James Slater admitted to being "a little nervous when Aero jumped ahead" of his mount, Tax Ruling, after both horses cleared the 14th and final fence in the Brown Advisory Legacy Chase, the feature event at the Legacy Chase at Shawan Downs on Saturday afternoon in Cockeysville.
After all, Slater and Tax Ruling had set the pace over timber on the 3-mile steeplechase course and appeared to be on the way to a wire-to-wire victory for a $20,000 purse.
Aero, with Paddy Young aboard, had other ideas, rallying from 7 lengths at the fifth fence to pull abreast of his rival and inch ahead down the stretch in front of an announced 7,000 fans.
That's when Slater kept his poise and Tax Ruling refused to fold, closing in 6:22 4/5. Straight To It, with reigning Maryland Hunt Cup winner Mark Beecher up, caught Aero to finish second.
"I knew they were there, so it wasn't a surprise," Slater said. "It's the ease with which they caught up that was a bit worrisome. I just squeezed (Tax Ruling) a little bit. I was only asking for a little more effort."
Slater, owner Irv Naylor and trainer Billy Meister couldn't have been more proud of the response from Tax Ruling.
"I know him so well," Slater said of his horse. "He just won't quit. He kept fighting up the hill and found a way."
Although the following race — the Kingsley Construction Maiden Timber — had a similar battle down the stretch, Nat Grew was unable to hold an even bigger lead and was nipped at the wire by Beecher on Cornhusker.
Nat Grew had a 15-length lead until succumbing to Cornhusker, which came in at 6:01. Grand Pride was third and Durer fourth.
Grand Tier took the first event of the day on the eight-race card, followed by King Ting and Jamarjo on the 2-mile hurdle race.
It's A School Night prevailed in the second 2-mile hurdle race with Prime Prospector and Black Pond next.
Verne went wire-to-wire in the final hurdle race, holding off Wait Outside by 1 1/2 lengths and Foolish Surprise.
Monkton-based jockey Ross Geraghty said that taking and keeping the lead with Verne was fine with him.
"I think I'm a pretty good judge of pace," the native of Ireland said. "We went to the front and relaxed. I slowed it down to suit me so I'd have something left for the stretch. There were a lot of tactics, and sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don't. This time, I did."