George Rowand’s Legacy Keeps Winning

When Highland Glory came home the winner in Saturday’s Sanibel Island Stakes at Gulfststream, surely George Rowand was smiling. Highland Glory was bred by George’s sister Bonner Young and trained by Barclay Tagg who also trained several horses for Rowan including the mare (Miss Josh) that catapulted Rowand into the owner/breeder stratosphere. Highland Glory’s third dam is Highland Mills who (in modern vernacular) got the whole party started.

GEORGE ROWAND (Fauquier Times)

As the old saying goes “if the bug bites you, you live with the sting” and the bug bit George hard at the age of 25 when he witnessed Secretariat’s victory in the 1973 Preakness stakes (the second leg of Big Red’s eventual Triple Crown). Shortly thereafter, so the story goes, George told a friend “I want to own a horse like that someday.”

While Rowan and thousands of breeders attempted to replicate the great Secretariat, most failed as the Triple Crown drought ran from 1978 when Affirmed won it the year after Seattle Slew and made it three crowns in the 1970’s until American Pharoah broke through spectacularly in 2015.  But while Rowan didn’t own or breed any classic winners, he did manage to own and eventually breed some very good horses. He bought a yearling picked out by his friend Tyson Gilpin and eventually named Highland Mills. Highland Mills was undistinguished as a racehorse, but ended up producing several top class racehorses – four graded stakes winners.

A lifetime Hokie, Rowand graduated from Virginia Tech and eventually law school at Memphis State.  He applied to the Peace Corps, and his backup plan was law school. He would spend 15 years in the legal profession including a long stint associated with Paul Ebert the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

But according to his son Michael in an article in the Fauquier Times, “horse racing was the central passion in my dad’s life.” Everybody who ever met George and got to know him learned that straight away. He enjoyed an encyclopedic knowledge of horse racing notably the Kentucky Derby and other famous industry fixtures. He was quite the raconteur and always had a interesting story to tell.

Like most grand adventures that end up gloriously, the first steps for Rowand were a bit rocky. He started Bonner Farm’s racing operation in 1980 with his mother and sister, but by 1987 the stable had produced one winner.  Rowand told the Washington Post’s Vinnie Perrone, “We were pretty close to leaving the business.” But the tide turned when the fledgling stable was turned over to trainer Barclay Tagg (who also trains recent Florida Derby winner Tiz The Law for the same outfit who raced Funny Cide).

Rowand and Bonner Farm’s drought came to an end when Highland Springs out of the Gilpin chosen yearling Highland Mills was making his second start in a low-level maiden race at Pimlico.  Ridden by eventually Hall of Fame jockey, Kent Desormeaux, Highland Springs burst through an opening and ran away from the field. Rowand would say “It might have been the cheapest racing In Maryland. I didn’t care. We had won! And there is nothing quite like that feeling.” Once again – bug, sting.

MISS JOSH (Rowand family photo)

Highland Springs would go on to win more than $400,000 and he would be part a grand group of get from Highland Mills. She would also produce three other graded stakes winners including Miss Josh who won over $700,000 and the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at Hollywood Park in 1991 and Royal Mountain Inn, winner of the Grade 1 Man o’War stakes in 1994 and Grade 3 stakes winner Highland Crystal.

He published his book “Diary of a Dream” which recounted his story and told Frank Vespe who now publishes The Racing Biz, “Everything good in life, it seems to me, begins with a dream.” In one of life’s unfathomable cruelties Rowand, who never smoked, died of lung cancer in 2017.

While George was fond of saying one of his golden rules in racing was ‘Don’t expect lightning to strike twice.’ And yet, while he didn’t expect it to, he gave it every chance to do so; and his efforts are still paying dividends.


As a side note, he was an entertaining lunch or dinner partner, baked spectacular cookies and hosted (along with wife Rita and son Michael) fun parties on the holidays.

Simply put, they don’t make ‘em like him anymore.

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2 Responses to “George Rowand’s Legacy Keeps Winning”

  1. Your article captured the essence of George Rowand and his love for racing, creating great meals and enjoying friends and family. Well done!

  2. Thank you, it was fun reliving all those memories of George and family and the horses they bred and raced. Cheers!

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