The forecast for today's 105th annual Grand National Steeplechase in Butler is considerably brighter than last year's.
The rain that fell on last year's race is not on the radar. The Maryland Amateur Timber Association, with a sponsorship from Union Memorial Hospital, has spiced the proceedings with a $30,000 bonus to the owner if a horse wins both today's Grand National and next Saturday's Maryland Hunt Cup.
"The goal is to link the Grand National and Hunt Cup," said Peter Fenwick, secretary to Maryland Steeplechasing.
Added to a $35,000 purse for the Grand National's 3 1/4 miles and 18 jumps, the bonus is one more variable to consider.
Bug River, a 14-year-old who won the 2004 and 2006 Hunt Cup, was runner-up in the 2005 Grand National. Regina Welsh, his trainer at nearby Northwoods Stable, isn't letting the bonus cloud her vision.
"It's definitely an incentive for some, but not so much this horse," said Welsh, who will decide this morning whether to run Bug River in the Grand National. "His goal is to go in the Hunt Cup, and I don't want to hinder that. I'd like him to have his best shot to repeat in the Hunt Cup."
Jockey Blair Wyatt is back on Bug River, after she and the horse took a spill in the 2006 Green Spring Valley Hunt Cup. In her absence, Chris Gracie was on Bug River at last year's Hunt Cup.
Trainer Jack Fisher and jockey Diana Gillam are out to extend a solid spring with Bubble Economy, who won the Green Spring Valley Hunt Cup on March 31 and was second to Fappa Fire in last Saturday's My Lady's Manor.
With Askim unable to defend his 2006 Grand National title because of what trainer Ann Stewart described as a minor injury, owner Irv Naylor will take his chances with Patriot's Path. Naylor had the winner last year in both the Grand National and the Benjamin H. Murphy Memorial, the second race on today's card, which has a $15,000 purse.
Make Your Own, Coal Dust and A Fine Story are all cross-entered in the Grand National and Murray Memorial, which will be followed by the $5,000 Western Run Plate.
Make Your Own, the fourth and final finisher in last year's Grand National, will be ridden by Charles Fenwick III, who rode two winners on last year's card, Askim and Secret Impression in the Western Run Plate.
Welsh spoke Thursday, while en route to Lexington, Ky., for yesterday's steeplechase events at Keeneland. Fisher and Tom Voss, who trains Coal Dust, also train entries that were scheduled to run at Keeneland yesterday.
What / / Grand National races
When / / Today, first post 3:15 p.m.
Where / / Butler Road, Butler
Directions / / From Beltway, take Exit 23 north, Falls Road. Go approximately 10 miles to Butler Road and turn left. Go approximately half-mile to course.
Tickets / / $20, available at Butler store and gas station at corner of Falls and Shawan roads.