Make Me A Champ takes Grand National

Gelding wins for Naylor on anniversary of accident

Horse Racing

April 18, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The winner of yesterday's 102nd Grand National Steeplechase in Butler couldn't have been more appropriately named.

On the fifth anniversary of a nasty spill that left him without the use of his hands and legs, owner Irvin S. Naylor prevailed with Make Me A Champ.

"It's great to have God making me feel better on my anniversary," said Naylor after Make Me A Champ outraced nine rivals in the race over a timber course of slightly more than three miles.

The victory solidified Naylor's hold as the leader in money winnings among owners on the timber-racing circuit.

Naylor's color bearers have taken two of the big three events in Maryland. Askim won at My Lady's Manor a week earlier.

Only the Maryland Hunt Cup, the longest, biggest and richest of them all, remains, and Naylor indicated Make Me A Champ may start in that classic next week.

"We'll see how he is and if he wants the Hunt Cup," he said.

Young Dubliner, the ageless 15-year-old gelding, and Ivorgorian established most of the pace in the Grand National, with Charlies Dewan also grabbing the lead about midway through the race.

Chris Gracie, at 17 only 4 years older than Make Me A Champ, was content to stay back in the pack most of the way.

At the third-to-last fence, Gracie and Make Me a Champ launched their winning move, then held off another finisher, Tom Voss-trained Wood Whistle, by a comfortable margin.

"This horse has been training his best ever," Gracie said of the gelding, who was his first mount in a National Steeplechase Association-sanctioned event (on the 2003 Grand National card).

"He is an absolute machine."

Gracie used that ride as a springboard to become, at 16, the youngest rider to win the Hunt Cup (last year aboard Swayo).

Swayo finished fourth yesterday behind Rosbrian, who earned the show spot.

"This is great for Irv because he loves this course," said Gracie. "He told me every little detail about it. The Grand National is special to him."

Make Me A Champ's most notable victory before yesterday was in the Virginia Gold Cup two years ago.

The time of 6 minutes, 16 3/5 seconds was on the leisurely side after weeklong rains softened the ground, but it was ideal to Naylor.

"The finish was perfect, the going was perfect, the weather was perfect, everything was perfect," said Naylor, elated with the outcome.

In the secondary feature, the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, Bug River, a son of Polish Numbers, shook off his bad-luck tag and responded to a savvy ride by Blair Waterman to win comfortably over Watch Captain.

"He has lots of seconds and thirds and fourths," said Michael Hankin of Northwoods Stable. "We sent him to the front at Elkridge-Harford, and he seemed to really like it. Blair just rides him so well."

Bug River's time (6:06) was more than 10 seconds faster than the feature after the course had been compacted by the pounding hooves in the Grand National.

Grand National results

First

Purse $30,000, The Grand National Steeplechase, stakes, abt 3 mi. over timber.

Horse Jockey

Make Me A Champ C. Gracie Wood Whistle B. Waterman Rosbrian G. Elliot

Time: 6:16 3/5. Scratched: Matchless.

Second

Purse $15,000, The Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, stakes, abt 3 mi. over timber.

Horse Jockey

Bug River B. Waterman Watch Captain G. Winants Wild Choice C. Gracie

Time: 6:06. Scratched: Silver Spoon.

Third

Training, The John K. Shaw Memorial, abt 2 mi (turf)

Horse Jockey

Greek Hero B. Curry Bridger M. O'Dwyer Hero's Tour J. Davies

Time: 3:44 2/5. Scratched: Jonstar.

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