`Welter' defends National title

Gelding takes on seven in 98th running of race

April 22, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The heavyweight will jump this week for trainer Tom Voss.

Buoyed by a somewhat surprising victory by Ironfist in the My Lady's Manor last week, Voss' stable will send its big horse, Welter Weight, into the fray today in the 98th running of the $30,000 Grand National Steeplechase at Butler.

The defending Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup champion, the 12-year-old gelding is as honest as they come and will be an odds-on choice to repeat against seven rivals and set up another run at the state's most prestigious hunt race.

Welter Weight skipped the Manor after winning convincingly in the Elkridge-Harford meeting on Voss' farm a week earlier. His time of 5: 48 was impressive as he traverses the same route he traveled in 1999 when he topped Emerald Action in the Hunt Cup.

"The course was pretty firm when he won," said Voss of the Armata Stables' entry. "But he'd still have to be the horse to beat in this race. All have to improve off their last starts, but he has to improve less."

Maipo, runner-up in the Elkridge-Harford race and a three-time winner over timber, and Emerald Action may provide the chief competition.

The field also includes Floating Interest -- the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup winner last year who ran at the Manor.

Voss is most concerned about the condition of the course, which has been soaked by recent rainfall. "What worries me most is real heavy going," he said. `'It can be tiring, and I don't want to wear Welter Weight out for the Hunt Cup."

Voss' barn lost one of its most notable horses during last Sunday's thunderstorm when 1998 Hunt Cup-winner Florida Law was struck by lightning and killed. The big grey was 14 years old and had been retired from racing.

Voss once said of Florida Law -- one of the most ornery members of his stable: "I hate that horse" because of his rebellious temperament. Once, Florida Law had the Hunt Cup won after clearing the last jump well in front, but balked and refused to run to the finish line.

"He had his ways," said Voss.

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