When Coal Dust was a youngster of 3, flat trainer Jimmy Murphy recommended that he be shifted to jumping, an unusual suggestion for a horse of that age. He even thought the horse could someday win the Maryland Hunt Cup.
"Jimmy rode jumpers, so he knows what they look like," said Thomas Voss, who accepted his friend's view and converted Coal Dust into a steeplechaser. "On the flat, the horse was just a big, old rambling thing, and Jimmy thought he could be a pretty good timber horse. He did me a favor."
The prediction of a Hunt Cup victory has not yet materialized. Coal Dust, now a 9-year-old gelding, lost his rider at the 13th fence in that race last year and did not finish. But he is likely to return to Glyndon next week after prepping today in the 106th running of the Grand National at Butler.
Voss has him cross-entered in both the $35,000 feature and the co-feature, the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, but said, "He is probably going to run in the big race."
Seven others are entered, including defending champion Bubble Economy, who finished third in the My Lady's Manor steeplechase last week. Trainer Jack Fisher has named himself to ride, but that is often a smoke screen he uses to conceal the identity of the actual rider until race day.
The field also includes the 2006 Grand National winner, Askim, who did not race last season. Charles Fenwick III will be aboard the 12-year-old owned by Irv Naylor.
The string of Voss, a consistent challenger for the National Steeplechase Association training title, normally starts moderately, then finishes with a flourish on the late summer and fall schedule. In the early going, he is tied for third in victories (2) and is fifth in money won.
"I don't remember how many times I've won the title," said Voss, who hunted Coal Dust all winter and prepped him at the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Point-to-Point. "All I know is Bubble Economy can be beaten. My horse is in great shape."
Thirty-six entries dot the three-race card, although the final race will experience some scratches among its 15 because it is limited to 12 starters.
IF YOU GO
Post time: 3:15 p.m.
Where: Butler. From Baltimore, take Falls Road north from the Beltway to Butler about 12 miles and make a left on Butler Road, or take Interstate 83 north to west on Shawan Road, right on Falls Road, and left on Butler Road.
Parking: Available for $20 at Butler Store or The Filling Station on corner of Falls and Shawan roads.
Beneficiary: Cystic fibrosis