Southwoods rises to occasion in My Lady's Manor

April 14, 1996|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

He was ill as a young horse and never made it to the flat track. His owners were going to sell him despite his fine breeding.

But trainer F. Bruce Miller saw something in Southwoods that indicated he might be a jumper. Yesterday, his judgment was rewarded.

The 9-year-old gelding fought off favored Saluter after a race-long tactical battle and won the 86th running of the My Lady's Manor Steeplechase by two lengths in Monkton.

In the process, Southwoods gave commuting jockey Joe Gillet his first triumph in one of Maryland's "Triple Crown" steeplechase races.

It was a popular decision. Gillet has been traveling from California on weekends to ride in his home state after taking over management of the family's automobile shredding business in Long Beach.

He had finished second twice in each of the big three -- the Manor, the Grand National and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

"Saluter is a good horse and I wanted to stay within a length or two of him all the way," said Gillet. "I had to stay in touch.

"As soon as I saw the leaders begin to stop, my horse just exploded."

Gillet won the psychological battle with Jack Fisher when the real race developed heading into the final two jumps.

"He had me in a bad spot on the inside," said Fisher, describing the approach to the stretch. "Even still, I couldn't go with him. I don't think I was going to catch him wherever I was."

Joe's O.K., a 13-year-old, and Proud Dawg set a leisurely early pace and about halfway through the three-mile test, the latter took command by six lengths.

Proud Dawg, with Billy Meister aboard, still was in command coming up the final hill, but after brushing the next-to-last fence, the horse stumbled and fell.

"We should never be out on the front end," said Proud Dawg's owner, Irvin Naylor.

Gillet picked up the mount when Sanna Neilson, Southwoods' regular rider, was injured two weeks ago.

The time of 6 minutes, 9 seconds over a fast course was 13 seconds off the race record set by Push and Pull and Fisher four years ago. Much of that could be attributed to the lack of a pace-setter in the five-horse field.

"It's funny about Southwoods," said Miller. "I went looking for timber horses for the owners [George and Nina Strawbridge]. I saw this horse and asked what was wrong with him and I was told 'his temperament. He's too quiet.'

"Strawbridge bred him but he wanted to sell him. I got him as a 3-year-old and we started hunting with him. He's a nice horse, but he hasn't run much. Actually, he's had a very easy life."

All Moonshine, third at the final fence, came flying through the stretch to win the secondary feature, the $7,500 John Rush Streett Memorial, by five lengths.

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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