Shawan Downs' first card draws 10,000

Fans, competitors praise steeplechase center

Fisher, Voss win 2 each

Horse Racing

September 30, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

On a crisp autumn afternoon, Shawan Downs was a smash hit.

Baltimore County's newest steeplechasing center was baptized yesterday with a seven-race program that offered interesting and competitive events conducted in the magnificent setting of a natural bowl.

An estimated 10,000 spectators crammed into the scenic vista offered by a hillside and into corporate tents for the first fall jump meeting ever held in Maryland.

Rave reviews were forthcoming from the fans and competitors alike after the program went off with few hitches.

"We are also celebrating the land," said Charles Fenwick Jr., one of the founding fathers of Shawan, which also will house an equestrian center. "We don't want many people on the inner [timber] course because this is a stage on which a play is acted, and the play is the racing."

The creation of the facility saved from development more than 300 acres of prime real estate.

Two of the training titans in Maryland, Jack Fisher and Tom Voss, each conditioned two winners to dominate the card, with Fisher conditioning Darn Tipalarm, upset winner of the $30,000 Legacy Cup, and Voss scoring with Wicomico in the $25,000 Maryland Million Hurdle Handicap.

Fisher said he was surprised by the front-running victory of Wicomico, who beat defending Breeders' Cup champion All Gong by a half-length.

"He shortened up at the second-to-last fence, and I figured that meant he was getting tired," Fisher said. "I was starting to get worried."

Not to worry, said veteran jockey Chip Miller, who pointed out that the move was "me trying to get him to go short. He jumped really well, didn't miss a fence. I expected it to be crowded out front, but I was out there all alone. I couldn't go any slower."

Miller perfectly judged the pace to hold off his sister, Blythe, who was coming on All Gong, the favorite.

"I saw Blythe, and I said to myself, `Not today.' "

Wicomico was fractious and rearing in the post parade for the Maryland Million, but once the running and jumping began, he was all business.

"He'd been away a long time, and I meant to saddle in the barn, but in all the commotion, I didn't," said Voss, the top winner among steeplechase trainers this year. "He's never been that way before."

Winning jockey Cyril Murphy, who missed the Saratoga meeting after breaking his arm in a fall, said he knew Wicomico was capable because he was second to this year's leading money winner, Praise The Prince, before taking a vacation.

"You can't be completely sure after 12 months off, but I thought he'd hold his own," Murphy said. "Once the edges were taken off him, he was ready. He's a little bit funny. At home he's fine."

There were a few hitches. In the final race, three horses left the course midway through the race. But, all in all, it was a grand opening for a grand facility.

"With the short time they had to prepare this course, it was a fantastic effort," Murphy said. "And it's only going to get better as time goes on. I have no hesitation coming back."

"I think this will always be one of the better hunt meets in the fall," added Chip Miller. "Naturally, there can be improvements. There is too much jumping in the hurdle races. But it's very nice here."

Fisher, who chaired the course design committee, said: "I heard nothing but good things about the hurdles, and there were no fallers in the timber races. There were a few snags, but we'll get them fixed."

Fenwick said strong corporate support contributed significantly to the quick success of the facility and that the tie-in with the beneficiary, the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, added credibility.

"I think the hurdle course has been successful. The riders like it. It rides well and it's safe," he said. "I think maybe we've got something here."

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