Welter Weight flexes muscle in Hunt Club

2nd-place Emerald Action finishes eight lengths back

April 25, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Welter Weight finally turned into the super heavyweight yesterday.

Rebuffed in three previous attempts to win the Maryland Hunt Cup -- including a neck loss to running mate Florida Law last year -- the Armata Stables' gelding exorcised the jinx with a convincing victory on a breezy, sunny day.

The margin over Emerald Action was approximately eight lengths, with Welter Weight completing the four-mile course over 22 timber fences in 8: 43 3/5. Nem Blong Hem was third followed by Florida Law, as all eight starters finished.

"I galloped him [Friday], and if I ever sat on a winner, it was him," said a jubilant trainer Tom Voss, who had not captured Maryland's most prestigious steeplechase until 1998. "He went beautifully during a nice quiet gallop, just bouncing along."

Florida Law, the 13-year-old defending champion, was immediately retired after the race by Voss after winging away by as many as 15 lengths in the early running, then tiring.

At the 19th fence, Welter Weight took command and showed he was going to be as tough to beat as he was the previous Saturday when he ran away from the Grand National field.

"It went the way I hoped," said winning jockey Mike Elmore. "I didn't want it to be like last week when I had trouble just getting him to the post. Here, he was relaxed and rated so well. Between fences, he relaxed so easily, and when he saw a fence coming, he got himself ready."

There was really no competition once Welter Weight got into gear. Emerald Action, the sentimental favorite after falling last week in a spill that paralyzed his 63-year-old owner-rider Irv Naylor, was game, but not up to the closing kick. And the other member of the Big Three, Buck Jakes, who set the course record in 1996, never made a race of it.

So, Welter Weight -- the runner-up in the Hunt Cup two straight years -- had it all to himself after the 22nd and final fence.

"Last year he was exhausted and barely made it to the end," Elmore said. "This time he certainly had a lot left and was feeling a lot better. Tom did an incredible job with him."

The weather even cooperated after torrential-like rains soaked the course Friday. It dried soft in most places, but not too soft. Voss labeled it "perfect." And with the rain gone, the usual thousands turned out for the 103rd running of an event that punctuates a huge outdoor party highlighted by antique and classic automobiles, sport utility vehicles, children with lacrosse sticks, wagons and other toys and coolers and food aplenty.

Welter Weight enjoyed it, too, experiencing trouble only at the 16th barrier where he "hooked a little bit and twisted badly," according to Elmore. "Then, at the 19th it all came together. The rest were sort of pulling back, and in the air he made an inside speed move. I whipped him a little and he really picked it up."

Voss said Florida Law, who was a dull fifth the previous week, was not purposely used as a speed demon to set up the race for Welter Weight.

"He got out of the race pretty good at the Grand National so I let him gallop today," said the trainer. "He just galloped off early and I didn't think he'd do that. He might not be quite the horse he was two years ago. At 13, it might be too much to ask of him to continue going."

But Voss is proud that Florida Law ran in seven Hunt Cups, without receiving a scratch, and finished them all.

"After 154 fences here, he never had a mark on him," he said. "That's something."

It was Welter Weight who made his mark at the flag. "I could tell at the 19th that it was his day," Voss said.

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