03/14/2008 12:00AM

Kees did her job quietly, efficiently


Maryland's breeding and racing industry lost one of its icons when Barbara M. "Bobby" Kees died on Feb. 25 at the age of 86, following several years of declining health.

Kees would have scoffed at the term "feminist trailblazer," although women were a rarity on the racetrack when she became a licensed trainer in 1950.

She simply did the work she loved for more than 50 years - raising Thoroughbreds at her Road's End Farm in Sparks, Md., and training them to race primarily at tracks in Maryland.

Occasionally gruff, and not ever known for small talk, Kees kept to her task and won admiration from generations of colleagues for her horsemanship and quiet resolve.

Hobbled by arthritis that led her to have replacements to a hip, both knees, and both shoulders, Kees persevered through various physical traumas, including a farm accident that brought her to the brink of death in the late 1980s.

She rebounded to find her best racing success, with three homebred stakes winners campaigning for her between 1992 and 2001. All three were produced by the modestly credentialed Lydia Ann (by Elephant Walk), a mare she bred and named for her niece, the equine photographer Lydia Williams.

The most accomplished member of the trio was Waited, a son of Allen's Prospect who won or placed in eight stakes while racing for eight seasons and earning $357,302. Half-brothers Mr. Moby Dick (by Horatius) and South Bend (by Roman Bend) had an additional eight stakes wins and placings between them, and South Bend gained graded-placed status while finishing third in the 1995 John B. Campbell Handicap.

Mr. Moby Dick, a big gray gelding whom Kees affectionately called her "Holy Bull," has been pensioned at the Kees farm for many years, along with Waited.

A native of Westchester County, N.Y., Kees grew up in a comfortably affluent family as the daughter of an investment banker, and was married for many years to a physician, Walter Kees, who had a thriving general practice in Cockeysville, Md.

But she learned, early on, how to stretch a dollar in the horse barn. She once recalled that her father gave her a monthly allowance of $15 to support her successful teenage show-riding career.

During her decades in racing, during which Kees developed mostly homebreds and horses owned by a few select clients, she made her mark with primarily blue-collar runners whom she managed to bring back in sound condition season after season.

In her youth, Kees briefly attempted a conventional path, enrolling in Sweet Briar College, but found it not at all to her liking. "After three months, I got pneumonia, went home, and never went back," she recalled in a 1995 interview with Maryland Horse magazine.

She and her husband bought the Maryland farm in 1946. "We were looking for a place where everybody had horses," she said. "And that was Maryland."

The property's original 65 acres was expanded to 103 acres over the ensuing years. Kees eventually added a treadmill and a half-mile stone dust-based training track that allowed her to do much of her training on the farm.

For the first few decades, however, Kees spent much of her time at the racetrack, and sometimes made lengthy forays out of state.

In 1963, she made history by becoming the first woman trainer to take a meet title at a recognized North American track - in fact, she topped two meets that year at the now-defunct Green Mountain Park in Pownal, Vt. During that season, she ranked among the top 50 trainers in the United States. A year later, Kees nearly added a third meet title at Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal.

Along the way, Kees passed her exceptional horsemanship skills along to her two children: Sherry Kees Rudolph, who assisted her for many years and is carrying on the business at Road's End, and Tim Kees, a prominent show judge and trainer based in Connecticut.

With their interests focused on widely divergent careers, Kees and her husband were divorced in the 1960s but remained on cordial terms. Coincidentally, Walter Kees died 15 days after she did; he was within a few days of his 100th birthday.