A19th-century equestrian sport - steeplechase racing - is making waves with the Legacy Chase at Shawan Downs.
The fourth annual event kicks off Saturday at 10 a.m. A ceremony at noon features the Baltimore City Mounted Police and St. Paul's School choir. The Legacy Chase is the third race of the day, beginning at 2:30 p.m.
Nestled in Hunt Valley farmland, Shawan Downs plays host to thoroughbred horses and professional jockeys who compete in six races for purses worth more than $80,000.
This form of horse racing took its name from "chase to the steeple," where riders would jump fences and ditches and other obstacles in the countryside.
The event maintains the jumping that has been the thrill factor for spectators throughout the history of the sport. The racing atmosphere will make for an enjoyable family picnic.
Spectators have the option of watching the race from the rail or several other designated areas along the 1 1/8 -mile oval course.
"You can see virtually all of the race from wherever you are," said Danielle Brewster, the executive director of Shawan Downs. "If you are along the rail side, you can almost reach out and touch [the horses]."
Modeled after an event in Ireland, Shawan Downs' 2004 Legacy Chase includes an old-fashioned country fair, the Legacy Fair. The family event will feature crafts, alpacas, falcons, a nature center and pony rides for children.
Demonstrations and activities include the My Lady's Manor Driving Club, a polo club demonstration, a children's stick pony race, a walking horse demonstration and a therapeutic riding demonstration. Other activities include fly-fishing and an array of gourmet food offerings. The proceeds from the event will benefit GBMC HealthCare.
Before last year's steeplechase, trainer Jack Fisher of Hunt Valley would never have surmised that his horse, Indispensable, would live up to its name.
Fisher was amazed when the horse won, collecting more than $30,000. The event included eight world-class steeplechase races with more than $137,000 in purse money.
"It's always nice to win a race in your own back yard," Fisher said.
More than 13,000 people attended last year's Legacy Chase, and this year Charles Fenwick, a member of the Land Preservation Trust board of directors, said that "This is the biggest year."
"This is a celebration of the land and the horse," said Fenwick, who has been involved with Shawan Downs since its inception.
The project began in the summer of 1997 after the purchase of 300 acres by the Land Preservation Trust. "It is maturing and evolving as we go forward," Fenwick said.
The 2004 Legacy Chase at Shawan Downs will take place on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Shawan Downs Racecourse is at 1401 Shawan Road in Hunt Valley. The first race begins at 1 p.m. Individual tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the gate. Call 410-666-3676 or visit www.shawandowns.org.