Charles, Magee Highlight 2016 MTHA Christmas Party Awards

Five individuals will be recognized for their accomplishments the evening of Dec. 13 as part of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Awards Ceremony and Christmas Party.

The event, to be held in the new Second Floor Sports Bar at Laurel Park, this year will spotlight the MTHA Owner of the Year, Trainer of the Year, Backstretch Workers of the Year, and the recipient of a Special Award for Contributions to Maryland Racing.

Ellen Charles, who has had her own Thoroughbred operation since 2004, is the 2016 Owner of the Year. She operates Hillwood Stable and keeps her horses with trainer Rodney Jenkins.


“I’m honored and amazed,” said Charles, a member of the MTHA board of directors. “To win Owner of the Year, it’s a tribute to the horses, the trainer, and the whole team.”

Kieron Magee, a former exercise rider who began training in his 40s and is now one of the top conditioners in Maryland, is the Trainer of the Year. Magee captured the training title at the Laurel winter/spring meet with 29 wins and is on pace to win in excess of 100 races this year.

“I was very excited when they told me about it,” Magee said. “I’m thrilled to get it. I live here in Baltimore County, and Pimlico is my home.”

As is the custom, two backstretch workers will be honored—one for Laurel and one for Pimlico Race Course. Donna O’Connor, who works for Jenkins, is the Laurel Backstretch Worker of the Year, while Donna Arbitelle, who works for trainer Mary Eppler, is the Pimlico Backstretch Worker of the Year.

“I’ve been working for Rodney for about 16 years,” O’Connor said. “Rodney has a lot of integrity and really cares for these horses. I do work with some really good people.”

Arbitelle, who retired from a government job at age 50 to work as a groom in Maryland, said: “This is something I knew I wanted to do all the time. I go in every day to do a job and care for the horses. And the wins are nice.”

Last year Frank Stronach, chairman of The Stronach Group, which owns Laurel and Pimlico under the Maryland Jockey Club banner, was the MTHA Owner of the Year; he is the first racetrack owner to receive the award. This year Tim Ritvo, who serves as chief operating officer for The Stronach Group, will receive the Special Award for Contributions to Maryland Racing.

Ritvo, who oversaw many changes at Gulfstream Park for the company, has spent much of his time the last few years in Maryland directing renovations of the clubhouse and grandstand at Laurel as well as construction of new barns.

“I consider it an honor,” Ritvo said. “We’ve made great progress in Maryland the last several years largely because all parties are on the same page. We appreciate that the horsemen, breeders, racing commission, and The Stronach Group are in agreement.”

Tickets for the party can be purchased for $35 or for $300 for a table of 10. Information is available at by clicking here.

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