CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — This week as sports fans around the nation pause to remember Sam Huff as a legendary WVU and NFL football star, friends involved in thoroughbred horse racing will remember a man who had a love for ‘that’ sport.
Carol Holden was Huff’s partner and President of the West Virginia Breeder’s Classic, which they petitioned to get started in the state in the tradition of the storied Breeder’s Cup. Holden recalled a conversation after a trip to the inaugural Maryland Million race back in 1986.
“On the way home, Sam said, ‘Why can’t we do this in West Virginia?’ and I said ‘Well, we don’t have enough horses,’ because the Maryland Million and the Breeder’s Cup are set up just on horses by nominated stallions to the program. So what we had to change was horses bred and sired in West Virginia.”
The first running of the West Virginia Breeders Classics happened in 1987. Soon, the event, restricted to horses bred or sired in West Virginia, became the highlight of Charles Town’s fall racing calendar.
According to information from the West Virginia Breeder’s Classics, in the more than 30 years since, the Classics have generated some $26 million in purses for the Mountain State’s thoroughbred horsemen as well as thousands more for state and local charitable organizations.
“The event has grown from five races — with total purses of less than $250,000 — to a nine-race card that’s broadcast live on TVG1 and in which the featured Classic itself has a purse of $300,000,” according to the site.
The 35th West Virginia Breeder’s Classics was held last month at Charles Town Races.
Holden says when she first met Huff, she thought he was just another businessman, but she soon came to know he had a love for the sport. “When he was in New York, he used to go to the races occasionally with some of the other players and I guess that sort of got him interested. He actually had the interest and actually was involved with some horses with Brereton Jones who was the governor of Kentucky.”
Holden says Huff never forgot where he came from. “He was a very kind, generous person, very loving. He did a lot of good for people that will probably never be known. Back before I met him, there was a major flood in West Virginia and he worked for JP Stevens and he got a couple of truckloads of sheets, towels, that sort of thing sent to West Virginia. He always had West Virginia in his mind and in his heart. He loved this state.”
Sam Huff passed away in Winchester Saturday at the age of 87. He was a native of Farmington and played for 14 seasons in the NFL after a standout career at WVU. He and Holden co-hosted Trackside horse racing broadcast for 28 years on a number of stations, including Martinsburg’s WEPM radio, a MetroNews affiliate.