Relaxed mood among spectators at Legacy Chase

In the middle of a sprawling, muddy farm in Hunt Valley, Lee Bartnick sat in a folding chair like a monarch.

From the picnic blanket that he and his wife set up, he took in the 10th annual Legacy Chase race Saturday at Shawan Downs with brie and crackers, some potato salad and wine in reach.

He didn't have binoculars. For him, the race is more about relaxing.

"This is the horse version of tailgating. Not very rowdy stuff," he said, sipping from a can of Coke Zero. "It's just a nice event to come out to. And sometimes, there are good horses."

That was the mood Saturday at Shawan Downs. In the lead-up to the race, there was no frenzy, as there might have been at Pimlico. Instead, thousands of horse enthusiasts casually strolled the grounds, eating food and chatting with friends. The score from "The Magnificent Seven" and other Westerns played over speakers.

Some 5,000 people were expected to attend, said spokeswoman Michele May. Though 10,000 had been predicted earlier in the week, organizers reduced their expectations because they anticipated last week's weather would discourage attendance. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz was among the attendees.

The event consists of a series of steeplechase races that award more than $50,000. The cost to attend is $30 for parking, and all proceeds go to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The weather had been a concern, but the rain let off by Saturday afternoon. Though the National Steeplechase Association makes the final call, May said the race typically goes on "rain or shine." In 2008, Legacy canceled only two out of five races despite torrential rain, May said.

Among those waiting for the race to start Saturday was Brett Prather, an administrative tech from Owings Mills. Though it was his first time at this event, he and his wife are fans of horse racing and often go to Pimlico and Laurel racetracks.

"We just enjoy watching the horses run. And if we win a couple of bucks, that's nice, too," he said.

But betting is usually just part of the ritual for them; they keep their bets at $2 and the largest pot they've won is $40.

"We just hang out, take it all in, and have a beer," he said.

Jenny Castillo, a retired bridalwear designer, was also a first-timer, and she dressed for the occasion with a purple-feather hat. She was more impressed with the spacious Shawan Road farm, the scattered food tents and the spectacle of the horses.

"This is an experience for me," she said. "I'm full of awe right now."

Bartnick, a retired contractor, and his wife, Chris, have been coming to the race since its inception. Horse-owners themselves, they like the pace of things at Shawan and the view, which is lush and green.

"No comparison to Pimlico," Bartnick said. "It's prettier."

Bartnick bets on the races, but just for kicks, he said.

"I've never won any money here," he said, laughing. "There's no money in horse racing."

Last year, he bet $30 on a horse that friends had told him was favored to win. But halfway through one of the races, the jockey fell and the horse came in last.

"That's part of the fun," Bartnick said. "You never know."

This year, he and his wife came with another couple and set up a picnic blanket on the hill overlooking the course.

"We just sit here and enjoy the cheese and the wine and chat," Bartnick said.

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