Timber star Buck Jakes dies at 24

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Two-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner Buck Jakes – whose racing career included victories on the flat, over hurdles and over timber – was put down Wednesday after a bout with colic. The gray son of Turkoman was 24 and had been a foxhunter and much-loved retiree in Maryland since his racing career ended in 2000.

“You don’t have a clue how much they mean until they end up going away,” said Charlie Fenwick Jr., who trained the Kentucky-bred and cared for him in retirement. “He had been part of the family for 20 years. His racing career was a wonderful time and it was the same way after he retired. He always sort of stood out. If he was out in the field, you saw Jake first. He had a way of carrying his head, he was special.”

Buck Jakes won 18 of his 77 lifetime starts. The first came at Arlington Park in 1990 and he broke his maiden at Keeneland that fall. Three subsequent flat victories came through 1992, when he was sold as a steeplechase prospect. Racing for the Arcadia Stable partnership of Andre Brewster, Skip Cochran and Ike Iglehart, Buck Jakes won twice over hurdles but hinted at timber potential.

“He wasn’t fast enough to win a 2-mile hurdle race and jump well,” Fenwick said. “When you slowed it down, his jumping became bulletproof and he became braver and more courageous.”

Over the longer distances and more demanding fences, he thrived – winning his first two in 1993 and adding two stakes the next season.

Fenwick aimed high and headed for the storied Hunt Cup in 1995. Buck Jakes, with Anne Moran aboard, not only won but set a course record in edging Florida Law by a nose in one of the historic race’s great stretch battles. Buck Jakes added the International Gold Cup and Pennsylvania Hunt Cup that fall – handing eventual timber champion Saluter his only defeat of the year in the former.

Buck Jakes added another Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 1996, which led to a 1997 campaign that included just two American starts – wins in the Maryland Grand National and Maryland Hunt Cup. Buck Jakes went to England with hopes on an attempt at the fabled Grand National at Aintree, a la Fenwick’s former charge Ben Nevis II (who used American success as a springboard to an upset score, and worldwide acclaim, in the 1980 race). It wasn’t meant to be as Buck Jakes did not adapt to English racing, never beating a horse in four tries over chase fences in 1997 and 1998. He returned to win a third Maryland Grand National in April 1998, but lost his final 10 starts. Retired in 2000, he left racing with $321,318 in career earnings – more than $258,000 of it over fences.

“We took him to England and it didn’t work,” Fenwick said. “He got ulcers there and I don’t know if he didn’t like the feed or wasn’t comfortable with something but didn’t like any part of it over there. He would have loved the Aintree course though. I think you would have seen even more of that courage and bravery if he got there the way he needed to.”

Buck Jakes was ridden regularly up until the last six months of his life, by Fenwick, his wife Sherry, his children Charlie III, Beth and Emily and others in the hunting field or simply on the farm. Teenager Connor Hankin (born after Buck Jakes started racing) even used the old gray horse to get a feel for steeplechase racing.

“When you’re active for as long as he was, as a racehorse and in retirement, you cross a lot of paths,” said Fenwick. “Jake had a lot of friends. People fell in love with the horse.”