`Weight' tries again in Hunt Cup

'98 runner-up enters on heels of National win

April 24, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

They had cleared the final fence and Welter Weight and Florida Law, both trained by Tom Voss, were driving neck and neck toward the finish line in last year's Maryland Hunt Cup.

Voss was assured of a victory either way, but he couldn't help rooting for Florida Law, the ornery old jumper who had squandered so many chances to win the state's most prestigious and lucrative steeplechase.

The most notable opportunity had come in 1996 when -- leading by a seemingly unbeatable margin -- Florida Law balked after clearing the last jump and Hello Hal trotted by to victory.

In last year's race, the trainer's wishes were fulfilled when the grey beat a game Welter Weight by a neck to climax the grueling, four-mile test over 22 timber fences.

Both horses return to the 103rd edition of the Hunt Cup today and this time Voss is leaning toward Welter Weight, a formidable jumper who never seems to have a bad effort, but one who has also had more than his share of bridesmaid roles.

"He's a very, very good horse who should have won more than he has," said Voss, the nation's leading steeplechase trainer two years ago and always among among the leaders. "I guess secretly I'd like to see him win it. I was really happy when the other horse [Florida Law] did because he had such a monkey on his back and was snakebitten."

With Mike Elmore up last week, Welter Weight prepped very nicely for the Hunt Cup with a convincing victory in the Grand National, a three-mile race over 18 jumps.

"He jumped well and just ran away from them all," Voss said. "Everybody just sort of set off his pace and nobody could catch him."

Elmore returns astride Welter Weight to try many of the same competitors, including Nem Blong Hem (second in the Grand National), the always tough Buck Jakes (third) and Florida Law (fifth).

And there is a sentimental favorite in the eight-horse lineup, the 11-year-old gelding Emerald Action, whose 63-year-old owner, Irv Naylor, is paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a nasty spill while aboard the horse last Saturday in the Grand National. Jack Fisher will ride today.

But Nem Blong Hem has never been around the most formidable course on the local circuit, so the race will probably boil down to another battle among the big three -- Welter Weight, a Hunt Cup runner-up two straight years; Florida Law and Buck Jakes.

Voss is hoping the rains this week haven't softened the course considerably "because my horses don't like it too soft. It was a little bit wet at the Grand National, but the ground was good. I hope it's the same."

The distance is particularly suited to Florida Law, a big, strong animal who seems capable of galloping all day. "This should be his kind of race," Voss said.

But the momentum is with Welter Weight, who gets plenty of respect, but not enough trophies.

"They were rolling last week and Welter Weight was rolling the most," Voss said. "I could handle that again."

Hunt Cup facts

What: 103rd running of the Maryland Hunt Cup

When: Today, 4 p.m.

Where: Glyndon. Take I-83 to Shawan Road west. Go past Falls Road as Shawan becomes Tufton Avenue. Follow police directions.

The field (all carry 125 pounds):

PP Horse Rider Trainer

1. Nem Blong Hem B. Moran R. Valentine

2. Buck Jakes A. Moran C. Fenwick Jr.

3. Swayo J. Gillet A. Stewart

4. Sarkis W. Meister W. Meister

5. Emerald Action J. Fisher J. Fisher

6. Welter Weight M. Elmore T. Voss

7. Florida Law A. Smithwick T. Voss

8. Solo Lord M. Hoffman B. Miller

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