There are several reasons that, according to at least one assessment, 2013 timber champion Foyle has been installed as the favorite heading into the 118th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup on Saturday in Glyndon.
Gates open at 11 a.m. for a 4 pm. post time for the $75,000 steeplechase race, which will run on what is generally regarded as one of the most daunting courses in the sport.
For one thing, Foyle will have a new mount. Highly regarded British amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen replaces James Slater, who guided the Merriefield Farm 9-year-old to a photo finish in the $30,000 Grand National last weekend in Butler, losing by a nose to Spencer Road.
Foyle also has the experience of running in either the Grand National or My Lady's Manor, something that is strongly recommended for serious Hunt Cup contenders, said five-time winner Charlie Fenwick, whose final Hunt Cup victory was on Sugar Bee in 1987.
"History will show that most Hunt cup winners have run in the Grand National, My Lady's Manor or the Hunt Cup before, although not necessarily in the same year," he said. "Horses have to get used to jumping that high. They have to get acclimated to those types of fences."
With some of the timber fences standing as high as 4 feet, 10 inches, getting well off the ground while negotiating 22 jumps over 4 grueling miles is a must.
Hunt Cup fences can be as much as 5 inches higher than jumps in the other races, making the race a daunting test of endurance, skill and perseverance.
This year's huge field — 15 entrants — won't lack experience, Fenwick added.
"Six of the horses are 13 or older," he said. "That says a lot about the horsemanship in the Maryland Hunt Cup."
Included in the mix is Twill Do, whose thrilling triumph in the 2010 Hunt Cup came after Across the Sky balked at the 20th fence and coughed up a 30-length lead. Towson High and Towson University alumnus James Stierhoff urged the gelding past Private Attack to claim the victory and then produced a second win two years later.
To prevail for the third time on the same horse would be an accomplishment unmatched since 1967, when Janon Fisher III finished first on Mountain Dew.
Others to look out for are Delta Park, with last year's winner, Mark Beecher, aboard. Delta Park was a runner-up to Foyle in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup and third in this year's Grand National.
Bon Caddo, ridden by Slater, also figures to be among the leaders in his first start of the season. Bon Caddo has earlier victories in My Lady's Manor and the Virginia Gold Cup to his credit.
Diana Gillam will guide Sand Box Rules, the second-place finisher to Professor Maxwell in last year's Hunt Cup.
Fenwick described Battle Op, making his fourth Hunt Cup start, and rider Connor Hankin "unlucky" after the University of Virginia junior took a spill late in last year's race and pulled up last week in the Grand National.
If you go
Maryland Hunt Cup
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Traffic will be shut down between Dover and Mantua Milll roads after 2 p.m., and all of Tufton Avenue will be closed at 3:15 p.m.
Moreover, general ticket holders must enter from then east (Falls Road), while patrons/subscribers must enter from the west (Worthington Avenue).
Note: No tickets will be sold Saturday for the event, which usually draws a festive crowd of 5,000 fans to the Tufton Avenue site, the race's permanent home since 1922.