It’s been seven long years since William Meister has stepped into the winner’s circle for the open timber feature at the Howard County-Iron Bridge Race Meet, and this year was particularly sweet for him.
Meister piloted Crystal Springs Farm’s Sky And Sea to a decisive win on March 26 in Glenelg, Md. The Maryland jockey had not wanted to put the 11-year-old chestnut out in front, but the lack of pace in the four-horse race determined it.
When last year’s winner, Northern Thinking, bounced Brian Korrell out of the tack abut halfway through the three miles, jockeys Remy Winants (Neruda) and Charlie Fenwick III (Ballyvalogue) contended with the loose horse for a few fences.
By the last fence, Meister knew he had the win over Fenwick and third-placed Winants, and that an expensive surgery had been worth it. “He ran in the little Grand National last year and jumped like a stag, but he couldn’t breathe,” said Meister, who bought the horse from Anne Stewart in January of 2004.
Now it looks like Sky And Sea is bound for the big timber races. “I would like to do the little Grand National again and maybe the Maryland Hunt Cup,” Meister said. “I think he can go the distance now. I wasn’t expecting to be in front. He jumped brilliantly; he didn’t make any mistakes but I made a couple.”
Second-placed Fenwick finished up his day by taking the two-mile open flat race on Pleasant Prospect Farm’s Yokazona by 10 lengths over Robin Graham and Wooden Stone.
Trainer Alicia Murphy had a good day too, but the win in a flat race was her favorite. Murphy is very happy to be the official rescuer of 6-year-old Sugar Hall, who showed he likes his new job when he won in the first division of the two-mile flat race.
Last October, Murphy heard from another trainer that there was a big, strapping jumping prospect at the track who was destined to be sold at a kill sale. She immediately called up owner Michael Wharton.
“I knew the guy wanted about $800 for him and I could get him down to $600,” Murphy said. “He is a lovely horse. He didn’t have any tendon problems; he was just run out, he was so body sore. Sugar Hall had run 70 races but only won one. The poor guy was totally milked for all he was worth.”
Murphy started working with the horse as soon as she got him. “It was really relaxed,” Murphy said. “He is so nervous. We are going really slow. We jumped him over hurdles last week, and he got really riled up so he is going to run on the flat some more. I really like him and think he has potential.”
Murphy’s day also included a win in the novice timber with Sportsman Hall’s Private Attack. This was a confidence builder for both horse and jockey Paddy Young, who is coming back from a horrendous injury after falling off in Camden (S.C.) last fall.
When he fell, Young said his knee hit the ground, drove his hip out and broke his pelvis. “I was very lucky that it didn’t move or require surgery,” said Young, who required painful physical therapy.
Young let his front runner pick his own way to the lead and sustained it to the wire, just holding off Winants on Class Crimson.
“[Murphy] told me to find as you find it and said he was pretty fit,” Young said. “He quickened up pretty well. I think he could go forever. I had a hard time pulling him up.”
“He is a delightful horse,” Murphy said. “He has never been asked to really run. Always been as genuine as they come, but he never raced on the flat so he has really never known competition.”
Joe G. Davies first won the one-mile open flat in 1987, then riding as Joe Gillet. He has won the race four times since then, and this year’s win came on the 7-year-old stallion Ballet Critic for owner Evelyn Pollard and Bernie Houghton.
Davies had to win this one for the trainer. “I lost a race years ago, and he was really mad,” Davies said. “I told myself if there was one thing I would do before I retire is win one for him.”