When Private Attack and Blythe Miller Davies secured the Grand National timber feature by a neck, it wasn’t the first win in Butler, Md., for either one of them. Private Attack, owned by Sports-mans Hall, took the title in 2008, but for Davies, it’s been 20 years since her last victory there.
A two-time champion jockey in the 1990s, Davies has been retired for nine years and now rides as an amateur. But she helped to make it ladies’ day on April 23, as she, along with three female trainers and another lady rider, dominated the card.
Private Attack practically wired the $30,000 stakes feature. Drenching rains the day before the 109-year-old race narrowed the field from 10 to a hearty seven. The scratched horses included last year’s runaway winner Across The Sky, who was excluded by the stewards when his ankle didn’t pass the veterinary flexion test.
Private Attack, a 12-year-old son of Private Interview, took command of the race for trainer Alicia Murphy, only relinquishing it for a short time to Gum Tree Stable’s Uppercut (John Hannum III) after they bobbled fence 8 of 18.
Private Attack regained the lead after the second-to-last fence, and Davies gave him his head up the long hill toward the stretch. That’s when Robert Kinsley’s Incomplete (Charlie Fenwick III) made his appearance. The two horses jumped the last together, but Private Attack landed better. Incomplete dug in for the long gallop to the wire, but in the end, Private Attack’s neck was slightly longer.
Murphy wasn’t thinking her horse would win, although, in addition to his win in 2008, he placed second here in 2009 and 2010.
“We figured Across The Sky would do what he does, and if he came back to us I told Blythe to give it a shot but not to kill him trying to get there,” Murphy said.
“When Across The Sky was scratched I knew Incomplete would be there instead. I wasn’t expecting such a determined stretch run from Private, but I’m not complaining.”
She added, “What’s great about Private is he never really seems to care what the other horses are doing. He and Blythe have great communication. They worked well as a team.”
Although Davies was a professional for most of her riding career, now with 203 wins to her name, in her early years she galloped around the amateur courses and even won the 1991 Grand National on Old Home Farm’s Cabral.
The 42-year-old mother of two was thrilled by Private Attack’s performance. “He’s so responsive,” Davies said. “I heard Incomplete coming at me and could see those yellow silks. That’s a nice horse. I knew I had to get the last or we were toast. It’s all about the jumping, and Private was fantastic.”
Davies admitted fence 8 was not pretty. “I’m not sure what happened, but we somehow got over it,” she said.
Murphy is pointing Private Attack to the Maryland Hunt Cup, where he placed second in 2010.
The feature did include some mishap, starting when Lucy Goelet’s Twill Do and rider Erica Gaertner parted ways at fence 8, one of the largest on the course at over 4'6".
Twill Do galloped off, running along the fence lines until turning suddenly to rejoin the field and colliding with a jumping Armata Stable’s Haddix (Mark Beecher). The horrific crash sent both horses and Beecher into the turf. All three eventually got up and walked away.
According to his Maryland trainer Billy Meister, Twill Do, the 2010 Mary-land Hunt Cup winner, sustained two broken ribs.
“He’s lucky considering the speed of the crash,” said Meister. “He’s not really a fall season horse so most likely we’ll kick him out for the year and try again next spring.”
Haddix’s trainer Kathy McKenna was horrified when she saw the two horses hit so hard. “I think Twill Do kind of cushioned Haddix’s fall,” she said. “Mark never saw the other horse until it was too late. Haddix really struggled to get up, and I saw him flailing on the ground. I thought the worst, but it turns out he just had his reins caught in his legs.”
But now, she said, the 9-year-old grandson of Dynaformer looks just fine. “He’s such a tough son-of-a-gun,” she said. “I’ve had three different vets check him out, and they couldn’t find anything. Today he had his tail up over his back galloping around so I think if he still looks this good we will run him back at the Hunt Cup.”
Pretty In Pink
Only a handful of mares have forayed into the realm of timber racing, but those few have been extraordinary.
One little gray mare—Pink Ribbon Racing’s Won Wild Bird—made some history in the $15,000 amateur allow-ance timber. She and Kristin Fischer bested a choice field of 10 and avoided several mishaps to win by more than
Not since Nancy Hannum’s Our Ivory Tower won the race in 1971 has a mare graced the winner’s circle in this event. Our Ivory Tower also won the Grand National feature in 1972 and was the dam of Our Steeplejack, who won this race (and the Maryland Hunt Cup) in 1985.
The only other mare to do so well in the timber realm in recent years was Audrey Riker’s Perfect Cast, who won
the Fair Hill (Md.) maiden timber in 1973 and the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 1974. In addition, Perfect Cast placed second and third in the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1977 and 1979 respectively.
Although she’s been racing over timber since 2007, this was Won Wild Bird’s first sanctioned timber win. Bred by the late Bruce Haynes, Won Wild Bird is the half sister of champion hurdler and moneymaker Rowdy Irishman ($644,528 career earnings) and was a favorite of the trainer. She’s started 45 times and always seems to pick up a check.
“She’s a wonderful jumper and tries so hard,” said trainer Regina Welsh.
This was Fischer’s first sanctioned win too. The 24-year-old rider has been working for Maryland trainer Tom
Voss and at the flat track for about seven years. This is her first year steeplechasing.
“She was so wonderful,” Fischer said. “She got caught in traffic a couple of times and really got bumped around, but she never quit once. I still had plenty of horse in the stretch.”
As a mare, Won Wild Bird did get a cut in the weights. She carried only 154 pounds (compared to 162-170), and if she runs in the Maryland Hunt Cup she will only have to carry 157 pounds compared to the 165 pounds the geldings haul.
Like the feature, the allowance timber had a couple of spectacular falls. Sports-mans Hall’s Take Harry fell at fence 8 with Beecher, although both horse and rider were unhurt.
The second mishap happened when Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Professor Max-well fell with Gus Brown at fence 16. While the horse was unhurt, Brown suffered a hyper-extended left knee that damaged his ACL and will require surgery in May.
Brown, who works as a realtor, was hoping to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup again and believes the horse could win it.
“Even though he fell over the smallest fence in the field, I still think he’s a Maryland Hunt Cup kind of horse,” he said. “There’s a saying, ‘Never jump a downed panel,’ and in a split-second decision I tried to jump it. I don’t think he ever saw the fence or respected it because it was so small.”
Brown added, “It’s fitting, last year I had a broken collarbone for my birthday, now I have a banged-up knee.”
About a month ago, Maryland trainer Tara Elmore was wondering if Rosbrian Farm’s Like A Bee was even going to have a spring season.
The 13-year-old Irish-bred son of Montelimar had sliced an artery in his leg, effectively taking him out of training, but you wouldn’t know by his win in the $7,500 highweight amateur timber.
Up against veteran mudder Lucy Stable’s Justpourit (George Hundt, Jr.), Like A Bee (Beecher) jumped the last and ran with authority to win by almost a length.
Beecher was pleased to finally finish a race on the day, let alone win it. “I was thinking I might need to pack up my bag and head back,” Beecher said of his two previous falls. “I know this horse from home. He’s really nice and has won most of his starts here, but my horse had the biggest heart today.”
Elmore was all smiles. “I almost scratched him half a dozen times,” she said. “I just didn’t know if he was ready. This was his first race of the season. We’re more than a month behind in training. I have no idea where we’re headed next.”