Monday, April 23, 2012

A Boot for Fashion and Foul Weather...

After a few years working in the garden and continually discovering large amounts of dirt and other things lodged inside my shoes and transported back inside my house, I knew I had to come up with a better solution.


And then last year at the My Lady's Manor Races when the rain was coming down in buckets, mud caked the bottoms of my trousers and there was nothing I could do to prevent that from happening. My feet were dry with the boots I was wearing, but my trouser cuffs were a muddy wet mess. I had to do something to improve my situation.

Luckily for me, my wife had the solution to both my problems. It was time to invest in a pair of Wellies.

And when it comes to Wellies, there is nothing better than the classic green boots for which Hunter has become famous.



Hunter has helped to turn the rubber boot into a country classic and of late a coveted fashion item. A "Hunter," in various styles, can be seen today on from farms in the country to college campuses in cities and towns.



The company was originally established in 1856 in Edinburgh, Scotland by American entrepreneur Henry Lee Morris as the North British Rubber Company, which was to eventually become known as Hunter Boot Ltd. many years later. They not only made rubber boots but a variety of rubber products to include tires, conveyor belts, combs, golf balls, hot water bottles and rubber flooring.

Wellington boots or the more commonly known ’Wellies’, were not created by Hunter, by were in fact created by a shoe maker named Hoby of St. James, London, to a design by The Duke of Wellington in 1817. Originally fashioned from fine, soft calf leather, they were the first boots of their kind to be created. And while leather versions of those original Wellington Boots are still made, it was the rubber variations manufactured later in the 19th century with which most Americans are familiar.

During World War I Hunter produced their Wellington Boots for the heavy wet clay and flooded trenches of the battle fields. The Scottish mills ran day and night to eventually produce 1,185,036 pairs to meet the Army’s demands.

Today, Hunter’s are worn on happier days and can be found in a fun array of sizes, colors and quirky limited editions to brighten up any cloudy day. And while Prince Harry of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge have been seen sporting other brands of Wellies, the likes of Kate Moss, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Hilary Duff, Katy Perry, Ashley Olsen, Dakota Fanning, Liv Tyler, Reese Witherspoon and others.


While at the Maryland Grand National, with forecasts of rain threatening the days festivities, Hunter's could be found being worn long before the the rain arrived. Even at fashion conscious events like this, it is Hunter's which are the go to footwear when rainy weather threatens.



And while there are many other makers of the Wellington boot, it is Hunter which has not only won a royal warrants for their boots, but also the hearts and loyalties of Americans as well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Two Weeks of Amazing Racing in Monkton...

So what is the difference between and Point-to-Point and a Steeplechase? Well in the UK, the Steeplechases are held over permanent courses using National Hunt rules and Point-to-Points are traditionally over ad hoc courses, though many are held on permanent courses now. But for the average spectator, there is no noticeable difference between the two types of racing, especially in the US, other than a difference in names used for them.



2012 Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point

Last on the list before the "big three" is the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point. It's held each year at Atlanta Hall Farm, in Monkton, Maryland. I don't know what it is about this race which I like so much, but it's certainly a favorite, which is saying a lot given how much I like the rest of the races in Maryland. Again, like Green Spring, this is an early season race, so be prepared for cool, windy and/or wet. I rarely head to any of the races without my Barbour and wellies in my car.



This race is not heavily advertised. As a matter of fact, even aware of where I was headed, I drove right past Pocock Road and had to turn around, as there was no sign even mentioning the races were being held that day.


But what this race lacks in advertising, it makes up for in style and racing. The course has 15 timber fences, a combination of stacked, board, rail and coop, over about 3 miles.


2012 Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point

I should also note, that tailgating at both Green Spring and Elkridge-Harford are very casual informal affairs. That isn't to say they are pedestrian, just not over the top. Think classic, old fashioned tailgating.


The vast majority of those in attendance at this race, like Green Spring, are either closely connecting with the hunt or racing, or they are fairly serious followers of the sport.


The following weekend, just down the road is the first of the "Big Three" of Maryland Steeplechase Racing. With a greater amount of advertising, they attract a much wider audience and here you will find many people who have never watched a race before, and quite a few who probably never even see the horses run while they are at the races.


This first "big race" is the My Lady's Manor Races. This race was first run in 1902 and after a brief hiatus, was established as an annual event in 1909. In 1922, the John Rush Street Memorial was added to the Manor Race card. Even in the lean years of the Great Depresssion, the Manor Races flourished nevertheless, with as many as four races on the card. The main race was run over about 3 miles with 16 timber fences, a combination of stacked, board and rail.


2012 My Lady's Manor Races

For 69 years  the race was run over a course on the Secor, Pearce, Riggs and Warfield properties in Monkton, Maryland near the intersection of Monkton and Markoe Roads. Even in this quite part of the state, new houses have been built where famous race horses once battled it out for the finish line. Then in 1978, the race moved to its current location adjacent to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club and Ladew Gardens.


All three races on the card today at the Manor Races are run over timber on the 3 mile course of 16 timber fences. The fences on the course are set at about 3 foot 7 inches, which are the lowest fences of the big three races in Maryland.


And this is something else which really sets Maryland racing apart from other places in America. Maryland is known for timber racing. They jump a combination of stacked, board and rail fences, all very hard and unforgiving. Those soft brush fences which are seen elsewhere are not found in Maryland and when a horse comes into contact with one, you hope for the best for both horse and rider.


2012 My Lady's Manor Races

At the Manor Races, you need to take your time to find the right spot from which to watch the races. There are quite a few different options and everyone seems to have their favorites.


And the crowd here is as varied as the vantage point form which to watch the races. The tailgates/picnics and clothing are found in a wide range of styles to suit each of the many spectators. The Manor Races probably represent the most socially diverse crowd of any of the the big three races, and passes are available next door to the course at Ladew Gardens on the day of the race.


And like all of the races, they are held rain or shine, so first dress for the weather and then for the occasion. While those bad days might not be for everyone, the loyal followers of the sport will always be found in Monkton the first two weekends in April regardless of the weather. I know that's where I will always be!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

And so the Steeplechases Begin...

Every year, the Foxhall Farm Trophy Chase kicks off Maryland's steeplechase season in late March. This is probably the least known of all the Maryland Races despite having perhaps the largest trophy of any of the races.

2011 Foxhall Farm Trophy Chase Winning Team from the Green Spring Valley Hunt

It began in 1920 over timber at the Monkton, Maryland home of renowned American sportsman, Foxhall P. Keene. His intent was to encourage participation in the sport and the race is run by teams of three, all regular followers of a recognized hunt. To honor the winning team, Keene commissioned a challenge cup which was to be held by the victorious hunt until the next renewal if the race. Made of sterling silver, it is one of the most impressive trophies in the sport.

I was unable to make the race this year, but last year it was held on a brisk sunny early Spring afternoon at the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, current holders of the trophy. A really beautiful day, but for those who are used to the races as a social event rather than a horse race some things were absent. There was no "glamour crowd." There were no tents or lush tailgate spreads. There was no champagne. It was a very simple affair and I can't say I missed any of it at all.

"The Foxhall race is really more of a training ground," explained retired lawyer and former steeplechase jockey Turney McKnight, in a 2009 Washington Post article.

2011 Foxhall Farm Trophy Chase

Many of these same horses will compete in Maryland's triple crown of Steeplechase, My Lady's Manor, Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup, as well as further afield like Carolina Cup and Virginia Gold Cup. "The jockeys want to practice but not overexercise the steeds," McKnight further explained.

The Green Spring Hunt were wonderful hosts after the race. Might not be a race that gets much attention, but it will definitely remain on my calendar for years to come.

Howard County-Iron Bridge used to be next up in the order of races, but some late season snow falls, they moved to the other side of the Hunt Cup and have remained there this year, so these is usually a week off between Foxhall Farm and the rest of the Maryland season.

Next up is the Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point. I've been to the course before, so I know what to expect from the race course. I've arrived with a gifted Horseman's Pass which had me down by the trailers a distance from the actual finish line, and more recently with a Patrons Pass, which places you atop a hill above the finish line and encircled by the newly realigned course. Because of the topography, you can't quite see the finish from the Patron parking, but it's not a bad little walk downhill to the finish line, though not the sort of walk you'd want with too many picnic items and quite a hike back to the car uphill.


Outriders at the 2012 Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point

This race, like those at Cheshire a week earlier, are chances for the horses to prepare themselves for the big three races, which are held the last three Saturdays in April. Every other race lines up on those three.

Green Spring is held at Shawan Downs, a large tract of land which was saved from development by the many members of the horse community and has been developed as an equestrian park, hosting a variety of events on its grounds. With a variety of parking options and tailgating options, this race has a large hillside from which you can watch see the horses run.

Like Foxhall Farm, this is an early race in the season, so the weather can be cold, windy and wet. But if you love Steeplechase, I can't think of any place I'd rather be that day.

2011 Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point