In early April every year, Marylanders leave steeplechase meets with one simple question. Did we see the Hunt Cup winner today?
Nobody knows for sure, until late afternoon on the last Saturday of the month, but they can be confident they saw good timber racing. Saturday was no different, as the My Lady's Manor timber stakes went postward for the 103rd time in Monkton. Six runners lined up for the $30,000 race, run over a meandering course in Elkridge-Harford hunt country that tests speed with its 3-mile distance and stamina with his steady climb from the start to the finish.
Bon Caddo, third in last year's Hunt Cup was there. So was Grinding Speed, whose six lifetime timber starts (all last year) ended with wins and seconds. Straight To It, a recent hurdle convert and a son of Giant's Causeway, brought speed to the equation for leading trainer Jack Fisher.
Longshot Moonsox, and 22-year-old rookie jockey Lia McGuirk, upset them all. Racing for Nelson and Traveller Stable, the 7-year-old son of Mojave Moon and grandson of Preakness winner Deputed Testamony caught Bon Caddo and Straight To It coming to the last and pulled away late. Grinding Speed fell while leading at the second-last. Straight To It stayed for second with Bon Caddo third. The victory was one for the locals McGuirk, trainer Kevin Boniface and even Moonsox all hail from Harford County. It was McGuirk's first riding victory, in her first real try (she and Moonsox had a point-to-point spin as a prep) and confirmed the promise shown by Moonsox in several timber starts. He won a maiden race at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 2011, but was winless in four tries last year (with a second in the New Jersey Hunt Cup).
Thinking ahead, Bon Caddo will move on to the Maryland Hunt Cup. He was third last year, should benefit from the experience and just got the perfect tightener. Straight To It could move on to the Virginia Gold Cup and be tough. Moonsox has never tried either, so the options are there.
As for McGuirk, whose family runs the Olney Farm eventing, boarding and pony farm in Joppa, Md., she'll settle for letting the Manor victory sink in for a bit.
"One thing at a time," she said with a smile while turning down a pick-up ride in the next race. "I never thought I'd win this race, I never thought about riding it really. Knowing (Moonsox) makes all the difference. I've been riding him since last year at the farm. I've ridden lots of racehorses and I've evented so I know the parts (of jump racing). What a feeling. There were very nice horses in there and I'm the new kid and he's kind of the new kid still too."
- In other action at the Manor, Kinross Farm's Old Timer (Diana Gillam) won a maiden timber for trainer Neil Morris - taking his career to a third stage. He won on the flat on Preakness Day 2009, won over hurdles last April and won over timber Saturday. Alfa Beat finished second with Spencer Road third. The winner is by former sprinter Orientate, but handled 3 miles with ease Saturday.
Another maiden timber went to Irish import Ebanour, who scored for Irv Naylor, Brianne Slater and James Slater. The 6-year-old son of Indian Ridge held off Raven's Choice and Lead Us Not. Ebanour was bought to be a novice hurdle horse last fall, got outrun in two tries but converted easily to timber late in the year.
In the finale, Irish-bred Snow Blizzard (Nick Carter) scored for trainer Nancy Knox and Equinox Stable. The son of Sadler's Wells led for much of the way, turning back Prospectors Strike and Woodmont late in the $7,500 allowance timber for amateur jockeys.