Whipping winds and Easter festivities depressed the turnout but not the spirit of those who climbed the hill in Davidsonville yesterday for the Marlborough Hunt Races at Roedown.
Officially, the spectators had come to see the likes of Never Fear and Jamaica Me Laugh thunder toward the finish line after racing around the grassy course set up for the competition, now in its 33rd year.
Unofficially, they came for the sangrias and Bloody Marys, the deer chili and deviled eggs - and, most importantly, for fellowship with family and friends.
Also, perhaps, for the occasional bet.
"We get up here and start running our mouths and greeting people that come by - and the next thing you know, oh, there's a race," said Norma Coffren of Calvert County, as she explained what was likely the experience of many race regulars.
Coffren said her family has been part of the hunt club for years. "We have a lot of memories here."
For equestrians and general enthusiasts, the race is a hallmark of spring, and carries on a country tradition of steeplechasing that dates to 18th-century Ireland.
The Easter Sunday race date this year seemed to both bedevil and inspire the event.
Turnout was lower, about 3,500, said Christy Clagett, co-chairwoman of the Marlborough Hunt Races.
Yet the holiday also spurred the creativity of many, with hats and tailgates teeming with pastels.
Elaine Crain of Annapolis was determined to add to her own memories of about a decade of races, despite the absence of friends who went out of town for the holiday.
"We're diehards. We told our families, 'Next week we'll see you for dinner,'" Crain said.
Although her tailgate was smaller, Crain still donned a straw hat and manned a table at the usual parking spot, serving glasses of wine and white foam cups of vegetable crab soup to fortify her party against the cold.
Despite gray skies overhead, Christine Hannah of Caroline County said she looked forward to the day's activities.
After turning down Crain's previous invitations because her children were too young, she and her family made it to Davidsonville for the first time, she said.
"We're here for the friends and the races and the cold snacks," said Hannah, who wore a red cap and black gloves.
Dan and Shannon Eubanks had what friends called "the hottest party on the hill," with tall patio heaters and a tiki bar from the couple's nearby home.
The couple had at least 100 people join them last year, Shannon Eubanks said, but about a third of the regular group was present when the first race began at noon.
"We would be coming no matter what," said Eubanks, whose mother-in-law is a trainer with horses running at Marlborough. "We're big into the horses. ... It's all about having fun."
Ten races were scheduled, plus a race for children and another for hounds, said Rodney Calver, member of the executive race committee.
The Easter Bunny also showed up, handing out candy to children who coaxed painted eggs down a course with a plastic spoon in an Easter egg roll.
Jane McDermott's family chose to forgo their typical Easter Sunday dinner to see the races, said McDermott, who sported a straw hat adorned with Peeps and small plastic eggs.
Even their table decor had a holiday touch. Called "The Peeple Chase," the display featured a small racecourse with miniature rabbits riding the brightly colored, marshmallowy birds that usually fly off store shelves during the Easter season.
In honor of Passover, they also had chocolate-covered matzo.
McDermott and her party won "Best Beverage," for their frozen bourbon slushes, in the tailgate competition.
The cold weather and smaller crowds might have made the 2007 races different for some, but Coffren noted what remained the same.
"It's just party hill," she said. "Everybody's having a good time."