Trainer Voss' `Sam' is National favorite

Gelding tries to follow Welter Weight's lead

Steeplechase

April 20, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Tom Voss is a difficult man to please.

Last weekend, with six horses entered in steeplechase meetings at My Lady's Manor and in Atlanta, Voss charges won three times and finished second three times. His trainees swept the top two races at the Manor, with Ironfist extending his winning streak to eight.

But Voss wasn't satisfied.

"A bob here, a head there. Losing that $75,000 race [in Atlanta] was a tough one. I could have won six," said the Monkton-based horseman.

Perhaps it is this very attitude that has made Voss the National Steeplechase Association's top trainer three times and elevated his stable to one of the most powerful in the sport.

In the 100th running of the $30,000 Grand National Steeplechase today at Butler, Voss will again send out the favorite after the retirement of his big horse, Welter Weight, who won this race last year.

Sam Sullivan, a 9-year-old gelding owned by his wife, Mimi, will be the one to beat in the second leg of Maryland's Triple Crown series, a race he could use as a stepping stone to next week's Maryland Hunt Cup. Sam Sullivan is 7-for-10 over timber fences.

"Sam Sullivan is ready," said Voss. "He got some schooling around there last year; just sort of loped around. He's not quite as fast as Welter Weight, but he's a good enough horse. You have to have a clever trip around there. If he goes well, we'll take the next step."

"Sam Sullivan is very good, fresh and fit," said trainer Charles Fenwick, Jr., whose Maipo was nosed out by Ironfist last Saturday. "And Blair Waterman [Sam Sullivan's rider] is becoming better and better."

Six contenders have lined up to test Sam Sullivan on the three-mile layout over fair hunting country that includes 18 fences that are, on average, four inches higher than those at the Manor, a natural progression to the grueling 22-fence challenge that faces Hunt Cup jumpers.

Among the Grand National entries is the respected Swayo, an 11-year-old veteran from the Move Up Stable who will be ridden by Joe Gillet.

Swayo, Hunt Cup champion two years ago, has been comfortable on the course in the past and is expected to provide Sam Sullivan with some competition despite missing last year with an injury.

Irv Naylor's Make Me A Champ is another who could surprise.

Just for good measure, Voss will return with Wood Whistle, a landslide winner of the "little race" at the Manor over Hyrah and Prior Approval, who come back for another try in the $15,000 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial today.

Also in this bulky, 14-horse field will be Matchless, a scratch at My Lady's Manor because of the hard ground.

A one-time fractious type, Wood Whistle "won easily and jumped pretty well," said Voss. "If he gets by this week, he could be in the Hunt Cup next year."

Voss said he "wouldn't mind taking a year off" from the rigors of the Hunt Cup. "I might not even go."

But it's about even money that if Sam Sullivan, who last won the Elkridge-Harford point-to-point feature, wins the Grand National, he'll be there chasing the major portion of the $65,000 pot.

Fenwick said the 100th running at the Griswold property will not bring the celebration that the Grand National's 100th anniversary brought a few years ago (the race has not been run every year).

"There'll be an effort to take pictures of all the people who won in the past, but that's about all that will be different," he said.

The course has been on the firm side, but recent rain could improve the going. The running and jumping will begin at 3:15 p.m. with the feature.

Entries

Grand National

First race-$30,000, about 3 miles over timber. All carry 165 pounds.

Horse Jockey Trainer

Swayo J. Gillet A. Stewart Stage Radiance G. Winants L. Neilson III Young Dubliner B. Moran K. Neilson Ocean Liner E. Cocks E. Cocks Make Me A Champ A. Bealby F. B. Miller Sam Sullivan B. Waterman T. Voss Deceptive Stroke W. Meister W. Meister

At a glance

What:Grand National Steeplechase

Where:Butler

Post time:3:15 p.m. today

Directions:Take I-83 and pass Beltway to continue on Falls Road. Go about 10 miles to Butler Road and take a left

Beneficiary:Held in conjunction with Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

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