Grand National still rates Naylor's cheers

Race led to wheelchair, but he'll be rooting today

April 17, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Five years ago to this day, Irv Naylor's life abruptly changed.

In the 97th Grand National Steeplechase at Butler, Naylor, then 63, was aboard Emerald Action and approaching the next-to-last fence in the 3 1/4 -mile timber race.

With eventual winner Welter Weight coming up alongside, Naylor's horse never rose, flipped and pinned his rider beneath him.

Naylor was in the Maryland Shock Trauma Center for 10 days and hospitalized for three more months. He has no use of his legs and hands. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around.

But the accident has not diminished his ardor for steeplechase racing.

"He's been very active in the sport and foxhunting for quite a while," said Charlie Fenwick Jr. "Irv is a real enthusiast."

Today, in the 102nd edition of the Grand National, Naylor, now 68, will be on the sidelines rooting on his 13-year-old gelding, Make Me A Champ, against 10 rivals, seeking his second victory of the Maryland season as an owner.

Last week's win by Askim at My Lady's Manor in the familiar green-and-yellow Naylor colors made him the early money-winning leader ($17,700) among owners on the timber-racing circuit.

"I've got six [jumpers] in training right now," said Naylor, who will also run Wild Choice and Major Magua in today's secondary feature, the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial. "I keep them on my farm and send them out to the trainers."

The owner of the Ski Roundtop resort, Naylor said he first entered the Maryland Hunt Cup as a rider "in 1953, when I was a junior in high school [McDonogh]."

"The first horse I ever galloped was Irv's, Red Circle," said Fenwick, a four-time Hunt Cup winner as a jockey." Irv has always been a perfectionist. He's mellowed a bit since the accident, but he's still a perfectionist."

The $30,000 Grand National brings together two former Hunt Cup winners - defending champion Swayo and the ageless Young Dubliner, the graybeard of the field at age 15. Also contending is Wood Whistle, last year's Hunt Cup runner-up.

Post time will be 3:15 p.m., with the course expected to be yielding and in some areas, cushy, after the recent heavy rains.

At a glance

What: Grand National Steeplechase

When: Today, gates open 11 a.m., post time 3:15 p.m.

Where: Butler

Directions: From the Beltway, go north on Falls Road about 12 miles to Butler Road. Take a left.

Parking: General parking, priced at $20, available at gate.

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