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Beautiful weather draws crowds for historic Elkridge-Harford steeplechase race

BY KAYLA BAWROSKI, kabawroski@theaegis.com

4:01 PM EDT, April 10, 2012

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The warm weather Saturday provided the annual Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point with a perfect backdrop to the annual steeplechase race in Monkton.

The event, which consists of seven races, was held at Atlantic Hall Farm as usual, and attracted a large crowd of spectators from across Maryland, and even as far away as England in one case. Nancy O'D Wilson's family was visiting the United States, she said Saturday, and it was their first time at the race.

"We're showing them how beautiful Maryland is," Wilson said.

Pamela Keys came for the first time Saturday, too, with one of the event's sponsors, Land Rover Hunt Valley. She had never experienced this before, Keys said, and praised its organization.

"I think it's very nice," she said. "I'm quite impressed."

It wasn't, however, the first time for Ashley Richardson, of Timonium, and her father, Paul Brookes, of Monkton. They live on the "edge of this universe," Brookes said, and although they do not own any horses, they know many of the people involved with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club, with which the steeplechase race has long been associated.

"I really respect what they do and I'm glad to see that kind of tradition go on in the country," he said.

As the first steeplechase race of the season, Richardson said she likes the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point because it is not as big as the other races and brings out more of a "local" crowd. The Elkridge-Harford is viewed as the warmup for the Maryland Triple Crown of steeplechasing, which include the My Lady's Manor, Maryland Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup.

Many of the horses in the Elkridge-Harford race are ex-race horses, according to Rosaleen Bernier, of Parkton, and Kristen Scala, of Fallston, who said that was one of the reasons they like the event.

"It's nice to know that there's something besides just the racing," Scala said, of the horses.

Bernier also came out to support her 13-year-old daughter, Gabby Bernier, who was participating in the Field Masters Chase and in the Junior Field Masters Chase Saturday. Gabby loved riding and eventually moved into steeplechase racing.

In addition to supporting her daughter, Bernier also commented on how the steeplechase racing season gets her to the different "beautiful" parts of Baltimore County.

"It's just something incredible, watching these horses gallop across the beautiful countryside," she said.

On one of those horses was Connor Hankin, who came in first place for the Edward S. Voss Memorial race riding Battle Op. Following Hankin on Battle Op was James Slater on Hold Your Fire and Kieron Norris on Arch Hero, in second and third places, respectively.

"I feel great," Hankin said.

This is Hankin's third year racing, he said later, but he had already fox hunted and raced ponies. This Edward S. Voss race, the first of the day, was his first "spin" on that particular horse, Hankin added.

On the outskirts of the crowd were Ned Hill, of Phoenix, and Mark Schaefer, of Cockeysville, who came in part because of Schaefer's photography hobby. Coming to the races started in high school, Schaefer said, and now he takes pictures every year.