It was strictly sibling revelry at the 111th running of the Maryland Hunt Cup yesterday in Glyndon.
In his first trip around the demanding four-mile course, Stewart Strawbridge impressively guided The Bruce to a three-length victory for the trainer, half-sister Sanna Hendriks, who was so thrilled she fumbled the trophy on the winner's stand after the race.
Owned by Strawbridge and bred in New Zealand, The Bruce basically accomplished the chore by running on the front end, several times turning back challengers and finishing strongly to beat defending champion Bug River and Lear Charm, who wound up in a dead heat for second.
"This is a hell of a thrill for my first time," said Strawbridge, whose family has a winning history in the race. "I kind of just thought I'd break him out [to the lead] and see what happened. He showed me he was brave and we ended up first."
The Bruce didn't exactly sneak up on the competition. He was a respectable fourth a week earlier at the Grand National won by Bubble Economy, who was one of three scratches for the Hunt Cup.
"He had a pretty good run," Hendriks said of the Grand National. "He jumped really well and Stewart was easy on him, so we thought he'd do well this week. But you never really know if they can do it or not here."
For the first three miles and 16 fences, The Bruce pretty much commanded the race, quickly regaining the lead after Ivorgorian took over briefly.
Then, Bug River -- who was vying to become only the ninth three-time winner of the Hunt Cup -- showed that the cool weather and soft ground were much more to his liking than last week when he was pulled up in the heat and humidity at the Grand National.
The son of Polish Numbers made his move under Blair Wyatt, momentarily gaining the lead when he out-jumped The Bruce at the 19th and 20th. But he couldn't put him away, and it was Strawbridge who had the stronger steed down the stretch.
"I just kept on jumping," Strawbridge said. "I think he was glad to have a little company."
"Bug River hadn't hit his form this year, but we thought he'd probably run his race when he got here," added Hendriks, who claimed the 10-year-old gelding in 2004 and has had mixed results from him since. An injury sidelined The Bruce last year, but he has been very competitive in 2007.
The time of 9:36 4/5 was more than a minute and 11 seconds slower than the course record set by Young Dubliner five years ago. Rain on Friday had softened the course and the going underfoot was relatively thick.
Three horses failed to finish, including Rosbrian, the runner-up a year ago, but all the riders and their mounts walked off OK.
"He really dug in," said Hendriks, who won the Hunt Cup as a jockey in 1991 and 1993. "This horse has a lot of try in him. I think when he got some company, it helped a lot. He got a little braver."
Maryland Hunt Cup
$75,000, timber, stakes, 4 mi.
1. The Bruce (S. Strawbridge) *2. Bug River (B. Wyatt) *2. Lear Charm (B. Curry)
Time: 9:36 4/5. Scratched: Make Your Own, Bubble Economy, A Fine Story. *-dead heat