Until yesterday, the last time a jumping race had been run at Pimlico Race Course was in 1951. Patrick Myer, an 8-year-old third-grader in Towson, was there.
"My grandfather loved racing, and we would ride down on the train from Riderwood for the jumping races here," he said. "I came each year from 1949 until they stopped."
Myer called the return of steeplechasing to Pimlico "wonderful" -- and no wonder. Mihmaz, a 6-year-old trained by Myer, won the $20,000 sixth race, the second and richer of two steeplechase events.
The steeplechase novelty, along with a Father's Day promotional giveaway, lent a festive atmosphere to the program. But the mood suddenly turned somber between steeplechase events when James Richardson, a pony rider, was stricken by a heart attack while atop his pony. Leading a horse to the post for the fifth race, he fell to the dirt 10 yards before the finish line. He was pronounced dead at Sinai Hospital at 3:40 p.m.
Richardson, 62, of the Pimlico neighborhood, was a former trainer who had worked with horses in Maryland and other Eastern states since his early teens. His wife, Sally; son, Jamie; and twin daughters, Lisa and Sandy, work at Maryland tracks. He is also survived by another son, David, and daughter, Leslie.
Before Richardson was rushed to nearby Sinai, medical workers tried frantically to revive him for about 25 minutes. The tragedy put a damper on a day that track president Joe De Francis had called "an unqualified success.
"We'll definitely talk to the NSHA [National Steeplechase and Hunt Association] about doing more," he said.
Although figures varied only marginally from the corresponding 1990 date -- attendance slightly up, handle slightly down -- De Francis was enthusiastic about patrons who would not have otherwise attended. "It looked like there were more people in the box section than Pimlico Special day," he said.
One patron, Julie Colhoun, said that except for Preakness days, she hadn't been to Pimlico since 1960. Her son, Dan, and sister, Margie McNeille, said they and many of their friends attended just to watch the jumping races.
The first of those, for $20,000 claiming horses, was won by Make Azilian, trained by Charlie Fenwick Jr. The gelding was half of a stable coupling bet down to odds-on favoritism, "but he wasn't the one we thought would win," said Fenwick. Sabas, the more well-regarded half, finished fifth.
Jeff Teter, the leader among the nation's steeplechase riders this year, rode Make Azilian ($3.80) to a three-length victory over late-closing Bitamin. The 7-year-old gelding is owned by the Dogwood Stable, which owns 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall.
Mihmaz ($17.80), owned by Kinross Farm and ridden by Graham Alcock, surged to the front with three of 14 fences remaining to win the second jumping race by 1 1/2 lengths over Gregorian's Ruler.
"Speed holds up more on the flat courses," said Alcock. "There's no hills to take anything out of them."
"It was great to come back here and win after all these years," said Myer, who trains in Middleburg, Va. "It was something else."