Maryland's `Room' bogs down in English cup

Heavy Marlborough turf exhausts timber horse, so jockey pulls him up

May 29, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MARLBOROUGH, England - Purchased for a pittance, treated like family and transformed into a steeplechase champion, Priceless Room was this year's Cinderella horse from Maryland.

But yesterday, the bay gelding with a big heart and a beautiful stride discovered that there's nothing quite as slow, frustrating and ultimately exhausting as running on soggy English soil.

Two jumps from the finish and trailing in the Marlborough Cup, the 10-year-old from Big Wood Stables in Monkton, Md., was pulled up by his jockey, J.W. Delozier III.

A day that began with high hopes that Priceless Room might pull off a second straight victory in a four-race championship series to claim a $100,000 bonus, ended with relief that the horse was safe and sound.

"I didn't want to get the horse hurt," Delozier said.

Linton Rocks, an 11-year-old British jumper, surged down the stretch to win by a length over defending champion Pennybridge, with Supreme Charm finishing third.

Nobody in the Priceless Room camp was disappointed as they still savored the priceless journey from Maryland to timber racing's big time.

Two years ago, they purchased the Midwest point-to-point racer for less than $8,000, a pretty good price for a decent used car, let alone a horse with untapped talent. Little did they realize, they had struck racing gold.

Soon after breaking his maiden in a sanctioned event this spring, Priceless Room pulled off a shocking win May 6 in the Virginia Gold Cup.

"It would be like your son going to the Orioles' tryout and actually making the team," said Orsia Young of Monkton, who with her husband, Jay, is part of the ownership that includes trainer H. Bruce Fenwick and William H. Milnor.

"We believed in him," Jay Young said. "We thought he had that kind of motor under the hood."

A little tender, loving care helps.`The animal lives on Bruce Fenwick's farm in Glyndon and likes a variety of training," Jay Young said. "He has a lot of character. He's like a pet."

With a father named Bates Motel, the horse even has a nickname that's a natural, Norman.

But did Priceless Room have the stuff to win in Britain? The owners pondered the costs of flying the animal abroad, weighed the risks and made sure the horse received a top-to-bottom physical before they decided to take on the challenge.

The stakes were enormous. The $100,000 bonus was the reward if Priceless Room could win the Virginia and Malborough races back-to-back. Also in play was a Grand Slam million-dollar dream if any horse could win all four races in the series that concludes with races in France and Ireland.

The setting for the eight-horse race couldn't have been more perfect, or English, as the horses were poised to compete on a rolling course through emerald fields. The layout was 3 miles and included 18 timber fences and two open ditches.

And after days of rain, the ground was very wet, the equivalent of racing on a shag carpet piled over a feather mattress.

In the paddock, Priceless Room, the 5-2 co-favorite, appeared twitchy. It had been a long week for the horse that took his first plane trip and arrived here Monday.

"He's not normally that worked up," Delozier said. "He knew something important as going on."

Thousands of spectators wearing boots and bundled against the wind, tromped through ankle-deep mud so they could sit on a wet bank to watch the race on a giant television screen.

And then, as the race wound down, the horses appeared in the flesh, before the crowd, along the final straight.

Linton Rocks and Pennybridge were fighting for the lead, and Priceless Room, tiring, was fighting to stay in.

"He had a great trip on the inside," Delozier said. "It was questionable if I could jump the last three fences."

So Delozier pulled up and the race went on without Priceless Room.

"He didn't handle the ground at all," Delozier said. "He probably had never seen ground that soft in his life."

The finish was dramatic - and heartbreaking. As the crowd cheered the stretch run, a horse named Big Matt was on the ground after an awkward fall by the last jump. The animal was later destroyed.

Meanwhile, Priceless Room was gingerly led back to the paddock - weary, beaten, and, who knows, maybe even a little homesick for Maryland?

"We're going home with a horse that's safe," Orsia Young said. "and he can run another day."

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