A spirited tradition on sidelines

At the Marlborough Hunt Races, tailgaters can be as competitive as the jockeys

April 10, 2006|By LAURA MCCANDLISH | LAURA MCCANDLISH,SUN REPORTER

As more than 100 thoroughbreds and their jockeys competed in the Marlborough Hunt Races in southern Anne Arundel County yesterday, David Kolb and his friends savored a 100-pound, slow-roasted pig on the sidelines.

At the steeplechase races in Davidsonville, the group has carved out a niche for itself, with a whole tailgating section - "Loedown Lane" -named in its honor.

"Sixteen years ago, everyone else had their silver candelabra and their Mercedes here," he said. "All we had was a ham and our pickup trucks. Now we have our own lane."

An estimated 5,000 spectators flocked to the private Roedown Farm for the Marlborough Hunt Club's 32nd annual event. Each year, the riders work their way up the East Coast, entering a series of steeplechase races, continuing a country tradition that dates to 18th-century Ireland.

The most accomplished riders sought a $5,000 purse in an open timber (fence) competition, one of 10 events at the Marlborough races. Meanwhile, on the grassy mounds bordering the race course, families set up elaborate tailgate parties, showcasing everything from lavish gourmet cuisine to country fare. Children frolicked about. Adult beverages (Bloody Marys, mimosas) flowed freely.

For the past 14 years, the tailgating competition has become as spirited as the races themselves. One display called "Rustler's Rhapsody," replete with a live bluegrass band, wooden horse rides and a cardboard cactus decorated with Easter eggs, won the "best overall" award this year.

Beating out another pirate-themed group, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" landed the "most fun" prize this year. That party, with a feast of coconut shrimp, grilled pineapple, spicy jerk chicken and home-brewed beer, has grown in size to three parking spots.

"We never know if we'll win or not," said Emily Herman, who organized the group. "We just want to have everyone come out."

Although the weather was not as warm as at last year's event, spectators still enjoyed sunshine and mild temperatures as the wind subsided by noon. Nancy Carter, a co-chairwoman of the race committee, was relieved.

"When we were setting up [Saturday] it was very grim," Carter said. "People were soaked to the bone."

In addition to the tailgating contest, women from the Hats In the Belfry shop in downtown Annapolis judged Marlborough's first hat competition this year.

With a wind-powered plastic thoroughbred and two stuffed foxes in hunting garb perched atop her straw hat, Mary Ellen Graham won the "most creative" award.

"He's rearing to go," Graham said of the steeplechaser on her head. "The foxes are laughing because this horse is going the other way."

A miniature Shetland pony named Peaches even sported a fruit-themed hat. Peaches belongs to the Maryland Therapeutic Riding organization, a nonprofit group that helps disabled adults and kids enjoy the benefits of horseback riding. The therapeutic riders were helped by members of "Rustler's Rhapsody," who raised $485 for the charity, giving donors green and yellow bandannas.

Another cause was trumpeted at the races yesterday: Volunteers gathered signatures in support of the Maryland Horse Park. That's a project of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which plans to build the facility on the U.S. Naval Academy's former dairy farm site in Gambrills. The horse park could even serve as a future home of the Marlborough Hunt Races if necessary, said Ginna Gould, former director of marketing for the race.

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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