Fenwick dismounts for good

April 26, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

When Buck Jakes, the Charlie Fenwick Jr.-trained jumper, was entered yesterday to run in Saturday's Maryland Hunt Cup, Fenwick failed to name the gelding's regular jockey -- himself -- on the horse.

It was not a mistake.

Fenwick, 46, announced yesterday that he is ending his amateur race-riding career, which spanned 28 years and included victories in some of the world's greatest jumping races.

During the past 20 years, Fenwick's name has been synonymous in Maryland and much of the country with steeplechasing.

Fenwick's career reached its zenith in 1980, when he piloted a skittish, rangy chestnut jumper named Ben Nevis II around the storied Aintree Race Course in Liverpool, England, and became the second American amateur jockey to win the grueling English Grand National.

The victory was a testament to Fenwick's persistence. The previous year, he invaded England with Ben Nevis II, but they were brought down by a loose horse at the famed "Chair" fence and failed to finish the course.

"It was the most frustrating time of my life," Fenwick later recalled, "something, I hope, I never have to go through again."

But that feeling was erased when he won the Grand National the next year and was catapulted into worldwide prominence in the sport.

After that race, Ben Nevis II was retired, and Fenwick returned to Maryland, adding two Maryland Hunt Cup victories during the 1980s to his previous three wins in the race. But he gradually turned his attention to training instead of riding jumpers.

On Saturday, after a two-year absence in the race, he won an unprecedented 10th victory in the Grand National Point-to-Point at Butler on Buck Jakes and said he would try for his sixth Hunt Cup win this week.

But on Sunday, Fenwick changed his mind.

"I went to church, and every thing that happened over the weekend seemed to come into place," he said. "It was almost as if the good Lord was saying, 'Charlie, here's your chance. Take advantage of it.'

"I had ridden a good horse and won the race the day before. The weather was beautiful. The crowd enjoyed itself. It seemed like the perfect way to end my career instead of falling at a point-to-point some place and sort of drifting off into the sunset, never to be heard of again."

Fenwick said that, although he had wanted to win a sixth Hunt Cup and tie Mike Smithwick's record, "I realized it was just not that high on my priority list."

In addition to training a 22-horse stable, which finished second in the country last year in number of steeplechase wins and has included Eclipse Award winner Inlander and Maryland-bred champion Rolling Cart, Fenwick is also president and general manager of a Cockeysville car dealership that employs more than 100 people and also serves as chairman of the Gilman School capital fund-raising campaign and of the Baltimore County Citizens Foundation, as well as serving on various other boards and committees.

"My plate is pretty full," he said. "I have had a problem with my weight, and when you ride a lot, it helps keep that down easier as well as staying a lot fitter. But I don't ride that much anymore, and all of that becomes a lot harder. My life is too crowded now to stay focused entirely on riding, which is what you've got to do.

"I thought I rode as well in the Grand National on Saturday as I ever have. All of my reflexes and fortitude were there. But I don't want to get to the point where they are not. Ten is a nice round number. In my mind, I thought my ride on Saturday was as pretty as I had ever done, and I'd like to go out that way."

Fenwick said he had entered Buck Jakes in Saturday's 100th anniversary of the Hunt Cup "as a precaution, in case something happens to the favorites this week and the race comes up light. But I'll probably scratch him and run Free Throw, who will be ridden by Brooks Durkee.

"I'll enjoy myself more standing on the hillside watching Free Throw run instead of sitting on his back."

Fenwick, who always rode as an amateur, ends his career with 105 wins in sanctioned company, with about 25 percent of those victories coming over the sport's stiffest obstacles on the Maryland Hunt Cup, Grand National Point-to-Point, Pennsylvania Hunt Cup and Virginia Gold Cup courses.

THE FENWICK FILE

Career highlights (1966-1994) of Charlie Fenwick Jr.:

* Won 1980 English Grand National at Aintree Race Course in Liverpool, England, on Ben Nevis II. Only second American amateur jockey to win the race.

* Won five runnings of the Maryland Hunt Cup on four different horses -- Ben Nevis II (1977-78), Dosdi (1979), Cancottage (1983), Sugar Bee (1987). Still holds the course record of 8:33 3/5, set in 1978 on Ben Nevis II.

* Won 10 runnings of the Grand National Point-to-Point on six different horses -- Happy Orphan (1973), Ben Nevis II (1977-78), Dosdi (1979-80), Treasure Island (1982-83), Local Kid (1987-88), Buck Jakes (1994).

* Won five runnings of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup on two horses -- Dosdi (1976-77, 1979) and Sam Son Of A Gun (1980-81).

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