FAIR HILL -- Two years ago, the talented mare Guelph was being prepared for the $30,000 Valentine Memorial Sport of Queen's Stakes when she suddenly reared and flipped, compromising her chances to capture the only major race that has eluded her.
"She had 16 fractures in her withers I was told later," trainer Tom Voss said. "And she only got beat by a nose."
Yesterday, before a sun-bathed crowd at the 74th annual Fair Hill Races, there was no repeat. Guelph did everything right, dominating throughout the 2 1/4 mile jumping event, and added the Valentine to her resume with a wire-to-wire victory.
It was the second straight win this spring for the daughter of Sky Classic, who ran a similar controlling performance at the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley Memorial in Nashville, Tenn., two weeks earlier.
The 2005 filly-mare and novice champion is 6-for-15 lifetime over hurdles.
"She was picture perfect," said jockey Xavier Aizpuru, the 2007 National Steeplechase Association jockey champion whose four winners on the eight-race program put him in command this year with 13 victories. "When they're this way, they're a pleasure to ride and tough to beat."
The largest one-day audience to view a sporting event in Cecil County, estimated at 12,000, watched Guelph easily fend off seven challengers.
"She jumped very aggressively from the start," Aizpuru said. "That's pretty much the way she runs her best races, out there [in the lead] or right up close. Once she gets there, she gets into a rhythm."
Bred by Voss' wife, Mimi, who also partially owns her, Guelph might be finished for the season, although Voss might bring her back in the fall.
With his victories yesterday, Aizpuru has pulled in front of Jody Petty (currently injured) by four. He had 22 winning rides last year on just 71 mounts. He is also an exercise rider for flat trainer Graham Motion, whose Icabad Crane was third in the Preakness and will try Big Brown again in the Belmont Stakes.
The day had several spills, and the crowd was hushed for a time in the third race when a horse was down on the track after its completion. But after being treated for heat exhaustion, he walked away under his own power.
Two jockeys were involved in a spill in the fifth race and were taken to Union Hospital with possible broken bones, but none of the injuries was life-threatening.