Racing to welcome steeplechase

April 08, 2005|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

Under the blue skies and brilliant sunshine that broke earlier this week, the picture-perfect farm came to life - and not a moment too soon.

Just days before the anticipated arrival of more than 150 horses and 5,000 spectators, the rain ceased, the grass dried up and last-minute preparations began at Roedown Farm in Harwood for the 31st annual Marlborough Hunt Races to be held Sunday.

"We're just trying to do as much as we can before it starts raining again," said Jason Cole, 33, who prepares the course for the steeplechase.

With the help of three volunteers from the Marlborough Hunt Club, Cole spent the day mending fences, setting out markers for the 1-mile course and filling the occasional groundhog hole.

By midday, the rolling green hills of Roedown - a thoroughbred farm - were dotted with orange flags and wooden fences in preparation for the event, the second leg of the Maryland Governor's Cup series.

Since its founding, the Marlborough Races have become a tradition that draws spectators from all over the state and from Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"It's a rite of spring passage," said Christy Clagett, co-chairwoman of the races and the niece of Jeanne and Hal C.B. Clagett, owners of Roedown Farm. "It's a very festive event."

The steeplechase competition - in which thoroughbreds leap over a series of fences - will feature 10 races. They will include 2-mile courses over hurdles, nonjumping runs and races over 4-foot-high fences.

This year, Clagett said the audience has at least one big event to look forward to: the John M. Begg Memorial Race. Scheduled for 4:30 p.m., the 3-mile, open-timber race will feature two well-known competitors: Swayo, a Maryland Hunt Cup champion, and Joe At Six, a Gold Cup winner.

And for the first time, the lineup will include a competition for ages 3 to 7: Five riders will race less than a mile.

For some Marlborough regulars, however, the race-day parties - filled with food and drink - are as much a part of the tradition as the races themselves.

Every year, the hilltops surrounding the farm fill up with tailgate parties featuring delectable spreads.

For the all-day crowd, Clagett said new vendors will make for an added attraction.

"The food is going to be awesome, so you don't have to bring it with you this year," Clagett said of the Pasadena Joe's stand that sells sausages, crab soup and barbecue chicken. Another new vendor will offer fruit smoothies and coffee drinks.

There's also shopping in booths featuring souvenirs, stylish hats, fine jewelry and pet accessories.

For Edgewater resident Iris Wagner, a longtime attendee of the races, the farm's picturesque setting makes the races a relaxing experience.

"There's so much development around here now, and this place is like a secluded haven," said Wagner, who owns three horses and two dogs.

"I hope everyone comes out and has a great time because it's a beautiful spot and a beautiful day in the country."

The stars of the races - the horses - are also a beautiful sight, says another longtime fan, Valerie Vizcarrondo.

"This race has a lot of good-looking horses," said Vizcarrondo, 24, a competitive rider. "Oh, and it's just a lot of fun."

If you go

The 31st annual Marlborough Hunt Races at Roedown will be held Sunday at Roedown Farm in Harwood.

Gates open: 10 a.m.

First of 10 scheduled races: Noon (Rain or shine).

General admission: $5 per person (children younger than 6 free).

Parking: $10.

Call 410-798-8275 or visit

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