The racing season hasn't exactly gotten off to a rousing start for the two-time defending champion in the National Steeplechase Association trainer standings.
In the first major timber event of the spring last weekend at My Lady's Manor, Jack Fisher-trained Sham Aciss had a comfortable lead approaching the next-to-last fence when he failed to make the jump, and Pleasant Parcel raced by to win easily.
Fisher's bad fortune continued in the "little race" that followed when Plenty of Sweets also fell midway through the run while still competitive, sending rider Ellen Horner to the hospital.
"She's OK," Fisher said of Horner. "She cracked a bone in her back. But I wanted to stomp that other rider [Paddy Young on Sham Aciss]."
The Maryland-based Fisher will attempt to make up some ground today when he sends Charlie's Dewan to the post to face eight rivals in the 103rd annual Grand National Steeplechase at Butler, the second date on the state's big three timber calendar.
The field includes two former Maryland Hunt Cup champions, Swayo and Bug River. The latter prevailed in the Hunt Cup last year after taking the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, the secondary feature on the Grand National card, a week earlier.
No youngsters will be attempting the 3 1/4 -mile Grand National test. Every gelding entered is at least 10 years old and familiar to the local steeplechase set.
"Bug River is the one to beat," Fisher said. "But it's a pretty good race. Dr. Ramsey won the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup last year; Gordon Elliott, one of England's leading amateur riders, is coming to ride [on Rosbrian], and my horse has run well on this course before running into the wall. He's a little old, but they all are."
Coal Dust, conditioned by Tom Voss and a relative youngster at age 6, is considered the favorite in the Murray.
Sanna Hendriks of the Strawbridge family-owned Augustin Stable won twice at My Lady's Manor and is off to the early lead in the trainers' race.
"She's killing me," Fisher said. "This hasn't been a stellar spring so far for me, but that's the way it is - up and down. You can't worry about it. You just keep going."
Hendricks has Brankman, the elder statesman of the feature field at 15, cross-entered in the $30,000 Grand National and the foxhunters' chase, the concluding event on the three-race program.
At a glance
What: Grand National, two other timber races
Feature: $30,000 Grand National
Post time: 3:15 p.m. today; gates open 11:30 a.m.
Where: Butler Road, Butler
Directions: From Beltway, take Falls Road north approximately 12 miles. Turn left on Butler Road and go about a mile.
Tickets: General parking, $20, available on race day
Beneficiary: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Grand National entries
Post time 3:15 p.m.
$30,000, The Grand National, stk, amateur riders, 3 1/4 mi over timber
Bug River 165 Dr. Ramsey 165 Charlie's Dewan 165 a-Lil Starvin Marvin 165 Brankman 165 Bruno Castelli 165 Swayo 165 Rosbrian 165 a-Classic Cal 165
a-William Meister-trained entry
$15,000, The Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, alc, amateur riders, 3 1/4 mi over timber
a-Sky And Sea 162 a-Lil Starvin Marvin 162 Coal Dust 162 Make Your Own 162 Tale Teller 162 a-Classic Cal 162 Northern Thinking 170
a-William Meister-trained entry
$7,500, The Western Plate Run, foxhunters chase, amateur riders, 3 mi over timber
Make Your Own 180 Hot It Up 180 Young Dubliner 180 Ivorgorian 180 Brankman 180