William J. Passmore, 77

William J. Passmore, a Top Jockey, Fixture on Md. Circuit, Dies at 77

William J. Passmore later was an official.
William J. Passmore later was an official. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

William J. Passmore, 77, a thoroughbred racing jockey who was a fixture on the Maryland and Delaware circuit for more than 30 years and later became a racing official, died May 14 at his home in Millersville of complications from emphysema.

Between 1948 and 1986, Mr. Passmore won 3,531 races for earnings of nearly $23 million, according to the Maryland Racing Commission.

He competed at major tracks in the United States, including Churchill Downs in Kentucky and Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. He competed in three Preaknesses, in 1954, 1980 and 1981. He rode for trainers King Leatherbury and Charlie Peoples and was a regular jockey for owners Art Rooney, ABC sportscaster Jim McKay and Katie Voss.

William Joseph Passmore, who was 5-foot-5 and weighed only 99 pounds, was born in West Chester, Pa. His father, who was a steeplechase rider and horse trainer, pulled Mr. Passmore out of school when he was nearly 16 so he could ride to help support the family. He rode in New York, New Jersey and New England before settling in Laurel in 1960.

When he started to raise a family, he decided to ride locally, traveling only as far as Delaware for races during June and July.

"He was one of the most underrated riders because he did not travel far," said Phil Grove, a racing steward at Pimlico and a former jockey who rode with Mr. Passmore.

From 1986 to 2007, he was a racing steward for the Maryland Racing Commission, helping oversee racing at Pimlico, Laurel Park and Timonium.

He was a member and past board member of the Jockeys' Guild and helped riders obtain workers' compensation and health-care benefits.

He was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Laurel.

Survivors include his wife of 54 years, Charlene Levy Passmore of Millersville; seven children, Patricia Nilles of Boston, Cathlene Lindberg of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Sharon Passmore of Millersville, William J. Passmore Jr. of Glenelg, Ann Marie Dodds of Melbourne, Fla., James Passmore of Los Angeles and Sandra Criss of Winchester, Mass.; two sisters; and 12 grandchildren.

-- Lauren Wiseman

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