A hot timber racer and a rising star are expected to duel in the 99th running of the My Lady's Manor steeplechase in Monkton on Saturday.
South Monarch, a 7-year-old dark bay on a three-race winning streak, is one of the favorites in the 12-horse field; the other top contender is Incomplete, an 8-year-old who is two-for-two in sanctioned timber races but will be making a leap in class.
The $30,000 My Lady's Manor marks the first of three successive weekends of Maryland steeplechase races, with the Grand National in Butler on April 18 and the Maryland Hunt Cup in Glyndon on April 25. The 19-race National Steeplechase Association spring season, which includes events throughout the East and Southeast, concludes at Fair Hill on May 23.
For local spectators, steeplechase racing is as much about enjoying the Maryland countryside and the heritage of traditional overland horse racing as it is about the competition. Families can tailgate and picnic as they watch Saturday's card of four races being held over a three-mile course about five miles north of Jacksonville on Jarrettsville Pike. Unlike thoroughbred flat racing, there is no wagering on Saturday's steeplechase races.
The marquee event, the My Lady's Manor, is the first race, with a start time of 1:30 p.m. A 13-horse, $15,000 maiden race follows at 2:30 p.m., and two secondary races close out the day. Gates open at 10 a.m.
Although the horses disappear from view during the course of the three-mile race, a jumbo video screen will be installed, allowing spectators to follow the whole event.
South Monarch, ridden by pro jockey Jody Perry, spent his earlier career as a hurdles racer in which the jumps are lower and more forgiving. The event Saturday is a timber race with 16 post-and-rail fences that are taller than the hurdles jumps. After campaigning over hurdles in 2005 and '06, South Monarch returned last year as a timber racer to finish third in a maiden race at Monkton and then put together three straight victories.
Incomplete, who will be ridden by Charlie Fenwick III, began his career as a flats racer, running mostly at Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, and made the switch to timber at the Butler Grand National in 2007 and '08, winning undercard races both times.
Another strong candidate tomorrow is Albert's Crossing, who makes a return to the timber campaign after being away for 2 1/2 years. From 2004 through 2006, Albert's Crossing, to be ridden by James Slater, had five wins in 12 races.
if you go
When: Saturday. Gates open at 10. My Lady's Manor is the first race with a start time of 1:30 p.m.
Where: Adjacent to Ladew Topiary Gardens, Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton
Admission: Tickets start at $50 a car. Closer parking, called family parking, is $70. Parking spots near the course and more ideal for tailgating are called "racing" and cost $150. Racing parking plus two tickets to the winner's reception after the race are $200 ("subscriber"). Racing and subscriber admissions must purchased from Ladew that's adjacent to the race course. Through today, tickets can be purchased by phone at 410-557-9570 and Saturday at the Ladew visitors' center.