In Fair Hill headliner today, it's case of no males allowed

Valentine Memorial is for fillies and mares

Horse Racing

May 31, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

FAIR HILL - The traditional Memorial Day racing card returns to Fair Hill in Cecil County this afternoon, and for the first time, it'll be ladies day ... for the horses.

Under a recently installed National Steeplechase Association program, fillies and mares are competing exclusively against each other in stakes events, including today's Fair Hill feature, the $30,000 Valentine Memorial.

Previously, to reach this purse level, trainers were forced to run their better female horses against males.

"Nobody wanted to train mares to run over jumps before," said Jeremy Gillam, whose 8-year-old mare, Almost There, is top-weighted and the likely post-time favorite in the Valentine. "It was a little more difficult. There was no market.

"But now with Bill Gallo [NSA stewards' secretary] writing these races, it really encourages you to run the mares. Until last fall, I don't even remember having a gender distinction."

New York-bred Almost There won a similar race at Nashville earlier this spring, beating several she will meet today, and will concede as many as 18 pounds to her six rivals.

"The best weren't there, and the best aren't going to be at Fair Hill, either," said Gillam, a breeder-owner-trainer whose operation is based in Upperco. "Jonathan Sheppard and Jack Fisher have nice mares that aren't going to run."

Almost There has five traces to Man O War in her bloodlines through In Reality, but she'll have a momentous task to overcome the weight differential over 2 1/4 miles and national fences. "It's not going to be easy," said Gillam, who has not named a rider.

The field also includes two trainees of Fisher, who leads the trainer standings with 11 wins, and one prepared by Sheppard, who is right behind with 10 victories. In addition, leading jockey Matt McCarron (12 wins) will be aboard Gold Mitten for trainer Neil Morris.

Included in the lineup are two flat races which will pit American male and female amateur riders against counterparts from Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Norway and the United Kingdom.

Festivities begin at 11 a.m. with pony races at Fair Hill, which offers the only jump meeting in the nation with pari-mutuel wagering.

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