Anne Moran will be singing sweetly in the choir this morning at St. Malachy's Catholic Church in Unionville, Pa.
But yesterday she rode like a demon down the stretch of the Maryland Hunt Cup, unsparingly using her whip on Buck Jakes in a relentless drive to the wire to defeat Johnny Bosley on Florida Law by a head.
"I got to her but just couldn't get my horse to pull away," Bosley said.
Moran and Buck Jakes came from next-to-last in the nine-horse field, put in a spectacular leap at the 18th of 22 jumps, took over the lead before the 19th fence and then held it to the finish, shaving three seconds off the course record set by Ben Nevis II in 1978. Buck Jakes was timed the four miles in 8 minutes, 30 3/5 seconds.
Moran, 36, is an Irish-born mother of three young daughters and joins Joy Carrier, Liz McKnight and Sanna Neilson as the fourth woman to win what is considered America's most difficult steeplechase.
Soon after the gritty finish, Moran burst into tears when she saw her mother, Gay Kelly, who had unexpectedly flown in the day before from County Meath, Ireland, to watch her daughter ride.
"I knew she was here when I got a call Friday night from my mother-in-law [Betty Moran]. She [Moran] told me: 'I found a leprechaun in Ireland to bring you luck.' But I didn't see my mother until after the race or it would have been all over," Moran said.
She added that she just hoped Buck Jakes "would dig in" and show his class in the duel with Florida Law. "I watched the videotape of Charlie Fenwick winning the 1987 Hunt Cup on Sugar Bee and saw him hit his horse every stride. That's what I did today. I think if I had done this in Ireland, I might be ruled off."
Moran lives in Pennsylvania and is the wife of trainer Michael Moran, who conditions a stable of about 40 flat runners.
Fenwick, who trains Buck Jakes for the Arcadia Stables partnership consisting of Peyton Cochran, Andre Brewster and Francis N. "Ike" Iglehart, said he was not surprised the horse set a record.
"The ground was hard, and there was a lot of speed," Fenwick said. "However, I don't think a horse has ever set the mark in his first year running in the race. This is just a 7-year-old."
Buck Jakes is the fifth Hunt Cup winner saddled by Fenwick. He also trained, as well as rode, previous winners Ben Nevis II (1977 and 1978), Dosdi (1979) and Sugar Bee.
The beginning of the 4-mile race unfolded pretty much according to form. Florida Law, after much jostling about among the nine-horse field, forged to the front after the first fence, followed by Jonathan Kiser, 16, on Red And Gray.
Moran, who was eighth early, said: "Horses were everywhere. These are big fences and you want to at least see them. But for the first five or six fences, my horse could hardly see the jumps."
Billy Meister on Hello Hal agreed. "At the second fence, I should have gone down," he said. "Johnny Bosley moved over three panels in front me and forced me to go down four panels. The same thing happened again at the eighth. My horse never saw VTC the fence. If he was not so clever and athletic, we wouldn't have gotten around."
But Meister added, Bosley "never touched my horse," so he didn't claim foul.
After the seventh fence, Kiser, a high school sophomore who rode like a veteran, was "drug to the lead" by Red And Gray, a first-time Hunt Cup starter, who confidently stood back, gauged the big fences and "jumped the course as fine as any horse I've seen," said a prominent race official.
Kiser held the lead until the 17th fence, when Moran began her move to the front.
The first casualty in the race occurred at the ninth jump when Joe Gillet on Welter Weight got in too close and hooked the
Then Jack Fisher on Sortov came down at the 13th jump. Billy Meister jumped Fisher and his horse and ended up under the neck of Hello Hal. "But I hung on and righted myself just before the 14th fence. I might not have won, but it probably cost me 75 lengths and I would have ended up a lot closer," he said.
At the 16th fence, Greg Ryan, in fourth place and next to the rallying Buck Jakes, came off after he said his mount, Gus's Boy, "didn't jump high enough." Ryan, who nearly severed his spine in a spill at the Marlborough races last year, lay motionless for several minutes. He was stunned, but later said he was OK. None of the fallen horses or riders reported serious injuries.
Moran said after she went to the front between the 18th and 19th fences "I thought maybe I was moving too soon. But I remembered what Charlie said: 'When you commit yourself, Go.' "
Moran flew the 19th, moved several lengths in front of Red And Gray after Kiser swung wide on the final turn and then held off a late bid from Florida Law until the pair hooked up at the final fence and jumped it together.
That's when the duel to the finish began in earnest.
Tom Voss, trainer Florida Law, said he had missed one planned race earlier in the season with his horse because of the hard ground and thought Florida Law "hung a little."
Red And Gray finished third, about seven lengths behind the top pair, followed by Reputed Dancer, Hello Hal and Extra Edition.
Buck Jakes is a son of Grade I winner Turkoman, who won the Widener and the Marlboro Cup Invitational handicaps. Fenwick purchased the horse at the Fair Hill Training Center as a jumper prospect for the Arcadia partnership, which has raced several hurdle stakes winners such as Jibaku and Pont A Loup but had never had a Hunt Cup starter.
Owner Peyton Cochran said his son, Henry, a trainer in Kentucky, once introduced him to the man who trained Buck Jakes during his flat career.
"The trainer told me that one day he heard the worst noise," Cochran said. "He went to Buck Jakes' stall and the horse had a chicken in his mouth. But by the time he got there, all that was left was feathers."