Horsemen Bill Vermillion Passes at 96

Bill Vermillion, a longtime horse owner in Maryland after World War II, died Friday, July 8. He had been in good health until breaking his hip two weeks earlier in a fall. He was 96.

Born Nov. 15, 1919, Vermillion was an aide to Gen. George S. Patton and in France when World War II ended in 1945. By happenstance Vermillion got his start in racing when he decided to take a four- month trip to the French Riviera before returning home after the war.

“While he was there, he bought a racehorse,” says Vermillion’s son Richard. “He came home and surprised his mother by telling her what he’d done. Then he went to New York to pick up the horse. His name was Wilfred. I don’t think he won a race with him, but that’s how he got into racing and he was in it until the mid-1990s.”

Bill Vermillion never had more than two racehorses at a time, but that was enough to interest Richard, one of his two sons, who has been in the business for 48 years and celebrated his 500th victory as an owner with Fleets Afire July 12, just four days after his father’s death.

“My dad had a full life,” Richard Vermillion says. “He is the oldest person to live on the Vermillion side of our family. He loved horse racing. The favorite colt he owned was Mohican and his favorite filly was Somebody’s Pride. He enjoyed a good party and his friends.”

Outside of racing, Bill Vermillion made a career with the Eastman Kodak Co., running its processing lab in Washington, D.C., until he retired in 1975.

At the racetrack he knew everyone, says his longtime friend, trainer Billy Christmas.

“I’ve known Bill since the 1950s,” says Christmas, 91. “He always had a horse and he always had a story to tell. He was well-liked and well-respected for his horse knowledge. He was a low-key guy who knew a lot about racing. Any big outfit, he knew them and he was a wealth of information. He was always talking about other people’s horses, never his own, even though he always had good trainers.”

Among those in the 1950s was Clay Sutphin, who also worked for Sam Riddle, who owned Man o’War. Though only an infant when Man o’War won the 1920 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Vermillion did see Pimlico Futurity winner and 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, Tom Fool, the 1953 Horse of the Year, and countless others.

“It’s sad to see someone like him go,” Christmas says. “He knew so many things in racing. He could tell stories about the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. He saw so much.”

Vermillion was a resident at an independent senior living facility in Laurel at the time of his death. A widower, he is survived by two sons, Richard of Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Ronald of Gaithersburg; two grandchildren, Amy and Brian; and one great-granddaughter.

The longtime horse owner has been cremated. Richard Vermillion said plans for a memorial service and a military burial are pending.

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