Jack Fisher's horses keep farm jumpin'

April 18, 1991|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Evening Sun Staff

MONKTON -- Polly Riggs looks out in her front field and sees the fences that Jack built.

There are about 20 jumps of various descriptions -- post and rails, stacks of telephone poles, brush hurdles, a chicken coop -- all designed as practice fences for the dozen steeplechasers that live in the stone barns below the house.

This weekend 10 of those horses that are trained by Jack Fisher, Mrs. Riggs' young cousin, will compete in steeplechases in Maryland and Virginia for purses worth more than $100,000.

"It sounds good, but the trick is winning them," quipped Fisher, 27, who will ride six of the horses himself.

Already Fisher-trained runners have won nine races this spring, including a victory by Caronee in the $10,000 Deep Run Hunt Cup in Richmond last weekend.

This Saturday, 6-year-old Revelstoke is one of the favorites for the $15,000 Grand National Point-to-Point at Butler and five of his stablemates run in companion races on the day's card, including Free Runner and Roman Tent, who go in the $10,000 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial.

Both Revelstoke and Free Runner are early nominees for the Maryland Hunt Cup next weekend.

It will be Fisher's first ride in the Grand National and Hunt Cup although he has twice won the Virginia Gold Cup.

On Sunday, Fisher starts Woody Boy Would in the $50,000 Temple Gwathmey Stakes at Middleburg, Va., and Gus's Boy, already a double winner in local point-to-points this spring, goes in the $20,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup. A couple of other Fisher runners will start in lesser races.

About five years ago, seventysomething and widowed, Mrs. Riggs invited Fisher to stay with her while he learned how to ride and train jumping horses under local horsemen such as Hall of Famer Mike Smithwick and Tom Voss.

Little did either one of them know that in a few short years Mrs. Riggs' 30-acre farm would become a full-fledged training center for one of the country's most successful steeplechase operations.

So far, Fisher is not in the same league as a Jonathan Sheppard or Charlie Fenwick, but he's working on it.

"Let's just say having Jack around has added a lot of excitement to an old lady's humdrum life," Mrs. Riggs said.

Last year Fisher's small stable compiled nine wins from 30 starters in races sanctioned by the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association, placing Fisher sixth in the year-end standings with a 30.

Included among the horses that Fisher bought and developed were the year's best 3-year-old hurdler, Woody Boy Would; the best novice timber horse in Maryland's Governor's Cup series, Push And Pull; and another successful, although bittersweet year, for Call Louis, the 1989 Timber Horse of the Year, that was Fisher's first good horse. After finishing second in the Virginia Gold Cup, Call Louis bowed a tendon and is resting until he is brought up this summer for a fall campaign.

What makes Fisher so unusual is that he not only trains the horses, he also rides them.

That means riding at weights ranging from 142 pounds for the hurdlers to 165 pounds for the timber horses, the ones that jump the solid post-and-rail type fences.

At 6 feet 1, Fisher the hardest part of riding is keeping his weight under control.

Fisher's day starts at 6:30 a.m. when he gets to the farm. Mrs. Riggs, who gets up at 5 a.m., has already fed the horses.

"She tells me that gives her a good reason to get up, and it gives me a good reason to sleep in," Fisher said.

Fisher starts riding sets of horses along with Sheila Williams and Nicholas Schweizer. Williams, the granddaughter of the Maryland's late great horseman, Stuart Janney Jr., is Fisher's girlfriend and also chief owner. Schweizer, 20, is a part-time student at Dickinson College as well as amateur rider. Julia Stegman also rides for the outfit.

Since the Riggs farm is small, Fisher leases a 300-acre field for galloping at Andor Farm, about a mile away.

"Training steeplechasers is much more relaxed than having flat runners at the track, although that's something I hope to get into one day," Fisher said. "First, I turn my horses out in paddocks for about an hour each day. Then when we train them, they get ridden about a mile through the countryside just to get to the gallops."

The horses train slower than flat runners, since the emphasis for jumpers is on stamina rather than speed.

"We would never breeze three-eighths of a mile in 35 or 36 seconds," Fisher said. "We go five-eighths or seven-eighths of a mile, at speeds faster than a two-minute-per-mile clip, but not as fast as you'd go at Pimlico."

Fisher says he can tell almost right away if a former flat runner will make a jumper. "I try to find out as soon as possible if they have natural jumping ability," he said. "The first day they jump over logs and the second day they go over piles of telephone poles. The good ones prick their ears and look forward to the jumping. Others just plain don't like it."

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