Bug River wins again at Maryland Hunt Cup

13-year-old son edges Rosbrian by a neck for 2nd win in 3 years


Bug River demolished all the doubts yesterday.

Concerns about his fitness, willingness and a new jockey were all removed in slightly more than nine minutes when the 13-year-old son of Polish Numbers staved off a determined bid by Rosbrian to capture the $75,000 Maryland Hunt Cup by a neck on a gorgeous day in Glyndon.

Through the stretch drive, they were the lone survivors in a seven-horse field which confronted the grueling four-mile, 22-jump course and they staged a thrilling finish before Bug River clinched his second Hunt Cup victory in the past three years.

"I can't believe this," trainer Regina Welsh said. "I honestly did not think the horse would win this race."

"He's got a heart that must take up his entire chest," added jockey Chris Gracie, who was aboard Bug River for the first time in competition. "He got beat last year [by Make Me A Champ] and he wasn't going to let it happen again."

Bug River won the 2004 Hunt Cup with Blair Waterman aboard, but she was sitting this out out after suffering a concussion in a spill.

"Blair told me, `You're an idiot if you don't ride this horse,'" said Gracie, who became the youngest rider to win this prestigious event in 2003 when he guided Swayo home at age 16.

Three years later, he has grown considerably and Gracie, who is tall for a steeplechase rider, pointed out that he had to shed 30 pounds to make weight this spring.

"It kills me. Every week I say to myself `I hate this', but when you get horses like this it's worth it," he said.

Gracie had only sat on Bug River and jumped with him once during pre-race preparations. "I almost went out the back door," he said, referring to a near fall in training.

He kept Bug River at the back of the field for the majority of the race while Sky And Sea, then Ivorgorian, set a leisurely pace on a firm layout. With two jumps remaining, they made their move while Rosbrian, who had been well rated also, dug in with him.

"I lost four lengths at the water jump when he propped a little big when a horse fell near him. That cost us momentum," explained Rosbrian's rider, Charlie Fenwick III, who finished the course for the first time. "Then he made up three of them. They [Bug River and Gracie] benefited from our little hiccup."

Bug River, owned by Michael Hankin (Northwoods Stable), missed valuable training time after falling for the first time at the Green Spring point-to-point races and subsequently suffering some blistering in his legs. His only other pre-Hunt Cup activity was last Sunday in a point-to-point event in Unionville, Pa.

"He couldn't bend his legs and he missed so much training," Welsh said. "What he did was all heart."

Gracie, who learned the craft from Bruce Miller and his children, Blythe and Chip, said the first time he won the Hunt Cup, "It was just a big shock. I was ecstatic just to be sitting on a horse in the paddock. This time was easier because I had the best jumper over those big fences. This horse doesn't get panicked; he just jumps better than the others."

He's the kind of mount that can inspire a jockey struggling to make weight go on another starvation diet.


Maryland Hunt Cup


$75,000, Maryland Hunt Cup, stakes, 4 miles over timber

Horse Rider Bug River C. Gracie Rosbrian C. Fenwick III No third finisher

Time: 9:14 3/5. Scratched: Allimac, Secret Impression. Did not finish: Zaratanie, Sky And Sea, Make Your Own, Sham Aciss, Ivorgorian.

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