Road Trip

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Road trip. Keeneland Friday. Maryland Hunt Cup Saturday. Middleburg Point-to-Point Sunday. Who’s in? Full tank. Iced coffee, on ice. Pistachios. Clif Bars. Audio books. Suits hanging on the driver side. Extra coats in trunk. Binoculars. Money.

Round trip: 1,152.57 miles. Estimated 18 hours, 42 minutes of travel. What a game, the Elkhorn at Keeneland will take about 2 ½ minutes. The Maryland Hunt Cup, about 9 minutes (at least the winner, with 15 entries, it will take much longer for others). And the maiden hurdle at Middleburg will consume about 4 ½ minutes. So, doing the math, we’ll travel (hopefully my nephew Ryan will be co-pilot) for nearly 19 hours for 16 minutes of action, 1,152 miles of road for 7 ½ miles of track. And I’m excited about the prospects.

Yes, it’s spring, weekends booked until December.

Eagle Poise is set to run in the Dixiana Elkhorn Friday. Number 12 of 14. Whoa. And who says we don’t have distance horses and desires in America? The mile and a half turf feature attracts a seasoned group. My kind of horses – when the entries hit the Internet, I had Stable Mail alerts for nine of the 14. I’ve enquired about Old Time Hockey, Unitarian, Suntracer, I’ve made money on Rapscallion, Tricky Hat and Royal Bench, watched in awe of Tattenham, wishing he would finish fourth and come up for sale and bought Forte Dei Marmi’s brother, just trying to replicate his million dollars in earnings. Eagle Poise has been on my Stable Mail since he was a 3-year-old with Frankel. Fortunately we were able to buy Eagle Poise as a 4-year-old, he’s made us proud over his 11 starts. Want consistency? Good horses are consistent, his Beyer Numbers have ranged from 80 to 93 in those 11 starts.

The Elkhorn goes at 5:13, then we might stay for the Concert on the Lawn featuring Laura Bell Bundy and Sundy Best or get back on the road to tick off a few hours on the second leg.

Up early to get to Glyndon Saturday, taking advantage of the one-race card and its 4 p.m. post time. Imagine riding the Maryland Hunt Cup – 4 miles of fair hunting country, 22 fences that stare back at you like you slapped them in the jaw, 15 entries of varying degrees of ability and then having to wait until 4:00…butterfly jamboree. I haven’t seen the Hunt Cup in person for many years, maybe all the way back to when I had a broken wrist and Paddy Neilson put on a clinic aboard Uncle Merlin in 1989. Can it really be 1989? Can it really be 25 years? I figure I’ll tag along with a Fenwick, a Meister, a Fisher, a Martin or a Davies and figure out where to view the 4-mile classic. If I remember, it requires running.

An eclectic mix of horses and riders converge for this year’s Maryland Hunt Cup. As enthusiasm seems to have waned in other aspects of steeplechasing, the Maryland timber circuit has blossomed. Stalwart Marylanders have injected time, money and effort into the Maryland timber game. The season basically lasts a month out of every year but consumes and defines careers, lives.

This year’s field ranges from 9-year-olds Imperial Way and Embarrassed to 14-year-olds Twill Do and Battle Op. In between are Irish-breds, past winners, runners up, homebreds and blue-bloods. Brands Hatch is a Kentucky-bred son of A.P. Indy, Foyle is a Maryland-bred son of Yarrow Brae, Catch The Echo is a West Virginia-bred by Eastern Echo. Breeders include McMahon of Saratoga, James Karp, Sez Who, Marablue, Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Bowman and Gaines-Gentry. The jockeys range from college students to mothers to a former champion steeplechase jockey to a winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup to a British amateur who saw her horse for the first time this week.

When you call for a report of the Maryland Hunt Cup, the person who was there live rattles off the winner, the second horse, sometimes the third, then stumbles – “Uh, I think he refused at the fifth…he might have gotten to the water…um, Dad, what happened to Billy’s horse…I never saw him…I think he got around…he might still be out there…” And that’s when less than 15 run. You’ll need a stenographer and cartographer for this.

It’s a classic.

Sunday will be more subdued. I’ll take Miles to the races, give his mother a break, he can climb on the rocks at Glenwood Park and we’ll watch Hockey Pop make his hurdle debut. By my favorite sire Empire Maker (Eagle Poise!), the 4-year-old won twice on the flat before making the well-worn emigration from flat trainer Alan Goldberg to jump trainer Jack Fisher.

Then it’ll be Sunday night. Maybe some winners registered, certainly miles logged.

Then it’s back on the road for the Derby sometime next week. Full tank. Iced coffee, on ice, Pistachios. Clif Bars. Audio books. Suits hanging on the driver side…