 races, and made it to the winner’s circle in 26 of them. Meyerhoff loyally attended every race. The proud owner says he agrees with Bid’s trainer Bud Delp, who called Bid “the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle.”

However, with an impish glimmer in his eye, Meyerhoff adds: “I’m prejudiced.”

Prejudiced or not, Meyerhoff has a strong case. Spectacular Bid was elected to the Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1982 and was rated one of the top 10 horses of the 20th century by several publications.

In his run for the Triple Crown in 1979, Spectacular Bid was quite impressive in capturing the first two legs—the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness—before finishing third at the Belmont, the final jewel in horse racing’s coveted Triple Crown.

Meyerhoff reminisces about Bid’s days on the fast track in a waterfront estate that reflects his life as a racehorse connoisseur, complete with a living room full of trophies. Among his most prized trophies is the beautiful, solid gold cup from the 1979 Kentucky Derby. The walls are adorned by photos of winning moments, including one that shows Spectacular Bid posing with a cake adorned with carrots.

The bond between Meyerhoff and the legendary racehorse ran long and deep. Meyerhoff kept Bid for 27 years, until the legendary thoroughbred died in 2003. (He keeps most race horses for about three years.)

While horseracing has been Meyerhoff’s first love for half a century, he also enjoyed a long and successful career in the speculative building business after graduating from Lehigh in 1950.

An industrial engineering major, Meyerhoff was a member of Pi Lambda Phi when some of Lehigh’s fraternity houses were across the river on the North Side, and he played lacrosse at Lehigh in the years “when they still used wooden sticks.” He was named an All-American in 1948.

Meyerhoff used his education to start a speculative building business in the Baltimore area with his brother, Robert Meyerhoff, who attended Lehigh in 1941 before entering the Naval V-12 program and eventually graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1944. The Meyerhoff brothers were involved in all stages of construction, from buying land to assembly, moving from houses to apartment complexes before Harry retired in 1974.

Today, creosote fences surround Meyerhoff’s Hawskworth Farm, which he shares with his wife, Mary Jo, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a few miles from St. Michaels. A donkey, a few small riding horses and one former racehorse, Sunny Sunrise—another one of Meyerhoff’s prize horses—also reside on his property. Meyerhoff also has three children from a previous marriage—Tom, Jack and Karen—and five grandchildren.

For more on Sunny Sunrise, read A sunny retirement.

Nancy Davies, Meyerhoff’s loyal assistant for 28 years, says she’s worked for Meyerhoff for all these years because, “he’s generous, caring, competitive, fun-loving, sentimental, and he has a wonderful sense of humor. You always know when Harry is happy because his face lights up—there’s a real twinkle in his eye.”

On a recent visit to Hawksworth, Davies—who was Meyerhoff’s friend before going to work for him—joined Meyerhoff and Mary Jo in front of their big screen TV to watch an afternoon race on the 24-hour horseracing channel that broadcasts races from all over the country. On this day, Urban Warrior—one of the 10 new horses Meyerhoff acquired (he currently owns a total of 18 horses)—was running in Delaware, and Meyerhoff wanted to check on the horse’s progress.

Although horseracing is still part of his life, the rest of Meyerhoff’s days have taken on a more relaxed pace. He spends his winters in Naples, Florida, and the rest of the year at Hawksworth Farm, where he reads a lot (there are probably 500 books in his living room alone), watches birds, and takes boat rides across the creek to get crabs at the local crab house in St. Michaels. And, of course, when one of his horses is racing, he gathers with family and friends in front of the TV to watch.

Meyerhoff’s travels haven’t brought him back to Lehigh in years, but his loyalty to his alma mater shows with the Harry C. Meyerhoff Scholarship he created for incoming Lehigh students. Not a gambling man, Meyerhoff views this generous annual gift as the ultimate safe bet, because he knows the pedigree of Lehigh students and he knows firsthand that a Lehigh degree will put them in the winner’s circle more times than not in life.

--Elizabeth Shimer

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Winter 2006

Posted on Wednesday, January 25, 2006

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