- Published: Tuesday, 29 September 2015 21:47
Howard Bender, who with his late wife, Sondra, operated one of Maryland’s most successful and largest racing stables, passed away Monday, Sept. 28, at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He was 84.
“It was a little bit of a shock,” said Larry Murray, Bender’s trainer for nearly three decades and the manager of Bender’s farm, Glade Valley, near Frederick. “But it’s hard to have too many regrets. He had a long and great life and touched an awful lot of people.”
Bender and his late wife had been active in the breeding and racing business in Maryland since 1983 and were honored by the Maryland Horse Breeders Association in 2001, 2002 and 2003 as Maryland Breeders of the Year. Howard was honored again in 2014, and on Sept. 11 of this year received the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s award, which honors the achievements of thoroughbred breeders in 23 states and Canada, and owners in the four major North American racing regions.
In 2014, Bender bred stakes winners Bear Access, winner of the Maryland Million Ladies Stakes; More Than A Cruise, winner of the Conniver Stakes; and Ghost Bay, named 2-year-old Maryland-bred champion male after winning the Maryland Juvenile Futurity. Horses bred in Bender’s name and/or in partnership with his late wife made 154 starts in 2014, won 25 races with 19 seconds and 20 thirds, for earnings of $818,565.
Over the years, The Benders won more than 500 races and more than $14 million in purses. They had two horses in Triple Crown races: Southern Appeal in the 1986 Kentucky Derby, who finished 13th, and Foufa’s Warrior, who was seventh in the 2003 Preakness Stakes.
The Benders’ horses also had wonderful success in the Maryland Million. Their most successful homebred was La Reine’s Terms, who won 11 stakes including five in 2002 on five different turf courses. La Reine’s Terms retired with $804,591 in earnings after winning the 2005 Maryland Million Turf.
Despite Bender’s being successful for decades, this year has not been going nearly so well, Murray said.
“We’ve been having our worst year ever,” he said. “There are a couple in the barn who are promising, but Mr. Bender won’t be here to see them run.”
But he did see his horses recently. Murray said Bender, one of his daughters and his racing manager, Deepak Ohri, were at the farm Sept. 24.
“He didn’t want to leave,” Murray said. “You know how sometimes you think people know something about the future? He hadn’t spent that much time here in a very long time. But Thursday, he stayed all afternoon. They were supposed to be back in Washington, but he kept dragging his feet and insisted on seeing some of the weanlings before they left.
“I told him he ought to come up to the farm every week. And then I got word this morning,” Murray said on Sept. 29. “He had some memory issues before Sondra passed away (in Feb. 2012), and two or three weeks ago he was diagnosed with colon cancer and it had spread very quickly. . . . Given that, he had a pretty peaceful passing. All [four] of his kids were there.”
Bender had foresight and Murray said a plan had already been put in place for winding down the operation at Glade Valley Farm.
“We had started a kind of reduction plan,” Murray said. “We’ve already sold three yearlings at Keeneland and the rest will go at Timonium next week. Some of the mares will go in November and we will see all the other mares go in January.”
Murray said the plan had been to race through next year, but notes the timing could change now. When all the horses are gone and everything has been taken care of, Murray said he will retire.
“I don’t know just when that will be,” he said. “We have a number of retirees here, mares in their 30s, a lot of them pretty old. I don’t know, I just may be here until they come to the end of their days.”
While Bender had great success with his thoroughbreds and had served on the MTHA Board of Directors for nearly two decades, he also had great success in the business world. He was the long-time chairman of the board of the family-owned Blake Construction Co., Inc., in Washington, D.C., and was the builder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, as well as other local landmarks.
The Bethesda resident was active in civic and charitable organizations, and also supported many area institutions, including American University’s Bender Arena.
He is survived by daughters Julie, Eileen and Barbara, son David and many grandchildren. He also has two great-granddaughters and two weeks ago welcomed his first great-grandson.
Services will be held a Thursday, Oct. 1 at 10:30 a.m. at Congregation Beth-El, 8215 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, Maryland. Interment to follow at King David Memorial Gardens, Falls Church, Virginia.