Sunday, March 30, 2014

Return to Atlanta Hall...

The first Saturday in April marks the last of the local point-to-points before the "big three," the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point, held each year at Atlanta Hall Farm, in Monkton, Maryland. I've been to a number of races in Maryland, Virginia, and even South Carolina over the last 20 plus years. I still don't know what it is about this race which I like so much, but it's certainly a favorite. And that's saying a lot given how much I like the rest of the races in Maryland. 

As with last weekend at Green Spring, this is an early season race, so be prepared for cool, windy and/or wet weather. This at Green Spring had all those features and anyone who was there would agree dressing for the weather is paramount. But also be prepared for warm sunny and slightly breezy days. Dressing in layers is the key and I always head to all of the races with my Barbour and wellies in my car in case the weather requires them.

2013 Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point

This race is not heavily advertised. As a matter of fact, one year, even aware of where I was headed, I drove right past Pocock Road and had to turn around. Either there was no sign even mentioning the races were being held that day or I was lost in the beauty of My Lady's Manor and missed the sign.

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. There is not one single place on the course where you can see everything, so you have to pick your spot on experience and the sort of racing day you wish to enjoy, though most seem to congregate at the finish line where a number of fences, some quite close, can been seen.

2013 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.

Here at the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point, the vast majority of those in attendance, as at Green Spring, are either closely connecting with the hunt or racing, or they are fairly serious followers of the sport.

It might seem like, given the rather close distance between the Green Spring and Elkridge-Harford courses, that you'd see many of the same horses, but that is not the case. With so many races taking place this time of the year in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, very few in fact have come here directly from Green Spring. So for those who are looking to check out this years talent before they hit the "Big Three," this is another great chance to get a look before the really serious racing begins.

So pack a picnic, and bring your field glasses to Monkton this Saturday for some more amazing timber racing in Maryland!

Check out the Maryland Steeplechase Association website for more information:

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Back to Green Spring...

As snow threaten in late March, it may seem as if Spring will never arrive, but the last Saturday in March brings with it the beginning of the Steeplechase season in Maryland. This year the season begins with the Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point at Shawan Downs.

I've probably attended more races at this site than any other course. Last year I again had a Subscriber Pass, which places you atop a hill, above the finish line and encircled by the newly realigned course. While the elevation may seem to provide an ideal vantage point, you can't quite see the finish from the Subscriber parking. Luckily it's a short walk downhill to the finish line, though not the sort of walk you'd want to make with too many picnic items and quite a hike back uphill to your car. But regardless of what parking or tailgating option you choose, there are many excellent places from which you can watch the racing.

This is a typical local hunt Point-to-Point, and a far cry from the large social events like Hunt Cup, Carolina Cup, Gold Cup, Foxfield, or even the fall races at Shawan. What the race lacks in social prominence, it more than makes up for in racing. It is these local Point-to-Points where you find the serious followers of the sport.

2013 Green Spring Valley Point-to-Point

It is at these local races, like those at Cheshire the next day, where horses and jockeys prepare themselves for the big three races, which are held the last three Saturdays in April. Every other race lines up on those three big races.

Shawan Downs, where the Green Spring Point-to-Point is held, is 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. 

The weather for this race can be cold, windy and wet. But if you love steeplechase and know how to dress for the weather, I can't think of any place I'd rather be that watching the races.

For me, dressing for the weather means a good pair of wool socks and Wellies kept in my car the entire season just in case the ground requires something a bit warmer and drier than I had originally planned. I also dress in layers and make sure everything I'm wearing will still keep me warm even if it gets wet. That means lots of wool and my well-worn waxed cotton from Barbour. I might smell like a wet sheep by the end of a rainy day, but at least I'll be warm!

Check out the Maryland Steeplechase Association website for more information:

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Butler's Guide

With the third season of Downton Abbey at a close, I suspect there are some who feel a bit at a loss, still craving a bit more of the Crawley family and the lives of their staff.

It was a time when most families from the middle class on up had some form of servant working in their home. It could have been the "maid of all work" for those with a limited budget, up to a full staff of house and garden servants, but they were a constant part of much of the life of Great Britain and something with which everyone would have been familiar. But, for better or for worse, things have changed.

What perhaps we have forgotten, is that these servants were professionals in their trade, be it a butler, valet, footman, maid, gardener, chauffeur, etc. The all trained from youth to learn a set of skills which would be used by them for the rest of their lives. While some were simply trying to get by as best they could, many were very proud of the tasks they performed would have been at a total loss should they no longer be needed, as was the case of Mr. Molesley.

Unfortunately, in the modern age, many of the skills that were learned and passed down from generation to generation of servant have been lost. Luckily for those who are interested some of this knowledge was preserved in 1980 when Stanley Ager, former butler and valet, and his wife Fiona St. Aubyn, grand-daughter of Ager's employer, sat down and wrote "The Bulter's Guide."

It was his job to run the home of his employer as well as see to the care and cleaning of his clothes, silver, etc. The book starts out with a look back at the running of the grand house back in 1922 when Ager was but 14 years old. He then covers the topics such as cleaning and polishing, clothing care and packing, and managing the table. He finishes up with a chapter called "Other Graces" which cover such handy topics as "being a guest" and "a romantic picnic for two."

While having servants is not something that appeals or is affordable for most in the 21st century, that doesn't mean we cannot learn from their skills to help us take care of our own things and ourselves. And at the very least, this book offers a unique window into a life long gone through they eyes of someone who worked his entire life behind the scenes.

And thankfully with the popularity of Downton Abbey, the book was re-released in 2012 with a forward from Alastair Bruce, historical advisor to Downton Abbey. I hope you find the book as entertaining, educational and helpful as I have.

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