A Day At The Races, Steeplechasing

April 08, 1991|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff writer

Pat Cooney leaned forward in the saddle, as if to nudge his horse over the hurdle. The crowd lined up against the fence leaned forward with him, as if to help.

But this was Caviar's first race, and he had another idea -- one that sent Cooney tumbling down the grassy track.

"He was just tired," Cooney said, picking himself up off the track after Caviar missed the jump. "He's inexperienced and just a littlegreen. He'll learn. That's what maiden hurdles are for."

Cooney and Caviar was just one horse-and-rider team at yesterday's 17th annual Marlborough Hunt Races, run at Roedown Farm near Davidsonville.

Yesterday's mild temperatures brought about 3,000 spectators, parked on the grassy hills overlooking the two-mile track, to the farm off Harwood Road for an afternoon of partying or just plain relaxing.

Cries of "And they're off" competed with loud music from car stereos -- "You gotta fight/For your right/To party." The experienced horse-racing crowd joined newcomers in lining up against the fences to watch the riders and their horses clear the hurdles -- or, as in one horse's case, take a fatal fall.

Hundreds of pairs of binoculars followed Joey Gillet as he urged Maui Boy toward the hurdle in the third steeplechase race. But Maui Boy crashed headlong into a hurdle, landing on his side, his long brown legs flailing in an effort to stand up.

The crowd gasped, binoculars glued to the scene, as Gillet, like anout-of-control beach ball, tumbled down the field, stopping several feet from his horse.

Gillet stood up and walked back to Maui Boy, who had stopped moving altogether.

Several people ran to the horseand rider, touched the horse and moved away. Someone brought a whitecloth and threw it over Maui Boy. Long legs stuck out from underneath as a tracker dragged him away.

Gillet walked back to the stands,his head hung low.

"Is that horse dead, Mommy?" a little girl in the crowd asked.

"I think so, honey," her mother replied.

"I'vebeen going to steeplechases for years," said spectator Dave Preinkert of Washington, "and there is always this element. I've seen races where I thought the jockey was dead."

"It's very sad," Marlborough spokeswoman Laura Dietrich said. "It doesn't happen that often."

But like a football game when a player is injured, the race went on. And so did the drinking and partying on the hill.

Blankets, coolersand cars made the hillside look like some huge tailgate party. On the higher end of the hill, horse owners and club members mingled undertents, where one could find champagne cooling in silver buckets alongside silver candleholders.

The smell of expensive perfume mingledwith the ever-present odor of horse manure. Women in silk sundressesand large-brimmed straw hats carrying champagne glasses wandered around.

"This is the first time we have been here," said Suzanne Costilo of Shady Side, who was with her 4-year-old daughter, Betsy. "We have been to the Middleburg (Va.) races before, and it's always been really great, with all the millionaires and their silver candelabrums and butlers under their tents."

At the other end of the hill, Nancy Schmidt and her mother, Louise Tuers, both of Annapolis, joked about all the finery.

"We have paper cups, and I brought a plastic tablecloth," Tuers said with a laugh. "Next year I'll know better."

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