According to Robert Donegan, an oncologist in the Berman Cancer Institute at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, the theme for the Legacy Chase at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville on Saturday — "Hats, Horses and Hope" — fits perfectly with the 17th annual event's goal of raising funds for cancer research while celebrating those who are fighting or have survived the disease.
Donegan, the event's Physician Chair, said the reference to hats works on several fronts.
"This is a fitting tribute to cancer patients and their loved ones," he said. "There is the long tradition of wearing stylish and fun hats to the races. And when people are undergoing cancer therapy, they sometimes lose their hair and wear hats. So this is a chance to tip our hats, to honor and acknowledge cancer survivors."
He said the horses and hope part of the theme also fits.
"Living with cancer can sometimes seem like a horse race," Donegan said. "Sometimes there are jumps, sometimes stumbles and, hopefully, victories. These strong and resilient horses are a fitting symbol of those cancer survivors who run their own personal races. There is always hope. It is what sustains us."
He said the money raised will benefit the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute at GBMC in Towson.
"We are most grateful for the generosity of the Baltimore community," Donegan said. "Funds go toward enhancing the patient experience by supporting counseling, survivorship programs, cancer screening, transportation and many other expenses of care."
Shawan Downs was saved from development by the nonprofit Land Preservation Trust in 1997, helping it become a top-flight equestrian center.
Shortly thereafter, the Legacy Chase has annually attracted thousands of fans to the 300-acre tract of rolling hills of former farmland just off Shawan Road while giving racegoers a fall event to enjoy.
The local spring series, which includes the Elkridge-Harford, My Lady's Manor and Grand National races, culminates with the historic Maryland Hunt Cup on the final Saturday of April.
This year's Legacy Chase card includes eight races, with gates opening at 10 a.m. and the opening ceremony set for noon.
The first race will be at 1 p.m. and gates close at 6 p.m.
Tickets range in price from $35 to $1,500 and can be purchased at legacychase.org or at the site Saturday.
In addition to races, the Legacy Chase boasts railside tailgating, live music, food concessions and other activities.
The field boasts 82 entrants. The first four races are 2-mile hurdle races with $25,000 purses for each race before three 3 1/8-mile timber races over post-and-rail fences.
Hurdle races feature 11 jumps while timber horses must clear 17 less-forgiving fences.
In the main event, the Brown Advisory Legacy Chase, Ebanour, a 10-year-old gelding trained by Irv Naylor, will compete against fellow favorites Cornhusker and Straight to It in the $25,000 race.
Ebanour showed his mettle by winning the prestigious $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup last spring and Cornhusker did the same at the Middleburg Hunt Cup.
Straight to It, the 2016 Radnor Hunt Cup champion, finished third in last year's Legacy Chase.
The card will conclude with a 1 3/8-mile flat race with 14 horses running for no purse.
"GBMC is expecting a record crowd this year, and that makes you feel good" Legacy Chase spokesman Charlie Fenwick said. "It's an important event for GBMC oncology."