Spencer Road emerges with win in photo finish at 112th Grand National Steeplechase

April 19, 2014|By Nelson Coffin | For The Baltimore Sun

The three owners of Spencer Road stood calmly together Saturday, discussing the outcome of the 112th Grand National Steeplechase in Butler on a mild and sunny afternoon after their horse was involved in a photo finish.

The wait to determine that Spencer Road had, indeed, prevailed was long, but owners Gerry L. Brewster, Eleanor Russell and Joseph Tydings maintained their composure until the good news reached them.

They smiled and hugged one another as they made their way to receive the coveted Grand National Challenge Cup with jockey Eric Poretz.

For Brewster, whose father served in the U.S. Senate with Tydings in the 1960s, the victory marked his family's first in the race since 1929., when when Aimwell won for his grandfather, B.H. Brewster Jr.

Gerry L. Brewster said Spencer Road's loss in last year's race made winning the 2014 Grand National that much sweeter.

"He missed a beacon," said Brewster, referring to the boundary markers the horses must navigate on the 3-mile course. "It was heartbreaking. This win is very satisfying. We were hoping he would have the opportunity to show his stuff."

Tydingshas been around and ridden horses for most of his life, but is a first-time owner. Russell's son, Joe Davies, was Spencer Road's trainer while he filled in for his wife, Blythe Miller Davies.

Still, what was jubilation for Spencer Road had to be a major disappointment for Merriefield Farm's Foyle.

It was impossible to see any separation between the two horses as they thundered down the stretch and crossed the finish line as one in 6:13. After scrutinizing photographs and video, judges deemed Spencer Road the winner.

Raven's Choice topped Almarooq in the 49th Benjamin H. Murray Memorial Steeplechase that followed the Grand National. Grand Pride was third and Soverign Fund fourth. They finished in 6:34.

In the 10th Western Run Plate II, the final race of the day, Class Brahms looked to have an easy win in hand until a steward's inquiry changed the outcome.

Diana Gillam, on Armata Stables' Brother Sy, was declared the winner, with Major Malibu running second and Battle Aray third.

Class Brahms and Prince Ludovic both veered off course, making Gillam a winner for the second week in row after bringing Sandbox Rules home first in a race at My Lady's Manor.

"It was pretty obvious," Gillam said when asked about the steward's inquiry. "It was a total melee."

She said she knew victory was within reach as they headed toward the final couple of fences.

"My horse was traveling within himself," she said. "He was fencing well and not just hanging about. I still had a lot of horse under me and didn't have to use another gear."

The day's other big winner doesn't ride, own or train horses, but he's fond of watching them run.

Like the horses and jockeys, John Tracey, a banker from Owings Mills, and about 20 of his friends competed to be be recognized for having the best tailgate theme.

His "Star-Spangled Banner" theme included a 15-star American flag flying above a Union Jack, commemorating the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key's famous song penned during the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

A spread of patriotic red, white and blue foods, from potatoes to pickles, with cheesecake for desert, caught the judges' eyes and earned Tracey and his troupe a free pass to next year's race.

Cannonball Punch, with cannonball-sized spheres of black ice, added to the festivities.

Tracey, who called the race a "rite of spring," said he has been attending the localApril steeplechase race circuit for 20 years.

"I'm very excited to be a part of this," he said.

RESULTS

Grand National — 1. Spencer Road (Poretz); 2. Foyle (Fenwick); 3. Delta Park (Hankin); 4. Embarrassed (Farrell) — 6:13

Murray Memorial — 1. Raven's Choice (Beecher); 2. Almarooq (Slater); 3. Grand Pride (Hankin); 4. Sovereign Fund (Yeager) — 6:34

Western Run Plate II — 1. Brother Sy (Gillam); 2. Major Malibu (Batoff); 3. Battle Array (Boniface); 4. Great Halo (McKenna) — 7:43.2

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