Sanna Neilson coaxed an Irish-bred gelding named Tom Bob to run the race of his life and won the 95th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup yesterday in her first try over the difficult course in Glyndon.
Neilson ruined the chances of her best friend, Blythe Miller, t become the first woman to sweep Maryland's "Big 3" timber races.
Miller, riding the favored Cabral, nearly fell at the 17th fence afte setting the pace and ended up fifth in the 13-horse field.
At the wire, Neilson was a 10-length winner over a fast-closin Ned Halle on Gesticulate. Halle, in turn, was about four lengths ahead of third-place finisher Mike Elmore aboard Tingles Image.
Halle and Elmore trailed the field for much of the race, but the made tremendous rallies, although they were no match for the winner.
Neilson became the third woman to win the race. It took her an Tom Bob 8 minutes, 42 3/5 seconds to complete the course, nine seconds slower than the record of 8:33 3/5 held by Ben Nevis II. But it was one of the faster runnings of the 4-mile race.
Neilson also was riding against her father, Louis "Paddy" Neilso III, who said he had hopes of catching his daughter after jumping the 19th fence. But his horse, Daydream Believer, tired and finished sixth.
As expected, Cabral took the lead almost from the start surprisingly joined early on by Anne Moran aboard The Wool Merchant.
Sixteen horses had been entered for the race, but the field wa reduced to 13 by post time.
The whole field made it safely over the first two fences, but th third fence, the first stiff obstacle on the challenging, 22-jump course, brought down two horses and riders. Billy Meister, on the gray gelding Night Train Lane, was the first to fall. Then Joe Gillet fell with Capital K.
At that point, Neilson said, she was staying close to the pace, i fifth or sixth position behind pacesetters Cabral, The Wool Merchant and Jay Meister on Ballybranogue.
The field stayed pretty much in the same order until Cabral put i a short jump at the big 16th fence. He then hit the 17th fence hard with both knees and nearly popped Miller out of the saddle.
Miller managed to stay aboard, but Neilson forged ahead.
"I had a super 17th," Neilson said. "I gained all the momentum. was told to get him going if I was in good position at this point, and I did. It was just the smoothest trip."
Others behind Neilson were desperately trying to catch up, bu three horses fell at the 18th fence. Jack Fisher went down first with Free Runner, then Liz McKnight fell with Pleasant Sea.
Halle on Gesticulate tried to avoid the fallen horses and weave in front of David DeMichele on Primal Bee. Primal Bee fell, and DeMichele later claimed foul against Halle, but the foul claim was disallowed by the stewards.
"Halle said he had nowhere to go but where he went unless he wanted to jump on top of a fallen horse," steward J.W.Y. "Duck" Martin said. Martin said an outrider confirmed Halle's report.
Seven of the 13 horses finished the course. Behind Tom Bob Gesticulate and Tingles Image came Quisitor (Mike Traurig), Cabral, Daydream Believer and The Wool Merchant.
Five horses fell, and one runner, Ballybranogue refused at th 19th fence. No horses or riders were injured.
Tom Bob is owned by Joy and Rusty Carrier of Unionville, Pa. Jo Carrier won the Hunt Cup as a jockey in 1980 and 1981 aboard her grandmother's Cancottage, but this was her first win as an owner. The horse is trained by her husband, Rusty.
The Carriers purchased the horse as an unbroken 4-year-old i Ireland. Now 12, Tom Bob previously had run in three Hunt Cups, finishing second once and twice was third.
He is known as a bad bleeder, but since Neilson took over ridin the horse last fall, Tom Bob has started running the best races of his career.