Swayo holds off `Wood' for second Hunt Cup victory

Gracie, 16, steps right in, guides gelding, 12, to win

Horse Racing

April 27, 2003|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

A week earlier, trainer Ann D. Stewart had been impressed with young jockey Chris Gracie, who had steered Make Me A Champ to a third-place finish in the Grand National Steeplechase.

So when the ride on Swayo opened yesterday for the 107th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup at Glyndon because of an injury to Joe Davies, Stewart readily assigned the job to Gracie.

Her foresight was rewarded handsomely when the 16-year-old from Kennett Square, Pa., masterfully guided a horse only four years his junior to a half-length victory over Wood Whistle in front of a large crowd undaunted by the rainy weather.

It was the second Hunt Cup win for Swayo, a chestnut gelding owned by Move Up Stable. Swayo also prevailed in 2000 when Davies - then named Joe Gillet - was in the saddle.

"I thought about the large field," said Gracie, referring to the 13 starters, the biggest to go in the Hunt Cup in 11 years. "All I wanted to do was have a good jumping trip and stay out of trouble."

He did just that, carefully staying behind a slow pace set alternately by Bowman's Crossing and defending champion Young Dubliner, passing the former with about a half mile remaining in the four-mile grind, then staving off the charge of Wood Whistle.

The time of 9:23 2/5 was almost a minute slower than Young Dubliner's record of 2002.

An F. Bruce Miller protege who works with Miller's horses in Pennsylvania, Gracie stayed with Stewart during the week to familiarize himself with the course, which was cushy and wet after overnight rains.

"Joe [Davies] and I don't make [Swayo] drive hard in any race except this one," Stewart said. "I wanted Chris to do just about everything Joe did - make him try hard and make sure he takes every last fence."

Swayo complied, outjumping a field that was diminished by falls and lost riders beginning at the second of 22 fences. By the 14th, Young Dubliner, the ageless wonder at 14, was out of the picture after Charlie Fenwick III was thrown.

"I wanted him under my care 24 hours a day and seven days this week," Stewart said of Swayo. "He was very smooth."

Gracie attends Salesianum High in Wilmington, Del. He is believed to be the youngest rider ever to win the Hunt Cup, which was initiated in 1894.

"I knew he was a good jumper," he said of his mount. "There were a couple of times when he just took off. I actually wanted to be a little farther out of it early, but he wanted to go. He was extremely comfortable."

Longtime rider and current trainer Jack Fisher, who finished fourth on Kanawha in what he professed was his final trip, said earlier in the week he liked horses who had been over the course before, including Swayo, who was taking his fourth trip around the grueling test.

"He's very talented and he's already reached the top," said Charlie Fenwick Jr., who won the Hunt Cup five times. "Unfortunately for him, it's all downhill from here."

As he had last week in the Grand National, Wood Whistle made a determined late bid under jockey Blair Waterman and fell just short. Bowman's Crossing, with Garet Winants up, was a game third.

Because of the drizzle, tailgating was replaced by partying under canopies and tents. The crowd was skimpy at first, but swelled to normal size with a slew of late arrivals after the rain abated. The race was run during a dry period.

Maryland Hunt Cup

$65,000, abt 4 mi over timber.

Horse Jockey

Swayo C. Gracie

Wood Whistle B. Waterman

Bowman's Crossing G. Winants

Time: 9:23 2/5. Scratches: None.

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