A home-course advantage, a confident ride and some bad racing luck contributed to two victories at Butler yesterday that provide a welcome harbinger for this week's Maryland Hunt Cup.
Buck Jakes profited from the first two elements and scored by a neck over defending champion Welter Weight in the 95th annual Grand National Steeplechase.
And Florida Law, scratched from the Grand National, benefited immensely when Pargale fell at the next-to-last fence and took the 32nd running of the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial.
As a result, all three are headed for what shapes up as a highly competitive Hunt Cup.
"It'll be a good race," said Tom Voss, trainer of Welter Weight and Florida Law. "There won't be a whole lot of them running, but it will be a legitimate bunch."
The Grand National, at three miles over 18 fences, turned into a two-horse race between Buck Jakes, the big grey of Arcadia Stable, and Welter Weight.
Anne Moran drove Buck Jakes to the wire adeptly, barely holding off Michael Elmore's mount.
"It's the first time we've managed to run up the hill," she said of the stretch, which requires a climb to the wire. "He [Buck Jakes] landed running a length in front and just kept on going."
The 1994 Grand National champion in trainer Charles Fenwick Jr.'s final ride, Buck Jakes trains on the course.
"Anne gave him a great ride and I was very pleased," said Fenwick. "Driving home, he held off the other horse and was as good as I've ever seen him. He seemed to be perfect.
"Obviously, the goal is to win the Hunt Cup."
Voss was also happy with Welter Weight's performance. "I couldn't be more pleased with my horse. He went very well," said Voss. "He'll definitely go in the Hunt Cup."
The field dwindled to four when Fire Sale fell at the 12th jump. His rider, Michele Rouse, was taken to a hospital for precautionary x-rays on her shoulder and neck area.
Hello Hal, with Billy Meister up, got into contention at this point and dueled Buck Jakes for six fences before Welter Weight stormed from the back.
"I messed up here the last two years," said Moran. "I have not been riding good finishes. I could hear him [Welter Weight] coming, but I've been criticized for looking back so I didn't this time."
The time of 5 minutes, 58 seconds over extremely hard ground was seven seconds off the race record.
Florida Law had never won over the Grand National course. But when Pargale and rider Anne Finney spilled at the 16th fence, Florida Law and jockey Joey Gillet cruised home.
"I think he had that other horse beat, but we'll never know," said Voss.
Grand National, $25,000, abt 3 mi. over timber
Buck Jakes (A. Moran)
Welter Weight (M. Elmore)
Hello Hal (W. Meister)
Time: 5: 58
Benjamin Murray Memorial, $10,000, abt 3 mi. over timber
Florida Law (J. Gillet)
Uncle Uno (I. Naylor)
Mr Gulch (C.J. Meister III)
Time: 6: 02
John Shaw Memorial, abt 2 mi. on the flat
Rank And File (E. Graham)
Light Of Power (E. Hannum)
Ambialden (J. Gillet)
Time: 3: 53
Pub Date: 4/20/97