Hunt Cup has big weekend plans

U.S. steeplechase victories in England focus of fete

Horse Racing

April 28, 2005|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Hunt Cup is always the centerpiece of the local steeplechase season, and the 2005 edition promises to be even more festive this weekend.

A gala weekend is planned, starting at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at Shawan Downs with a program called "Americans at Aintree" that will showcase, respectively, the 40th and 25th anniversaries of victories by American horses Jay Trump and Ben Nevis in the English Grand National, the world's most famous steeplechase.

The event will benefit the land preservation trust of Shawan Downs, the picturesque 300-acre equestrian event center in Hunt Valley.

Charles Fenwick Jr., executive director of the trust and the rider of Ben Nevis, said about 800 patrons at $175 a head are expected for tomorrow's fete. They'll include Charles Barnett, managing director of the Aintree Grand National; Dick Francis, an English mystery writer and former jockey; Richard Pitman, former English race commentator and jockey; and Tommy Smith, the jockey on Jay Trump.

"We're going to put up a big tent the size of a football field with theatre-like seating for this," said Fenwick. "The idea is to celebrate the rich heritage of Americans who participated at Aintree. It started out as a small thing last November, and has ballooned into a big one."

Included will be an exhibit of the most trying fences in both the Hunt Cup and the English Grand National, the fence in the latter a 5-foot-2 monster protected by a 6-foot ditch on the approach and labeled "The Chair." The exhibit will later travel to steeplechase capitals throughout the country, such as Camden, S.C., and Middleburg, Va.

Also expected to attend is Patricia Chapman, owner with husband Roy Chapman of Smarty Jones, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. Another Chapman horse, Uncle Merlin, won the 1989 Hunt Cup and also went to England.

"The English Grand National is arguably the world's most difficult race because of the size of the fences, the 4 1/2 -mile distance and the size of the field [about 40 entries, usually]," said Fenwick.

By comparison, the Maryland Hunt Cup has 22 fences (eight fewer than in England), is a half mile shorter and has no obstacle higher than 4 feet, 10 inches.

The Hunt Cup will be run Saturday, followed by the fifth running of the Junior Maryland Hunt Cup at Shawan Downs at noon Sunday.

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