Bug River's charge takes 108th Hunt Cup

He beats Narrow River by 8 lengths in first trip over course

`Dubliner' 3rd

Horse Racing

April 25, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Nearly 7,500 steeplechase fans came to Glyndon on a gorgeous day yesterday to watch the 108th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup.

They brought hand-embroidered tablecloths, candelabras and vases of tulips. They drank champagne, white wine and beer, dressed in everything from button-down shirts and sports coats and long dresses to T-shirts and cutoffs.

They pushed baby carriages through violets and brought blankets to spread over the clover of the hillside overlooking the four-mile race course that is made daunting by 22 timber fences.

And nearly all of them were on their feet screaming as five horses turned for home with no more than inches between them and only two jumps to go.

It would be Bug River, an 11-year-old owned by Michael Hankin of Glyndon's Northwoods Stables who would overcome all obstacles and pull away for an eight-length victory in 8 minutes, 57.2 seconds.

The performance, well off the pace of the course record of 8:25 3/5 set by 2002 winner Young Dubliner, was impressive, though, because Bug River had never run this course before.

Narrow River finished second and Young Dubliner, who is not so young at age 15, was placed third after a foul dropped Rosbrian to last behind fourth-place finisher Make Me A Champ.

Of the original 13 entries, five were scratched before the race, including Swayo, who was trying to become only the ninth three-time winner of the race. Three horses lost riders and didn't finish.

When horses run the Maryland Hunt Cup, they run a mile farther than on any other course and face fences two feet higher than anywhere else.

"It's a brutal race," said jockey Alexandra Robertson, who rode Narrow River. "The speed is not fast over four miles, but the fences are very high [five feet] and straight up and down. I can't complain about second. My horse tried his best."

Bug River had never seen such a course. Partly because of that and partly because he was acting a little overwrought, jockey Blair Waterman let him take it easy in the early going. Bug River trailed the field by several lengths as the horses completed the first mile.

"I was a little nervous," said first-time winner Hankin, who chose Waterman as his jockey yesterday morning after Waterman's original mount, Wood Whistle, was scratched.

"But she rode him last week and won. I knew she knew what she was doing. She relaxes him so much."

Young Dubliner led over the first 17 fences. Along the way, Bruno Castelli lost his rider at the seventh fence and later, at 16, Bowman's Crossing and Ivorgorian lost theirs.

Through the turmoil, Bug River settled down and "was jumping beautifully," said Waterman. He was able to nose in front just before the water jump at the 21st fence. It was there Rosbrian veered in front of Narrow River and hit and fouled Young Dubliner.

"Not a bad effort for a 15-year-old horse," said Young Dubliner's owner, William C. Lickle of Wilmington, Del.

"If the surface had been harder and if we hadn't been bumped, I think he would have held his lead," Lickle said. "But no excuses. The two horses that finished ahead of us are both damn good horses."

Md. Hunt Cup results

Purse $65,000*, Hunt Cup stakes, 4 miles over 22 timber fences

Horse Money Jockey

Bug River ($40,000) Blair Waterman

Narrow River ($11,700) Alex. Robertson

Young Dubliner ($6,500) Paddy Young

Make Me A Champ ($3,250) Chris Gracie

Rosbrian ($2,600) Gordon Elliott

Time: 8:57.2. Note: Starters Bowman's Crossing, Bruno Castelli and Ivorgorian all lost their riders and did not finish. Scratched: Matchless, Swayo, Wood Whistle, Watch Captain (NZ) and Temple Owl. * The purse was $65,000 of which 60 percent is paid to the winner, 18 percent to second place, 10 percent to third, 5 percent to fourth, 4 percent to fifth; and 3 percent to sixth. All unearned purse money is retained by the race meeting.

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