Questions follow `River' to Hunt Cup

April 29, 2006|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

If pari-mutuel wagering were conducted at the prestigious Maryland Hunt Cup, Bug River would clearly be cast as the favorite in today's 110th renewal.

The 13-year-old gelding has hit his prime in recent years, winning the 2004 running and finishing a close second last year to Make Me A Champ.

But some warning signs have surfaced that provide hope for eight rivals who will answer the starter's call for the grueling 4-mile, 22-jump test at 4 p.m. in Glyndon.

"He fell at the Green Spring point-to-point at the second-to-last [fence] and took a digger [scrape]," trainer Regina Welsh said. "He had never fallen before, and he missed a lot of time."

Bug River didn't return until running second in a point-to-point event last Sunday in Unionville, Pa., so some concern has arisen about his fitness for the demands of the Hunt Cup.

In addition, his regular rider, Blair Waterman, suffered a concussion that forced her to miss the remainder of the spring season, and Bug River will have a new jockey, young Chris Gracie.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. Three years ago, Gracie, a student at the University of Kentucky, won the Hunt Cup aboard Swayo at age 16, and he is considered one of the most talented reinsmen on the circuit.

"This horse likes routine," Welsh said. "He's fragile and he likes a gentle ride. He needs to not be under pressure. Chris is a very good rider. Hopefully, they'll be happy together."

Of the challengers, Rosbrian is seen as the biggest threat. He is scheduled to be ridden by Charlie Fenwick III, who won the Grand National on Askim last weekend but has never finished the Hunt Cup course. Sky and Sea and Zaratanie, second and third, respectively, at the Grand National, while and Allimac won the secondary feature, and Sham Aciss won at My Lady's Manor two weeks ago.

"I think it's a pretty open year," Welsh said.

Jockeying for jockeys has been a sub-story before his Hunt Cup. With Waterman and Roger Horgan (who suffered a broken leg during a mishap at the Grand National) out, connections have been scrambling to find the proper rider for their entries. Four jockeys will be making their first trip around the course.

"There have been slim pickings in the amateur division," Welsh said. "We were lucky to get Chris."

Perhaps the most challenging event in timber racing, the Hunt Cup's fences all stand 4 feet or higher, save for one. The highest reaches 4 feet, 10 inches, and two of the jumps are uphill. Plus, the distance requires great stamina on the part of both the animal and the jockey The layout is expected to be in good condition after taking moisture in recent weeks following a dry winter. With favorable weather expected, the crowd of picnickers and revelers could exceed 10,000.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Where: Tufton Avenue, Glyndon

When: Today; gates open 11 a.m., post 4 p.m.

Directions: From the Beltway, patron and subscriber ticket holders are to take Greenspring Avenue north for 6 miles and turn right onto Tufton Avenue. General parking ticket holders are advised to take I-83 north to Shawan Road west or Falls Road north and turn left onto Tufton Avenue.

Tickets: No parking tickets are sold en route to the course. They may be purchased earlier at the Butler Store, the gasoline station at the corner of Shawan and Falls roads, Dogwood Tack, Wine Merchant or Unionville (Pa.) Saddlery.

Maryland Hunt Cup

Today's entries

$75,000, The Maryland Hunt Cup, stakes, 4 miles over timber, all carry 165 pounds

PP Horse Jockey Trainer

1 Zaratanie B. Curry J. Davies

2 Sky And Sea W. Meister W. Meister

3 Make Your Own D. Brewster Oster C. Fenwick Jr.

4 Rosbrian C. Fenwick III C. Randall

5 Sham Aciss J. Slater J. Fisher

6 Allimac S. Strawbridge S. Hendriks

7 Secret Impression C. Fenwick III A. Stewart

8 Bug River C. Gracie R. Welsh

9 Ivorgorian T. McKenna L. Neilson III

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