Shawan Downs is a welcome place

October 06, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

I was in search of a good pub lunch this past June in the hills of Sussex in the south of England when I suddenly caught sight of a gracefully designed white grandstand. It turned out to be the Goodwood Racecourse, one of that country's best known turf addresses.

I got a bigger surprise more recently - a new, miniature version of Goodwood sitting atop a hill on our own Falls Road in Baltimore County. With its beautiful white tents, peaks fitted with fluttering pennants and an emerald grass course, the new Shawan Downs, which opened with the Legacy Cup this past Saturday, is a joy.

My father and I were headed out the Falls Road, rolling up and down those gentle hills, when the new course popped into view. What a pleasure to see this land put to such a welcome use, one that celebrates a Maryland tradition and helps preserve undisturbed land from housing developments, gas stations and other things I do not want to look at - ever.

The opening Saturday also provided a banner day for people-watching. Longtime fans of the sport turned out in neatly tailored tweeds. Some of the women sported first-class hats. The men's sport coats had continental vents; their natty silk neckties did not start their lives on some bargain table. Everyone was on best behavior. Age was no barrier. Many a person born when Woodrow Wilson ruled the White House posted. Baltimore was clearly up to the task this day, all dolled up for a Saturday at the races.

I am not a knowledgeable racing fan. But I can appreciate an afternoon in the countryside. Our Falls Road is one of Baltimore's finest geographic assets. When anyone asks my preference of where to go for a drive, I think of those two words.

There is something about the way it climbs, from its start in the lovely Jones Falls Valley, just above Penn Station. I think of all the Falls Road landmarks - the Streetcar Museum, the old Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse, the protruding rocks at the Mount Vernon Mill, the former cotton workers' houses in Hampden, the shops at Cross Keys, the Valley Inn and all those old stone cottages along the way. They somehow fit into this scene like old relatives who show up at Thanksgiving.

So, too, does the new racecourse. Thank heavens, I observed no obnoxious signs. All I saw was the lush and rolling Maryland landscape, the right place to be on a perfect fall afternoon.

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