Fundraiser is set to go at a gallop

Sunday's Grand Prix provides money for HCC scholarships

September 22, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

The Columbia Classic Grand Prix will return to Howard Community College on Sunday with its popular formula of horses soaring over jumps, donors socializing under tents and spectators spreading out on the grassy lawn.

Eighteen previous Grand Prix events have raised more than $2 million for student scholarships, said C. Alan Jefferson, chairman of the Grand Prix's board of directors. He said the event has established itself as one of the first big networking events of the fall season.

In addition to the sponsors who mingle under the reserved tent, "there are a lot of families coming out now, taking advantage of the lawn seats and the grandstand seats," he said. "You can get within five feet of the action. When those horses go by, it's amazing."

The event is expected to draw dozens to compete for $50,000 prize money in the amateur and grand prix divisions. In the past, the field has included Olympic and international champions.

Many other high-level jumping competitions last for a week and offer opportunities to practice the courses. At HCC, riders get only a walk-through before they race over the jumps and around the turns with the clock ticking.

"You go in, no practice, and that's it," said Tracy Magness, a professional rider from Baltimore who has competed at the Columbia event many times. "It's hard."

For Magness, 35, who owns a business that imports horses from Belgium, the key to approaching any course is making a plan that fits the horse.

"They're like people. Every one of them is different. .... I just try to keep my confidence up."

In addition to the ease of riding close to home, Magness said, she enjoys taking part in a contest that raises money for students.

"It's a nice audience, too," she said. "A lot of the shows we go to, it's mostly horse people. Because it's for the college, we get a lot of people that don't even know anything about horses. ... [Organizers] go over a lot of stuff and explain everything. I think then the crowd is enthusiastic, too."

Jefferson said his committee expects 5,000 people at Sunday's event, which includes the Junior/Amateur Jumper Classic, beginning about 11:30 a.m. and the Grand Prix starting at 2 p.m. There will be an exhibition by the master of the horse from the Medieval Times restaurant show.

Food, shopping, pony rides and children's activities are available throughout the day, and winners will be drawn in a raffle for a Mercedes-Benz automobile and other prizes.

After the grandstand empties, the Grand Prix's benefits are felt through the year, said Daniel Pretz, a former president of the HCC Student Government Association and a scholarship recipient.

Pretz said his parents can contribute only a little money to his education, and a federal loan program did not cover the cost of a year at HCC.

"Had it not been for the scholarship, I would not have been able to go back [after summer classes]," he said.

He graduated with an associate's degree in music in the spring and now attends McDaniel College in Westminster.

"It's a pretty heartbreaking thing to come to terms with when you realize it is money that is holding you back," he said. "It amazes me that people step up and donate money out of their own pockets for students they don't even know."

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