The first Thomas Doswell, a Hanover native, began his turf career when he founded Bullfield Farm in 1824. In that era, the New Market race course in in Petersburg, and the Broad Rock, Tree Hill, and Fairfield tracks near Richmond were at the height of their popularity.1
Bullfield was called "The Red Stables" because of the unusual solid orange silks worn by its jockeys and because nearly all of its champion horses were sorrels or chestnuts. From the early 1800s until the turn of the century, the Doswells were owners, breeders, and trainers of racehorses and the orange silks of "T. & T.W. Doswell" became famous from New Orleans to Saratoga.2
For many years, the Field Days exhibition at Bullfield signified the start of a new racing season. The annual event attracted as many as 150 gentlemen to inspect the stables, view the horses, and drink and dine in lavish style. One account tells of a special train coming from Richmond carrying many of the prominent men of the city to watch the Doswells show their mares and stallions and to see the young colts run their trials on the track just east of the house. The Doswells were mainly interested in improving the breed and never bet on their horses. Wagers at Field Days were limited to a top bet of ten cents.3
Bullfield Stables achieved its greatest victories during the years immediately preceding the War Between the States through the produce of the famous stud matrons Fanny Washington by Revenue and Nina, daughter of the mighty Boston.4
Planet, the first foal of Nina, won at all distances, beginning at age three. Although he excelled at sprints and trotting, he had the endurance necessary to win the four-mile marathon races that were common in those days. A day's racing might involve as many as 12 hard miles, including preliminary and final races.5
Planet won his first victory in the Doswell Stakes at Fairfield in May 1858. From his debut until he was retired, Planet's career was marked by a series of unparalleled performances on every track of note from New York to New Orleans.6
When Bullfield was raided by Federal troops during the Civil War, the portrait, "Planet with Jesse Up," was cut from its frame, folded in quarters, and then abandoned on the roadside. It was returned to Bullfield when a passerby recognized the jockey's orange silk.7
After the war and the death of T.W. Doswell in 1890, family fortunes declined and Bullfield was sold to F.H. Nagel in 1901. Considered the end of an era, the sale was lamented by an unknown writer:
Bullfield, famous in the annals of the racing world as a place where in its time were bred and trained more winning horses than in any other stables in America, and noted also as the home of Maj. T.W. Doswell, the mere mention of whose name calls up in the minds of many Virginia gentlemen memories of by-gone days of good comradeship and genial hospitality, has passed out of the hands of the family by whom it has been owned for nearly a hundred years.8
1Talley, Dale Paige. The Doswell Dynasty: Virginia Gentlemen & Fine Horses, @ amazon.com, 2006: 31-32.
3Wright, Sarah. Notes for Presentation to the Hanover County Historical Society, 12 Sep 1992.
5Glassner, Greg. Herald-Progress, 23 Aug 2012.