After knocking on the door for the past couple of years, Tom Voss of Monkton heads into the final card of the spring steeplechase season at the Fair Hill Races today sharing first place for the national training title with perennial leader Jonathan Sheppard of Unionville, Pa.
Each has won 12 races although Voss has accomplished the feat by running less than half the number of horses that Sheppard has started.
Each runs five jumpers today on the Fair Hill card and is being pursued closely by Jack Fisher, also of Monkton, who has saddled 11 winners and has three Fair Hill starters.
"For years, Sheppard had a monopoly [in steeplechasing] because he had the owners with the money to buy good horses," Voss said. "Now that is evening itself out. I've got good people now who are willing to spend some money on horses and the results show.
"I've never had so many jumpers in my barn -- I've got 30 -- and most of them were good horses on the flat. Knock on wood, we've been lucky this spring and most of them have stayed sound. For the most part, the ground has been hard, but most of mine have survived it without injury."
Voss takes on Sheppard and Fisher today in the $25,000 Miles Valentine Novice Stakes with John's Call and Rain Alert, a pair of well-bred young horses that combined have won three races at Camden, S.C., Atlanta and Tanglewood, N.C.
John's Call is the 3-1 second choice behind Fisher-trained 2-1 favorite Tonto McSwartz, a son of 1989 Pimlico Special winner Blushing John and winner in his last start at Willowdale, Pa. Sheppard starts Tres Froid and Make Us Laugh.
Also in the lineup is Paulrus, a 7- year-old gelding trained by Janet Elliot who finished seventh behind Strike the Gold and others in the 1991 Kentucky Derby.
Voss runs 9-5 favored Second Hand Image in the co-featured James Stump Memorial at three miles over timber. The horse is owned locally by Caroline and Jerry Stautberg and comes off wins in theVirginia Silver Cup for novice timber horses at Great Meadow, Va., and at Morven Park.
Voss' Fair Hill lineup is completed by Agapae and Roberto's Grace, coupled as the 4-1 second choice in the sixth-race claiming hurdle.
The Voss horses are ridden by his stable jockeys, Simon Hobson and Cort Marzullo, who rank fourth and seventh, respectively, in the standings.
Fair Hill's executive director, Gregg Morris, hopes weekend rains don't dampen attendance figures too much.
"One thing, the rain has helped soften the ground and the going is perfect," he said. "We have full fields in just about every race and that could help us reach a record mutuel handle."