With one of the biggest crowds in recent years on hand to witness the start of Maryland's steeplechase racing season, the 85th running of the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point races was held Saturday at Atlanta Hall Farm in Monkton.
The morning dawned sunny and breezy prompting race announcer Michael Finney to call it call a "Chamber of Commerce Day."
The meeting opened with the feature race, the Edward S. Voss Memorial Open Timber. Three scratches made it an eight horse field.
Bruce Fenwick's De Chera took the lead at the start and led around the course and out of view maintaining the lead around the first circuit and out of view again.
On the far side of the course, however, it became a four-horse battle as Irvin Crawford II's Senior Senator ridden by Eric Poretz (Joseph Davies, trainer), Ann Jackson's Raven's Choice ridden by Mark Beecher (Todd Wyatt, trainer), and Annie Yeager on Welcome Home Farm's Serene Harbor (Todd McKenna, trainer) all fought De Chera for first place. Senior Senator prevailed.
Senior Senator's win was all the more impressive because, according to trainer Davies, the horse had taken himself for an unintended gallop having lost his rider during morning exercise earlier that day.
De Chera with Gustav Dahl in the irons was able to hold on for second. Serene Harbor was third. The winning time was 6:39 1/5.
Battling over jumps
Next on the card was the George C. Clement Memorial Novice Timber race. Named for the late Master of Foxhounds of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt, the race saw the Fenwick/Dahl and Davies/ Poretz teams battling it out again with entries in the seven-horse field.
This time, owner/trainer Fenwick's Daddy in the Dark came out on top with a winning time of 7:13 1/5 to defeat the Sportsmans Hall owned entry Hill Tie, ridden by Poretz and trained by Davies. Merriefield Farm's Imperial Way was piloted home to third place by Bethany Baumgartner, followed by local rider Ashton Williams coming in a respectable fourth on Gerry L. Brewster's Derwins Prospector. Amelia McGuirk was fifth on Tricky Hat.
The day's third race, the Ann L. McIntosh Heavyweight Timber, was a five-horse contest that saw Yeager piloting Mystic Strike home in a winning time of 6:58 and giving owners Upland Partners and trainer McKenna the win over Welcome Here Farm's Where's the Beef , ridden by Mark Beecher and trained by Ivan Dowling, and Irvin S. Naylor's Ride Away, ridden by Baumgartner and trained by Katherine Neilson.
The fourth and final jump race of the day, The Babe Saportas Amateur Apprentice Timber, also saw five horses go to the post.
TrainerDavies chalked up another win, this time for owner Kinross Farm, as McLane Hendricks took Schoolhouse Woods across the line in a winning time of 6:41 1/5, defeating Mrs. John R. S. Fisher's Hockey Pop, ridden by Brett Ownings and trained by Jack Fisher, and Welcome Here Farm's Be Grea, ridden by Yeager and trained by McKenna, which were second and third, respectively.
Tie for first
The day's final contests were the first and second divisions of the Alfred J. Smithwick Memorial Flat Training Race run in memory of the late Steeplechase Hall of Fame Jockey.
The first division was a 2:01 4/5 photo finish. Despite having access to four different photos, the finish was so close the placing judges were unable to determine either No Wunder or Bishop's Castle as the clear winner and declared a tie for first place, a first in the history of the meeting.
No Wunder is owned by Robert A. Kinsley, trained by Elizabeth Voss and was ridden by Dahl. Bishop's Castle, ridden by McGuirk, is owned by Bruton Street-US and trained by Todd Wyatt. Third place went to The Fields Stable's Norse Star, also trained by Voss.
To add to the unusual events of the race, the number five horse, Malibulu lost its rider on the back side of the course and proceeded to go for a swim in the Atlanta Hall Farm pond. Rider Hazel O'Neill was unharmed and Malibulu, after swimming two lengths of the pond, was caught and led out of the water by an outrider and was none the worse for wear.
The second division of the Alfred J. Smithwick saw trainer Voss garnering first and second for owners The Fields Stables and Robert Kinsley as their respective horses, Barnacle Bill and Proud Music, came home ahead of owner/rider/trainer Chris Harting's Moonshine Mistress. With the win, Barnacle Bill's jockey Dahl gained his third victory of the day with a time of 2:01 4/5.
Despite the torrential rains that fell late Wednesday night throughout most of Thursday, windy conditions during the day on Friday had helped to dry the course. In a post-race interview committee member Garrett Murray described the course as "near perfect going."
Several owners, riders and trainers gathered after the race said the 2017 point-to-point was among best in memory with no contest being won by more than a length, no injuries and near perfect weather.