The mane event Baltimore County's three well-bred steeplechases are a splendid introduction to spring. And the tailgate parties can be grand.

April 11, 1996|By SANDRA CROCKETT | SANDRA CROCKETT,SUN STAFF

It's as much a part of Maryland as steamed crabs, the Orioles and summertime in Ocean City. The time-honored tradition of steeplechases has been around for at least 100 years.

So, you may not have been to the manor born. It's still a great way to spend a day steeped in Maryland tradition. Fans say there is scarcely a more pleasant way to spend a spring day in the country.

"It goes on rain or shine," says Margaret Worrall, an avid horse fancier and volunteer on the Maryland Hunt Cup Committee.

Of course, it makes for a much more pleasant day if the sun is shining.

Maryland's triple crown of steeplechases in northern Baltimore County begins this Saturday. The races are My Lady's Manor, the Grand National and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

They are called "over timber" races, in which the horses jump over fences. The first two races are seen as a warm-up for the Hunt Cup.

But sometimes, just soaking up the scene, including the often fancy tailgating parties, is every bit as much fun as watching the horses jump over the fences.

Some people go all-out with dress; others prefer to be more casual.

"Each is held in the middle of the field," Mrs. Worrall says of the races. "So I would say high heels are not necessary. However, if the weather is nice, there will be women with big, fancy hats. Older people will be in their tweeds, shirts and ties and young adults in their shorts," she says.

Children often bring out the flying discs and lacrosse sticks for games. There are pony races (sans the jumping) at the Grand National race. "There are four pony races for the children, and it is great fun, absolutely wonderful," Mrs. Worrall says.

Steeped in history

Scenes like these have been going on since 1894, when the steeplechase began as a competition between fox-hunting clubs. The Hunt Cup has become the most famous of Maryland steeplechases, not to mention the most grueling. It's been in the same location near Glyndon since 1922, interrupted by a three-year suspension during World War II.

The genesis of the steeplechase was in England, says Eleanor Schapiro, the senior master of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club.

This is the 100th running of the Hunt Cup, which is four miles over 22 timber jumps, mostly post and rail. The record was set last year when Anne Moran rode Buck Jakes in 8 minutes, 30 3/5 seconds. Three seconds were shaved off the previous record, which was set in 1978. Ms. Moran was the fourth woman to win the difficult race -- some call it the most difficult steeplechase in America.

"Every year, the race has a certain amount of romance and mystery associated with it," says trainer Charlie Fenwick Jr., whose name is nearly synonymous with steeplechases. "It always is a very exciting event about which there is a lot of anticipation and anxiety. I don't think any one year features less than the other."

Mr. Fenwick trains Buck Jakes, and in this year's Hunt Cup, Ms. Moran will again ride the horse as they go for another win.

Fancy duds

Mrs. Schapiro says the dress -- not to mention the tailgating parties -- gets more elaborate with each race leading up to the Maryland Hunt Cup.

"Some people get pretty dressed up," Mrs. Schapiro says. However, she, too, reminds folks to pay attention to their footwear. Depending on the weather, "you may want to wear rubber boots," she says.

And what's a steeplechase without a little repast?

"There's lots of tailgating going on," Mrs. Schapiro says. For the first two races, people may make do with soup and sandwiches, especially if the weather isn't nice.

However, if it's a sunny day when the Maryland Hunt Club rolls around, some people pull out all the stops.

"Some are done to perfection," Mrs. Schapiro says of the tailgate parties.

"There will be Bloody Marys and mint juleps. Some will open up tables and use tablecloths. They often have a contest for the best tailgate parties."

THE FACTS

Maryland's triple crown of steeplechases are:

My Lady's Manor

When: Saturday, April 13

Where: Monkton, corner of Jarrettsville Pike (Route 146) and Pocock Road

Cost: $25 or $35 per car; higher price means a better seat

Race time: 3: 30 p.m.

Call: (410) 557-9466 for further information

The Grand National

When: Saturday, April 20

Where: Butler

Cost: $20 per car

Race time: 3: 15 p.m.; 4 p.m.; and 4: 45 p.m.

Call: (410) 666-7777 for further information

The Hunt Cup

When: Saturday, April 27

Where: Worthington Valley

Cost: $30 per car. Tickets for the Hunt Cup have to be purchased in advance of the race and will not be sold on race day. They may be purchased at Valley Motors, 9800 York Road, at the cashier's window; the John Brown Store at Shawan and Falls roads; or the Wine Merchant store at Joppa and Falls roads

Race time: 4 p.m.

Call: (410) 666-7777

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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