Somebody up there must really like Maryland steeplechasing.
Last week's Elkridge-Harford races dodged the snow bullet and Saturday's My Lady's Manor Steeplechase day in Monkton saw blue skies, sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and breezes – a relief to race organizers as the next day's forecast was calling for rain and chilly temps.
It was an exciting start to the day, as six horses went to the post for the featured 108th running of the My Lady's Manor Steeplechase, which resulted in a front running victory for Zanclus.
Racegoers may have thought they were at Aintree, as five of six riders hailed from the UK.
Mark Beecher, Darren Nagle and Willie McCarthy are from Ireland and Hadden Frost and Maj. Harry Wallace are from England.
The Neil Morris-trained Zanclus, ridden by Nagle, the National Steeplechase Association's 2017 Champion Jockey, took the lead from the start, and Sara E. Collette's chestnut gelding never looked back, winning in a time of 5:47 and by a margin of 25 lengths.
Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams' Straight to It, trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by McCarthy, was second with Upland Partners' Mystic Strike, trained and ridden by Beecher, third.
Among the field of the first race was Armata Stable's Wildcatter, in a tune-up for a possible try in two weeks at the Maryland Hunt Cup. Wildcatter was ridden by Great Britain's top amateur jockey, Maj. Harry A. R. Wallace.
Wallace also is commanding officer of The King's Troop of The Royal Artillery. The ceremonial troop was so named in 1947 by King George VI as the last of the batteries of horse-drawn troops and it is tasked with celebrating state occasions in England.
Wallace's father was also a steeplechase rider who competed in England's Grand National Steeplechase at the famous Aintree Race Course.
Wallace made his American racing debut in the previous week's Edward S. Voss race at the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point.
"I thought I'd watch a few races to get a feel for things, but when I arrived they told me I was riding in the first race," Wallace said in a pre-race interview, where he commented about having so many Hunt Cup nominated horses competing Saturday and on the overall quality of the races.
Wallace was scheduled to fly back to England Sunday to return to duty as his troop helps to celebrate the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II on April 21. His plan is to return in two weeks to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup if his horse is ready.
Rush Memorial divisions
The second race on Saturday's four-race card was the first division of the John Rush Street Memorial Steeplechase.
Armata Stable's Vintage Vinnie, ridden by Chris Gracie and trained by Joseph Davies, took the early lead and, with a string of horses spread out behind him, continued to hang on throughout the race.
He looked to be the winner when he was overtaken at the last fence by Thomas A. Hullfish III's Formidable Heart, ridden by Archie MacAuley. Vintage Vinnie hung on for second the Katherine Neilson trained It's Nothing was third.
The winning time was 5:55, and the victory was the first sanctioned win over timber for the young rider MacAuley.
Third on the card was the second division of the John Rush Street Memorial.
The eight horse field saw Sportsmans Hall's Hill Tie take an early lead. The Joe Davies-trained 8-year-old was piloted by Eric Poretz, who was trying to add another riding win to the three he took at the Elkridge-Harford meeting.
In a driving finish, Hill Tie lost the lead to Irvin S. Naylor's Shinobi, ridden by Eddie Keating, who then piloted his horse home to a five-length victory over Hill Tie. Thistledown Farm's spirit of Shankly was third under Mark Beecher.
Saturday's final contest was the John D. Schapiro Memorial, run in memory of the late former Laurel Race Course owner and Elkridge-Harford Hunt member.
The field of eight started off with last year's winner, Jeremy Batoff's Class Indian, piloted by the owner's brother, Justin Batoff, at the front.
Witor, owned by Blair Wyatt and trained by Todd Wyatt, with Eric Poretz in the irons, played stalking horse and bided his time throughout the course.
At the third to last fence, Poretz made his move and piloted the bay gelding home for the win in a time of 6:01 1/5. Pied du Roi ridden by Alex Leventhal was second and Aquies, Eddie Keaton up, was third.
New medical procedures
This year's My Lady's Manor races were also a testing ground for new medical protocols centered around the safety of the jockeys.
Owner/rider Forest Kelly, a founding member of the Steeplechase Jockeys Association of America, said the new procedures allow first responders to consult in real time with the course doctors from anywhere on the course in the event of a fall.
The Blockhouse races in Tryon, N.C., also are serving as a testing ground for the new procedures.
Kelly, who is no stranger to race riding, also commended the race organizers for the care and planning for the welfare of the horses on the unseasonably warm day, citing finish line accessibility to tubs of ice and water so they could be cooled down immediately.
This year's Manor races were joined by first time sponsor Sagamore Rye Whiskey/Sagamore Spirits whose guests donated funds to the SJA's riders' insurance fund.
Other sponsors were The Class Produce Group, Roundtop Mountain Resort, Gladden Farm, Cambria Veterinary Center and Janney Montgomery Scott LLC.