The hunt-and-jump crowd turned out in droves yesterday to support the return, after 40 years, of steeplechasing to Pimlico.
But the average fan also got caught up in the excitement.
"Better than the flat races," is how Charles Mosay, a worker at Westinghouse, summed up his initial experience watching and betting on the jumpers.
"It adds more excitement to a race, to see them jump something instead of just running around a flat track," he said.
Mosay, his wife Sue, his in-laws and two young sons, watched the races from lawn chairs they had set up in the grandstand.
Other fans were just as enthusiastic, such as Henry Folkman, a welder from Baltimore and his brother, Tony, who runs a dry cleaning business in White Marsh. Both brothers cashed winning tickets in each of the two steeplechase races, run as the fourth and sixth races on the 12-race card.
Make Azilian, trained by local steeplechase legend Charlie Fenwick, and Virginia invader Mihmaz won the two races. The races had different conditions -- one was a claimer, the other a handicap -- but they were run over the same course.
Six portable jumps were set up on the outside of the turf course -- a flight of three fences in the homestretch and another flight of three jumps on the backstretch.
The horses ran 2 1/2 times around the course and jumped 14 fences in all at the 2 1/16-mile distance.
A total of $170,136 was bet on the two races, about 70 percent of what is bet on comparable flat races on a typical Sunday card.
Tim Capps, vice president of racing at Pimlico and Laurel, termed the handle "acceptable." It was about double what fans had bet on Arabian races, another novelty type of race that was run at Laurel in 1989, but was discontinued after a brief experiment.
Capps said the steeplechases "were a visual spectacle. I thought they went off beautifully. The riders liked the course. A good number of chasing devotees came out especially for the races, but I also liked the random comments I heard from our regular fans. They were curious and they enjoyed what they saw. It's definitely worth doing again."
One such comment came from Jack Caplan, of Baltimore, who seemed to sum up the feelings of many of the track regulars. "I wouldn't bet big money on it [steeplechasing]," Caplan said. "But it's a horse race, isn't it? I bet a couple of bucks, and then sat back and enjoyed the race."
Capps said he does not expect steeplechasing to become a regular feature at Pimlico and Laurel, but said it could be used a few times each year to add variety to the cards.
Make Azilian is owned by the Dogwood Stable, which races Summer Squall, last year's Preakness winner. Mihmaz is owned by Kinross Farm, a Virginia outfit that also breeds and races flat runners.