Monday, April 21, 2014

The Long Standing Tradition of Junior Steeplechase in Maryland...

Next weekend on the day after the Maryland Hunt Cup, the Maryland Junior Hunt Cup will be run in the same Worthington Valley as the big race, but over a course at Shawan Downs a bit further down the valley and closer to the Harrisburg Expressway.

Here in Maryland, junior racing has a very long history, beginning with the Grand National which eventually became a major race for adult riders. After the change in the Grand National, junior racing returned in 1920 with the Junior Point-to-Point for riders under 16 and was run on a course of over 2 miles.

In 1921, the Junior Point-to-Point was run over a 2 1/2 mile course at Marberne Manor Farm, estate of Mr. & Mrs. G. Bernard Fenwick in Worthington Valley with all the riders in the race between 15 and 16 years old, eventually opening to ages 18 and under by 1923. The Junior Point-to-Point continued until 1924 when it ceased to be run for a number of years.

1936 Junior Cross Country Steeplechase
The winner, Decanter on the extreme left, Billy Pfefferkorn up, Center horse Walter K ridden by Cosgreve Jackson and Baby Bunting ridden by John G. Fenwick. 
Photo by Baltimore Sun

In 1932, the Junior Cross Country Point-to-Point was renewed over a two mile course over the Worthington Valley estate of J.W.Y. Martin for riders between 15 and 20 years of age. The course, approximately two and a half miles, consisted of four fences three feet six inches high, four fences three feet ten inches high and four fences four feet high. It was a nearly circular course beginning at the 12th fence of the Hunt Cup Course and ending near the 16th fence of the Hunt Cup.

The Brewster Challenge Cup

In 1933, the race was run for the Brewster Challenge Cup, donated by Mr. & Mrs. Daniel Baugh Brewster, which was to be won three times before being retired and passing into permanent possession of the winner. That year the race was listed for those riders between 15 and 21 years of age.

A large part of the social scene in those days, in 1934 the Committee for the Junior Cross Country Steeplechase put on a dance and the Elkridge Kennels.

1937 Junior Cross Country Steeplechase
Believed to be Cree, ridden by Page Edmunds followed by Walter K ridden by Congreve Jackson and Hurray ridden by John Bosley Jr.
Photo by Baltimore Sun

Continuing to be an important part of the Baltimore social scene, following the race in 1937, the Committee of the Junior Cross Country Steeplechase put on a dance and the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club.

In 1938, the race was cancelled out of respect for John G. Fenwick, secretary of the event, who was killed in a plane crash.

In 1939, the race, now known as the Junior Point-to-Point with a new race committee, was reorganized and run over a course of about 5 miles from J. Walton Bolgiano's farm north of Shawan to the meadow of G. Bernard Fenwick, over 18 or 20 fences and ditches. There was no mention of the Brewster Cup being awarded at this running of the race.

In 1940, the race was run over a 3 1/2 mile course consisting of no less than 14 fences, beginning at the barrier on G. Bernard Fenwick 's estate on Tufton Avenue, up the slope and over to Frank A. Bonsal's, and continuing a zig-zag course to the finish line over the land of Tall Caples, Redmond S. Stewart, John Vanderbogart, George Abell, Albert Albright, and J. Walton Bolgiano.

As with all things, World War II caused an interruption in junior racing. It was not until 2002 that the current Maryland Junior Hunt Cup was initiated. It is a full day of junior racing from pony flats to the thoroughbred Field Master's Chase. While not the end of the season for the junior racers, it is certainly the pinnacle and a great day to spend the day watching these great riders. And every year, I am sure to see the likes of winning Hunt Cup jockey's Jamie Stierhoff or Mark Beecher cheering on these young riders with the rest of the crowd.

Quite a few names in steeplechase racing today once rode in these junior racers to include Conner Hankin, Erik Poretz and  Maggie Herzog. Even Kentucky Derby hopeful Rosie Napravnik once rode in these races.

So if you are looking for something to do after the Maryland Hunt Cup, join winning Maryland Hunt Cup jockeys and support these young riders.

Check out the Maryland Steeplechase Association website for more information:

Results of Junior Steeplechase Winners from 1920 to 1940
1920 - Billy Barton - Mrs. Frank G. Baldwin - Stuart S. Janney, Jr.
1921 - Moccasin - Mrs. Frank A. Bonsal - Frank A. Bonsal Jr.
1922 - May Emory - Thomas Cover - Thomas Cover
1923 - Moccasin - Mrs. Frank A. Bonsal - Frank A. Bonsal, Jr.
1924 - Unknown
1925-1931 Not Run
1932 - Red Brand - Jervis Spencer, Jr. - Richard M. Janney
1933 - Baby Bunting - G. Bernard Fenwick - John G. Fenwick
1934 - Hal Dale - Mrs. S.T. Patterson - M. Nelson Bond Jr.
1935 - Myrmidon - John H. O'Donovan - Hugh J. O'Donovan
1936 - Decanter -  William R. Pfefferkorn - William R. Pfefferkorn
1937 - Miss Superior - H. Norman Baetjer Jr. - H. Norman Baetjer Jr.
1938 - Not Run
1939 - Sir Greygrass - Robertson Fenwick - Robertson Fenwick
1940 - Ibn Zah - Daniel Brewster - Daniel Brewster

All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Greatest Test of Timber Racing...

When last Saturday in April arrives in Baltimore, the focus of a large part of Baltimore turns to the same place it has since the days of their grandparents and even great grandparents, the Worthington Valley. It's time for the Maryland Hunt Cup, a true test of a horse's and rider's endurance.

This isn't your average horse race. The horses, averaging 10-13 years old race over 22 fences, 4 board and 18 rail, ranging in height from 2'11" at the water jump to 4'10" at the number 16 fence. And that is it, one race! It is an entire afternoon spent picnicking and tailgating in anticipation of that single race. The only vendors present are selling the race program and race caps and t-shirts. There is no other commercial activity and no commercial advertising present anywhere. 

How many other horse racing events are only based around one race? And how many major sporting events are still void of corporate sponsorships? I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be on the last Saturday in April.

3rd Fence at the 2013 Maryland Hunt Cup

The Maryland Hunt Cup began in 1894 when the members of the Elkridge Hunt challenged members of Green Spring Valley Hunt to a timber race on Dr. William Lee's property near Stevenson Station in the Green Spring Valley and heading east finishing near George Brown's race track at Brooklandwood, a distance of 4 miles. The first race was limited to members of those two clubs, but the next year the race was opened to members of any fox hunt in Maryland. In 1903, members from recognized hunts throughout the United States and Canada were invited to participate.

In 1895 the race began at Hampton Gate on Dulaney Valley Road, a mile north of Towson, and ran over a circular course of about 4 1/8 miles. The following year the race returned to the Green spring Valley, starting at Brooklandwood and running a distance of a little less than 5 miles. It remained in that area one last time in 1897, starting in a field directly north of Brooklandville Station on the east side of Falls Road.

In 1898 the race moved near Cockeysville, starting and ending at Gerar, the country home of E. Gittings Merryman and the following year to “Long Green,” the country seat of W.S.G. Williams. The house at Gerar was demolished by 1962 to make way for Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, with the remainder of the property becoming part of the Hunt Valley Industrial Park. Long Green would become part of the Deford/Boordy Vineyard Estate.

The race returned to the Green Spring Valley in 1900 and 1901 before moving to R.M. Dennison’s farm, Salona in Timonium in 1902. Then in 1903, the race started 1/4 mile north of Towson, directly east of York Road, and finishing at Hampton. In 1904, the Hunt cup returned for one last run in the Green Spring Valley, site of its birth ten years earlier, where it remained through 1914, running over a number of owners properties.

In 1915, the Hunt Cup left the Green Spring Valley for good, never to return. That year it was run for the first time in the Worthington Valley, starting and finishing at Merberne Manor Farm, the home of G. Bernard Fenwick, where it remained through 1918. Since the Fenwick Farm was entirely fenced in wire, the race committee had to build panel fences in order to run the race.

With the Fenwick Farm being planted in corn in 1919, the race moved back to Hampton in Dulaney Valley for two years before moving to Five Farms, country home of Stuart Oliver, for the 1921 race, the last race to be run outside Worthington Valley.

13th Fence at the 2013 Maryland Hunt Cup

In 1922, the Hunt Cup returned to the Worthington Valley and Snow Hill, the home of Charles L.A. Heiser, and the present Hunt Cup course. Since that time, the course has remained fixed, with only the names of the property owners changing over the years.

The present course was originally laid out by G. Bernard Fenwick and Thomas Disney and has stood the test of time, still providing perhaps the most challenging and well known steeplechase course on either side of the Atlantic. It is this race, and this race alone which receives regular mention in British Steeplechase racing circuits and for good reason.

Finish Line at the 2013 Maryland Hunt Cup

There are three different parking options for spectators and everyone has their favorite vantage point, from any of the 22 jumps, to the hillside overlooking the course or the final dash for the finish. If you plan things well, you can even see multiple jumps and the finish line up close. 

And while this race is clearly the dressiest of all the Maryland timber races, spectators for this races, like all the races, are well advised to first dress for the weather and then to dress for fashion. To say that this is a coat and tie event is not to overstate things. No suits for men, but sport coat and tie fit the bill. For women, dresses abound, especially among the younger set. 

And remember, there are no tickets for sale the day of the race, so be sure to get your's in advance.

Once again, on the last Saturday in April, as I do every year, I will make the trek to Worthington Valley to join my friends and many strangers and watch one of the greatest spectacles in Steeplechase racing. I wouldn't have it any other way!

Check out the Maryland Steeplechase Association website for more information:

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Next Up It's The Grand National...

You know it's springtime in Baltimore when it's time for the Grand National.

Of all the sanctioned races, I think the Grand National is my favorite, and perhaps my favorite of all the races I've attended. For the money, a general admission pass will give you three great races viewed from a hillside. And be sure to bring your picnic basket and waterproof picnic blanket. This is a hard value to beat when it comes to racing and the view of the course.

2013 Grand National

The Grand National began in 1898 when several young men who wanted to compete in the Maryland Hunt Cup, but were too young to enter, established this race. All the riders were under 16 and rode ponies, except for one horse. The race was run over 2 1/2 miles near Chattolanee Hotel which was located near the Golf Course of the present day Green Spring Valley Club. As the riders became older, the age limit was raised so the riders could continue to participate. 

The race continued to be run over various courses in the Green Spring Valley through 1917. In 1906 the course was lengthened to 3 miles and averaging 15 to 20 fences plus ditches and even streams. 

With a brief hiatus because of World War I, the race resumed in 1920 at Five Farms, the estate of Stuart Oliver, until the property was sold in Baltimore Country Club for their new golf course. 

In 1925 the Grand National moved to Brooklandwood, the estate of Captain Isaac Emerson, now the site of St. Paul's School at the corner of Falls Road and Green Spring Valley Road, where it remained through 1934. This 3 mile course consisted of 15 fences averaging 4'1" high and also had a water jump. It was in 1934 that  a second race was added to the card of the Grand National for the first time, the Churchville Cup, which was run from 1934 until 1939.

2013 Grand National

Another move was in store for the race, this time to Hereford Farms, the William R. Wittingham estate at the corner of York Road and Piney Hill Road, just south of Hereford. The race was run here from 1935 until 1942, when World War II again interrupted racing. The Hereford Farms course was 1 1/2 miles long run twice around and consisted of 16 fences. It was here that the first subscriber fee was introduced to spectators who wished to watch the races. In 1940, the Foxhunter's Challenge Cup was added to the days card, as a replacement for the Churchville Cup, and was run by members of recognized hunts or United States Army officers, over a five mile course.

With the war over, the Grand National was once again resumed in 1946, this time in its final and current location, Western Run Valley over the farms of the Griswold and Fenwick families. The 3 mile course consisted of 18 fences, 2 board and 16 rail, ranging from 3'9" to 4'2" high.

In 1949 the Western Run Plate was added to the card and then in 1965 the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial was added, giving the day the three races it retains to this day. As a side note, the current Western Run Plate is a revival of that original race begun in 1949.

While the Grand National is often compared to the Maryland Hunt Cup, there are distinct differences. The Grand National is a shorter race with lower fences, resulting in faster racing. The Hunt Cup is by contrast the real test of a horses endurance.

So this Saturday, like every second to last Saturday in April, I will make the trek to Western Run Valley to join my friends and many strangers to watch some amazing athletes, both horses and jockeys, compete in one of the most exciting sports, in one of the most beautiful settings. I wouldn't have it any other way!

Check out the Maryland Steeplechase Association website for more information: 

All Rights Reserved.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Time for Big Timber Racing is Now!

This coming Saturday is the first of the "Big Three" Maryland Races, the My Lady's Manor Races. Just around the corner from the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point held the previous weekend, this race is more widely publicized, which attracts a much wider audience. You will find many people here who have never watched a steeplechase race before, and quite a few who probably never even see the horses run while they are at the races, due to the large amount of socializing which occurs at this race.

The My Lady's Manor Race was first run in 1900 on the farm of Mrs. Estelle H. Pearce, and after a brief hiatus, was established as an annual event in 1909 over about 3 1/2 miles. In 1922, the John Rush Streett Memorial was added to the Manor Race card. Even in the lean years of the Great Depression, the Manor Races flourished, with as many as four races on the card in the mid 1930s. The main race in these days was run over about 3 miles with 16 timber fences, a combination of stacked, board and rail.

2013 My Lady's Manor Races

For 69 years  this 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. Facing the presure of development, the race moved to its current location adjacent to the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club and Ladew Gardens in 1978. Even in this quiet part of the state, new houses have been built where famous race horses once battled it out for the finish line of the old course.

The new course is adjacent to Ladew Gardens and all three races on the card today at the Manor Races are run over timber on a 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.

For those who are not familiar with Maryland steeplechase, there 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 of these timber fences, you hope for the best, for both horse and rider.

2013 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, but like Elkridge-Harford, it is nearly impossible to see the entire course from one, or even two spots on the course.

The crowd at My Lady's Manor is as varied as the vantage points from 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.

Parking passes are available next door to the course at Ladew Gardens on the day of the race for those who have not purchased theirs in advance.

Like all of the races on the Spring schedule, 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 second weekend in April regardless of the weather. I know that's where I'll always be!

Check out the Maryland Steeplechase Association website for more information: 

All Rights Reserved.