Fresh off a win at the International Gold Cup in Virginia in late October, Grinding Speed lived up to his name — and budding reputation — to claim a come-from-behind victory in the 105th running of the $30,000 My Lady's Manor Steeplechase Saturday in Monkton.
With Mark Beecher aboard, the pre-race favorite bided his time while waiting for early leader Tax Ruling to fade.
When Tax Ruling did finally slow down, Beecher and Grinding Speed made their move to finish more than a length ahead of runner-up Senior Senator.
Described as "Ginsu sharp" by an expert's selection in the program, Grinding Speed found a perfect alley to bolt to the finish line in 6 minutes, 21 seconds over the three-mile, 16-jump course on the Ladew Topiary Gardens grounds in front of what officials estimated to be 8,000 fans.
Senior Senator jockey Eric Poretz said he didn't think he could catch Grinding Speed.
"Mark's a very good rider, and he has the best horse in the country," Poretz said. "We were coming, but it was too late."
Beecher, 29, a native of County Waterford, Ireland, felt that he had time and room to get the job done.
"[Grinding Speed] had a good turn of the foot, and I was happy where I was," he said. "I was in a perfect space. It's hard to have that kind of gallop [Tax Ruling had in taking the lead] and not come back to the pack a little."
Grinding Speed will now forgo the remaining Maryland races, next week's Grand National and the Maryland Hunt Cup on April 25, to compete in the Virginia Gold Cup on May 3.
Beecher wasn't the only rider who enjoyed a banner day in the first of Maryland's Steeplechase Triple Crown, considering that 21-year-old Connor Hankin swept both divisions of the John Rush Streett Memorial Steeplechase.
The Gilman graduate and third-year University of Virginia student rallied on Two's Company to take the First Division race and then followed that up by piloting Ballylifen to win the Second Division.
Because Beecher was a heavy favorite in the First Division race and took the lead from the start, it was difficult to see how Hankin could prevail.
In the Second Division, Hankin pulled off another rally to skip past Dax.
"I had two inexperienced timber horses really jumping well," said Butler resident Hankin, who had only four wins prior to Saturday. "But they figured it out during the race. [Trainer] Jack Fisher and I do a lot of work with them during the week, so we knew them well. This was a complete reflection of the trainer."
Popular jockey Bethany Baumgardner captured her first sanctioned race aboard Snow Blizzard in the John D. Schapiro Memorial Steeplechase, the final race of the day, by holding off Amelia McGuirk on Ebanour in a photo finish.
"He sat behind and was patient," Baumgardner said. "We were going great and he settled in. In the end we heard her coming, but I felt if we held her off for just a few more steps, we could win."
With a brisk breeze whipping through the many tents lining the finish line, light coats were a popular choice for many in a crowd that turned out in spring finery.
Su Worrall, who said she has been attending the race almost as long as she can remember, was one of several listeners tapping their toes to the smooth harmonies of the Mayo Family Band between the second and third races.
"It's a tossup for me between this and the Hunt Cup which one I like the most," said Worrall, 78, who was in the first graduating class at Hereford High and now lives in Fawn Grove, Pa. "I've been riding since my dad gave me my first horse when I was 10."
Butler resident Nancy Ringgold said My Lady's Manor has a different feel to it than the other Triple Crown events.
"It's the only one on this [east] side of I-83," she said. "And it has a greater variety of people — more locals. It's a nice course to watch, because you don't have to move around much to see a lot of the race."
My Lady's Manor Results:
$30,000 My Lady's Manor Steeplechase-1.) Grinding Speed 2.) Senior Senator 3.) Tax Ruling - Time 6:21
$15,000 John Rush Streett Memorial (First Division)-1.) Two's Company 2.) Le Chevalier 3.) Lea Von - Time 6:31.4
$15,000 John Rush Streett Memorial (Second Division)-1.) Ballylifen 2.) Dax 3.) Prime Prospector - Time 6:22.2
$10,000 John D. Schapiro Memorial 1.) Snow Blizzard 2.) Ebanour 3.) More Fascination - Time 6:36.1