Private Attack runs away with Maryland Hunt Cup race

Approximately three-quarters of the way through the four-mile Maryland Hunt Cup course Saturday, Private Attack was beginning to lose interest.

No competitors were in sight behind him and a mile of ground and five more fences were to be navigated before the Sportsmans Hall gelding claimed the 115th running of the $75,000 timber classic, a race that has proven elusive and full of disappointment for his connections.

But jockey Blythe Miller-Davies adroitly kept him about his business and Private Attack romped home far ahead in a jumping race for which 14 entered, 10 started and only three finished.

"He wasn't so much tired as bored," said Miller-Davies. "The big fences left he took fine but the little ones he just didn't seem interested. But he responded to my leg and to my contact. This was his third time around here and he really wanted it."

Said trainer Alicia Murphy: "Blythe has a way of speaking to him. Horses are independent animals. Maybe after three miles he was thinking, 'OK, I won. There's nothing more to do.' Sometimes it's harder like this than if someone's pushing them."

It was sweet redemption for the Calhoun family, owners of Sportsmans Hall, and Murphy after two previous Hunt Cup ventures did not blossom for Private Attack.

He "tied up" after winning the Grand National in 2008 and had to scratch. A year later, jockey Bill Santoro misread the jumps heading for the 13th fence before backtracking to take the third, costing the horse valuable ground and they did not finish.

Last year, Private Attack was second at age 11 behind Twill Do.

Private Attack is 3-0 this timber season, winning at Elkridge-Harford point to point and the Grand National before Saturday, and the irony is he was supposed to have another rider.

Mark Beecher had the mount on Private Attack, a former polo pony, but was having visa problems in Ireland, so Murphy texted Miller-Davies, also a trainer who was having trouble getting Vinnie Boy (foot problems) prepared for the season.

Miller-Davies, a former champion rider on the circuit who had quit riding for more than eight and a half years and has given birth twice, "wasn't sure I was fit enough to make a comeback." Obviously, that concern was quickly allayed.

And The Eagle Flys, ridden by veteran Billy Meister, pressed the winner on the lead for about two miles and settled for a distant second. Volle Nolle was third, far back of the runner-up.

With rather soft ground because of the rainy weather and no one to force the pace, the winning time was 9 minutes, 27 3/5 seconds, more than a minute slower than the course record.

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