One by one, the favorites in Saturday's 121st running of the $100,000 Maryland Hunt Cup fell by the wayside.
Defending champion Senior Senator went down at just the third of 22 fences, quickly ending his hopes for a repeat. Super Saturday, fourth in last weekend's Grand National, followed suit one fence later.
After just 1 mile of the 4-mile steeplechase through the rolling hills of Glyndon, only four of the original 10 horses remained.
That opened the door for the unlikeliest of heroes.
Derwins Prospector, a 9-year-old Kentucky bred who had won just one of 22 previous career starts — and last year didn't make it past the first fence — outdueled Drift Society down the stretch to take the final jewel of the Maryland timber triple crown by three-quarters of a length.
When Grand National runner-up Old Timer lost his rider on the next-to-last jump, it literally became a two-horse race to the finish, with the winner crossing the line in 9:461/5, more than 1 minute off the track record. Even though eight didn't finish, all horses and jockeys came away unscathed.
"I think it was just a battle of attrition," said Derwins Prospector trainer Joseph Davies, who simply had been hoping for better luck than a year ago. "This horse has always been a superb jumper, but last year he unseated his rider at the first fence. Nobody ever regarded him as anything, but we sort of thought, 'You've got to show up at the Maryland Hunt Cup to win it.'"
Jockey Gozague Cottreau, a native of France racing for just the fourth time in the United States, said he knew Derwins Prospector had a shot, as long as he could stay upright.
"It was a bit crazy," Cottreau said. "After the [first] turn, there were just four left. I saw that I had to just sit tight and hopefully my horse jumped well and could make it until the end."
Cottreau, an amateur, rode Derwins Prospector for the first time at the Grand National in Butler, where he finished fourth.
Davies, who also trains Senior Senator and Our Town, said he believes his jockey import made the difference.
"He's one of the best amateurs to ever hold onto a pair of reins," Davies said. "We organized it three months ago for him to come over. I think it comes down to the rider. I don't think he necessarily possessed the best horse, but he was the best rider."
The ending capped a wild race.
Three horses — Senior Senator, Great Halo and De Chera — failed to clear the third fence, quickly thinning out a bunched field. The result was a disappointment for the handlers of Senior Senator, which began last weekend by charging to a 11/2-length win in the $30,000 Grand National, then ended it by taking center stage on a profile of the Hunt Cup on CBS' "60 Minutes."
"He just got into a little bit of traffic and it was a really slow pace," Davies said. "He really likes to gallop freely, and he got a little distracted being behind a wall of horses and made a mistake."
Having only two horses cross the finish line made this year's Hunt Cup one to remember.
"It's just such a tough course, and there's so much that can go wrong," Davies said. "I think it was slippery, the grass was a little wet. It was a real jumping contest today."