Narrow River steals day in Grand National

Wood Whistle is edged in bid for fifth straight win

Horse Racing

April 20, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The weather couldn't have been better. Although a whopping 12 horses started, the race was run free of incidents and everyone came back unscathed. The crowd - eager to get out after a nasty winter - was estimated at nearly 10,000.

All that said, the story of the 101st running of the Grand National Steeplechase yesterday in Butler was Narrow River and the Robertson family of Unionville, Pa.

"I don't know if I can articulate in an interview," said winning jockey Alexandra Robertson after guiding Narrow River to a narrow victory over a quickly closing Wood Whistle and Blair Waterman. "I had no idea I'd win this. I figured if everybody else fell and I was the only one standing was the only way."

Narrow River, a 12-year-old by Cororant out of Grecian High, had never before shown such ability in a major timber event, his successes being confined primarily to point-to-point competition. And Robertson had never won such a prestigious race.

"It's been six long, hard years getting him here," Robertson said. "This one is big."

Given some tips by Charles Fenwick III beforehand, the winning rider was plastered with the traditional bucket of water by Fenwick afterward. It was one of those feel-good moments in sport.

"We never have cut him loose and asked him to go for it," said Mrs. George W. Robertson Jr., the owner and the jockey's mother. "This is a great thrill for Alexandra. She's the fifth generation to run in these colors. My great-grandfather ran a stable on the flat in New York."

"We're very fortunate we got this horse," said the daughter. "He was a hurdle horse and before that I think on the flat. I worked for [trainer] Ricky Hendricks for a while and I assumed the owners didn't want the horse anymore when he had a tendon problem.

"Not too many people wanted him. But Arch Kingsley [a steeplechase rider] told me that if you want a really nice one to take him."

Narrow River won by the narrowest of margins when Wood Whistle mounted a determined charge from within the pack with two of 18 fences remaining. Wood Whistle was seeking to win the race for the fifth straight time for trainer Tom Voss.

"Wood Whistle wasn't too hard-pressed," Voss said. "We went a little bit easy on him because we want to leave a little in his tank for next week [Maryland Hunt Cup]."

Whether Wood Whistle faces Narrow River again is undetermined. Although Narrow River is nominated to Maryland's most prestigious steeplechase, Mrs. Robertson will probably not decide on Narrow River's course until an inspection of the Hunt Cup course.

"We'll take a conservative approach," she said.

Over yielding ground softened by recent rainfall, Narrow River finished in a moderate 6 minutes, 7 3/5 seconds after remaining near the pace for the entire 3 1/4 miles.

"You have to ride through the turns right and make sure you come straight here," said Robertson, the jockey. "If your horse is on his game, he jumps beautifully and that's what happened."

In the secondary feature, the $15,000 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, Fenwick steeped Secret Impression to an impressive win, one week after the horse nearly upset Sam Sullivan at My Lady's Manor.

Voss salvaged the finale when Quel Senor edged Vintage Class in a two-mile event on the flat.


Grand National


The Grand National $30,000, stakes, about 3 1/4 miles over timber.

Horse Jockey

Narrow River A. Robertson

Wood Whistle B. Waterman

Make Me A Champ C. Gracie

Time: 6:07 3/5. Scratched: Sam Sullivan, Will Prevail.


The Benjamin H. Murray Memorial $15,000, about 3 1/4 miles over timber.

Horse Jockey

Secret Impression C. Fenwick III

Bug River B. Waterman

Lil Starvin Marvin W. Meister

Time: 6:00 1/5. Scratched: Kanawha


The John K. Shaw Memorial Training flat, about 2 miles on turf.

Horse Jockey

Quel Senor B. Waterman

Vintage Class B. Cocks

Flying Contraption S. Strawbridge

Time: 3:36 4/5. Scratched: River Bed, Canal Town, Susquehannock

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