Ivory Poacher, who had been favored to win his second Maryland Hunt Cup in three years, likely will be scratched today from the 99th running of the grueling four-mile steeplechase over 22 timber fences.
Trainer Ann Fenwick said that unless there "is rain overnight, I'm planning to scratch the horse this morning. I've already notified the owners [Redmond and Jervis Finney]."
Fenwick said that because of a lack of rain this spring the course is too hard and rough to take a chance on injuring the 10-year-old gelding.
"It wouldn't be fair to him," Fenwick said. "He is not a light, delicate horse. He is heavy and has had injuries and goes best on softer turf.
"It's a tough decision because right now he's like a fighter pilot. He's on top of the world. It's exciting to have him this good, but I can't take the chance of hurting him."
Ivory Poacher won the Hunt Cup in his first try in 1993, but developed a tendon problem later in the year. He missed last year's race but returned in top shape this spring, winning the Cheshire Bowl in Pennsylvania and the My Lady's Manor Point-to-Point two weeks ago in near-record time.
The defection of Ivory Poacher would leave a nine-horse field to contest the Hunt Cup.
Rider/trainer Jack Fisher, who won the race last year with Revelstoke in the second-fastest running, said the ground is "harder than it's ever been." He said the course record of 8 minutes, 33 3/35 seconds, set in 1978 by Ben Nevis II, could fall.
"If it's not, it's because the quality of the horses is not up to it," Fisher said.
Last week the Fisher-trained Tarsky slashed seven seconds off Ben Nevis' record in the Grand National Point-to-Point at Butler.
Fisher said he believes Johnny Bosley on Florida Law will set the pace. Fisher's strategy on Sortov: "I'm staying behind and heading for the broken rails."
Hard ground has been a problem at the hunt races all spring. Several horses have broken down and, at some meets, such as the Elkridge-Harford races in early April, many of the timber races were canceled because owners and trainers didn't want to risk injurying their animals.
Palliser Bay tries the turf
Buckingham Farm's Palliser Bay will take on the accomplished grass filly Another Legend today in the $50,000-added Lady Dean Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
It will be the first start on turf for Palliser Bay, who has been turning in sharp work at Laurel Park after a brief foray to Florida, where she failed in two stakes.
Another Legend has raced almost exclusively on grass and has placed in three added-money turf races. She is trained by Vinnie Blengs, who recently returned from Florida.
MARYLAND HUNT CUP
What: 99th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup steeplechase at 4 miles over 22 timber fences.
When: Today, 4 p.m. post time
Where: Worthington Farms, Tufton Avenue, Glyndon (about three miles west of Hunt Valley. Take Shawan Road west to Tufton).
Prizes: $30,000 to winner; $18,000 for second place, $6,000 for third.
Field: Ten horses are scheduled to run and will be ridden by amateur steeplechase jockeys. The favorite had been Ivory Poacher, who likely will be withdrawn, but others with fine credentials are Florida Law, runner-up last year; Buck Jakes, second-leading U.S. timber horse in 1994, and Welter Weight, winner of the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial last week at the Grand National Point-to-Point.
Course record: Eight minutes, 33 3/5 seconds, by Ben Nevis II in 1978.
PP, Horse, Jockey, Age Trainer, Owner
1, Sortov, J. Fisher, 10, J. Fisher, Irvin Naylor
2a, Hello Hal, B. Meister, 9, B. Meister, Jack Griswold
3, Reputed Dancer, L. Neilson, 10, N. Knox, Fancy Hill Farm
4, Welter Weight, J. Gillet, 7, J. Gillet, Armata Stables
5, Ivory Poacher, S. Neilson, 10, A. Fenwick, Landslide Farm
6b, Buck Jakes, A. Moran, 7, C. Fenwick, Anne Moran
7, Extra Edition, C. Meister, 9, W. Patterson, A. Price
8b, Gus's Boy, G. Ryan, 9, C. Fenwick, Commonwealth
9a, Red & Gray, J. Kiser, 11, B. Meister, Club Hal Stable
10, Florida Law, J. Bosley, 9, T. Vos, Bachelors' Hall
a-Billy Meister-trained entry; b-Charlie Fenwick Jr.-trained entry.