Defending champ Welter Weight can't catch Swayo in Hunt Cup

Winner takes late lead

favorite's angry trainer blames jockey for loss

Horse Racing

April 30, 2000|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The first hint came a week earlier at the Grand National when Swayo won the "little race" in a quicker time than Welter Weight took the feature.

All week, Welter Weight trainer Tom Voss considered Swayo to be the primary obstacle to his pursuit of the state's steeplechasing Triple Crown, and yesterday in the 104th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup at Glyndon, he proved prophetic.

The only chestnut in the six-horse field stalked the pace most of the way, captured the lead with two fences remaining, then held off defending champion Welter Weight by 1 1/2 lengths to win one of the toughest timber races in the world.

Swayo's winning time for four miles and 22 fences (several nearly 6 feet high) was 8: 58 25 over a course that was boggy in some spots but otherwise ideal.

"I've been preparing him three years with this race in mind," said winning trainer Ann D. Stewart. "Every day I breathe I try to get him through this race as a winner."

Owned by Move Up Stable, Swayo was purchased from Jonathan Sheppard, who wasn't encouraged by the way he was performing. A natural jumper, he finished fifth in the Hunt Cup last year behind Welter Weight while gaining experience over the course.

"It's a little bit surreal," said victorious jockey Joe Gillet. "You enter a strange zone in this race and don't really feel in control of your destiny. The horse either launches or it doesn't. He jumped great and we had a super trip."

Gillet, who tossed his whip into the crowd from the winner's stand, almost was denied entry to the course by the tough security personnel patrolling the Hunt Cup.

"I didn't have a pass to get in, so I had to talk my way," said the ebullient jockey. "I had to show them my California driver's license to make them believe me."

Emerald Action, second last year, set most of the pace under Jack Fisher, as he had a week earlier at the Grand National. He held on for third after Welter Weight made a belated chase at the winner in the final quarter mile.

For most of the race, Welter Weight was far behind the field, which caused trainer Voss to be displeased with rider Mike Elmore.

"He was 100 lengths behind going to the water [21st] jump," Voss said. "That was the most pathetic ride I've ever seen. He was just content to be there [way behind].

"He said he thought they were going to stop in front of him. They weren't going anywhere."

The Armata Stables' gelding closed a ton of ground at the end, but Swayo was too far gone. Gillet was easing up slightly as they reached wire, content that he had staved off the rush.

"We clotheslined at the ninth, but he did it with confidence," Gillet said. "And it set up perfectly. We might go to England for the Grand National now. I'm going to try to talk the owners into it."

The jockey dedicated his victory to Florida Law, the 1998 Hunt Cup winner who died recently after being struck by lightning in a field. Voss had retired the strapping white jumper who had a streak of orneriness in him.

"I salute Florida Law with this one," Gillet said. "Seven times he went over this course and never made a mistake [scaling 154 fences]. This is just a great test of man and beast."

Solo Lord was fourth. Sarkis and Nem Blong Hem did not complete the race.

The lion's share of the $65,000 purse (raised $15,000 this year) went to Swayo, a 9-year-old gelding, on a perfect spring day that attracted a large crowd of picnickers, revelers and women dressed to the hilt.

"They ought to make it a million dollars as tough as it is," Voss said before the race. "Now, we'll be back next year."

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