Mark Beecher gave a thumbs-up sign and flashed a wide grin as he entered the paddock following the 117th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup on a warm and sunny afternoon in Worthington Valley on April 27.
Yet a bit of a grimace could also be detected on the the face 27-year-old native of County Waterford, Ireland as he dismounted from Professor Maxwell, the winner in 8:57.3 by one-and-a-half lengths over Sand Box Rules over the 4-mile, 22-fence steeplechase course generally regarded as the most arduous of its kind in the world.
Guts for Garters finished third in the 12-horse race.
After all, Beecher completed the course with a broken collarbone he suffered at My Lady's Manor in Monkton just two weeks ago.
Despite the pain, Beecher was not to be denied in winning his first Hunt Cup and the $45,000 purse that goes to the victor.
When asked how he was able to prevail in such a physically demanding event for nearly nine minutes with a severe injury, his reply was succinct.
"Adrenaline," he said, as he gingerly touched his shoulder during an interview.
Professor Maxwell, on the other hand, appeared to be in good health as he negotiated each jump in a methodical manner, remaining either in the lead or near it during the race.
"He's a very careful jumper," said Beecher, who also owns a Virginia Gold Cup victory. "So, one of the hardest things to do is to sit there and do nothing. You just sit there quietly on him."
Professor Maxwell's trainer Richard Valentine said that Beecher's ride was all the more remarkable because his left foot "came out of the irons (stirrup) for about a half of a mile."
He added that Beecher closely followed the game plan the two devised for Professor Maxwell.
"We discussed it," Valentine said. "We wanted to be off sharp."
It helped when one of the other contenders, Gilman grad Connor Hankin, came off his mount, Battlle Op, around the 18th fence.
"We felt that Battle Op and Twill Do were the greatest danger to us," Valentine added.
Twill Do, with Towson High and Towson University alum James Stierhoff up, finished fourth in an attempt to win a Challenge Cup as a three-time Hunt Cup champion. He won in 2010 and 2012.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun