Charles Receives Special Award of Merit

Monday, June 3, 2024

Ellen Charles, who has bred or owned some of Maryland’s most popular and successful horses of recent years, was presented with the Special Award of Merit by the Maryland Jockey Club May 16 during the Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico Race Course.

The Special Award of Merit is given to those who have made a positive impact on the racing industry. Past recipients have included Jim McKay, Hall of Fame trainers D. Wayne Lukas and King Leatherbury, and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

Charles races as Hillwood Stable, which since 2005 has won more than 210 races for earnings of more than a $8 million. Among the stable’s top horses are millionaire Cordmaker, Post Time, Phlash Phelps, Shimmering Aspen and Bandbox. Hillwood Stable also races in partnerships with various owners, and Charles is a breeder.

Charles was introduced at the breakfast as “the First Lady of Maryland racing.”

Charles’ roots in the racing industry run deep. Her mother, Adelaide Close Riggs, was one of the great supporters of Maryland’s breeding and racing industry for nearly 70 years and her father, Merrall MacNeille, held many jobs in racing before spending more than 20 years as a steward at Maryland tracks.

“This is a great honor and I feel that I’ve learned from all of you here,” said Charles, who noted her parents supported her endeavors. “When I decided to try my hand in the Thoroughbreds, they helped me. It takes a family. I love (the industry).”

Charles was voted the MTHA Owner of the Year in 2016. For 25 years, Charles was President of the Board of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., helping realize her grandmother’s dream to turn her former estate into a public museum known for its large decorative arts collection.

Charles was elected two terms on the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Board of Directors and served on the organization’s Finance and Aftercare committees. In addition to horses, Charles has bred and owned multiple dogs that went on to compete for Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.