Despite ground that has been termed "rock hard" by race chairman H. Turney McKnight, the 102nd edition of the My Lady's Manor Saturday kicks off Maryland's three timber classic races. The My Lady's Manor expects to have full fields for the three-race program.
A total of 45 horses have been entered for the three, meaning the racing surface hasn't deterred horsemen from a card offering $52,500 purse money, including $30,000 for the feature, a three-mile test that will start the day at 1:30 p.m.
On successive Saturdays, the Grand National at Butler and the $75,000 Maryland Hunt Cup at Glyndon, one of the toughest timber events in the world, will follow.
Because of the unusually mild winter, McKnight has been obliged to follow the lead of Tom Voss' procedure for the Elkridge-Harford point-to-point last week and perform a preparation that has been unprecedented in his memory.
"What we have now is an extreme dry spell," McKnight said. "You'd like to see a little snow instead of the all the warm weather because it helps to smooth out the course. So we've had to aerate every inch of the course (a measure extremely time-consuming and costly). You have to prepare it all from scratch."
Since steeplechase horses carry more weight than those who race on the flat and must jump, of course, there is extreme pressure on their legs. The upside is they don't race as quickly, mostly pushing hard following the last obstacle in the drive to the finish.
"I don't know what it's going to cost to do this," McKnight said earlier in the week. "You can't go with that machine much faster than walking speed, but the safety of the horses comes first. Rain would make all the difference. In all the years I've been doing this (since 1978) I've never aerated the course."
The hard ground also means the grass will be left longer to give the jumpers more of a cushion.
The My Lady's Manor has drawn a stellar lineup, including the past two winners of the race and the past two overall timber champions.
Heading the list is the defending champion, Bon Caddo, owned by Merrifield Farm and trained by Dawn Williams. Close behind is Morning Star Stables' South Monarch, winner of the 2010 My Lady's and the runnerup in 2009.
Also figuring in the hunt are Bubble Economy, a three-time timber champ who is returning after a year layoff, and Incomplete, a very consistent horse.
My Lady's Manor Steeplechase
First post: 1:30 p.m.
Where: Corner of Pocock Road and Jarrettsville Pike
Directions: Take Beltway Exit 27B (Dulaney Valley) north 4.1 miles. Bear left onto Jarrettsville Pike (Route 146) through Jacksonville and go approximately five miles. Parking will be on right.
Parking: Available on race day at $50 (general parking per car) or $70 (family per car)
Beneficiary: Ladew Gardens