by Peter Winants
Maryland is home to one of the most prestigious and challenging steeplechase races in the world, the Maryland Hunt Cup. The only other races considered as challenging in the world are the Grand National in Great Britain and the Pardubice in Czechoslovakia. In honor of the centennial of the Maryland Hunt Cup, Peter Winants, a lifelong devotee of The Maryland Hunt Cup, has graciously provided the following article for the readers of The Equiery. Mr. Winants was raised in Monkton, where his step-father, the late S. Bryce Wing,was the chairman of The Hunt Cup's race committee from 1938 to 1966 . Mr Winants was a professional equine photographer for 20 years, frequently freelancing for The Maryland Horse, known for its award winning photojournalism and striking color spreads. In 1972, Mr. Winants moved with his family to Virginia to work for The Chronicle of the Horse. He was editor for 10 years and publisher for five. In 1991 he retired for The Chronicle and became director of the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, which houses the most extensive collection of equine literature in the world. Mr. Winants authored books on steeplechase champions Jay Trump and Flatterer.
The centennial running of the Maryland Hunt Cup on April 30 (1994) at Glyndon grew out of a heard conversation between the foxhunters of the Green Spring Spring Valley Hounds and the Elkridge Hounds as to the ability of their hunters. This resulted in a cross-country race that was a test of endurance, speed and jumping.
The 1894 race, which was limited to members of the host hunts, had nine entries over a course in the Green Spring Valley, about 10 miles northwest of Baltimore. The start was near Stevenson, the finish at Brooklandville. A variety of natural fences were jumped, and several streams were crossed in the four-mile course.
In 1895, the race was opened to horses owned and ridden by members of any hunt Club in Maryland. In 1903, owners and riders that were members of recognized hunts in the United States and Canada became eligible, and 1909 marked the first victory for outsiders.
The sites of the race in the formative years included various courses in the Green Spring Valley: the Ridgely estate, Hampton, near Towson; the Merryman farm in Cockeysville; Five Farms, now a golf course, near Timonium; the Fenwick farm in the Worthington Valley. The race has been run over its present course since 1922.
Through the years, the course
of four miles and 22 challenging timber fences has remained unchanged. The third
fence, for instance, stands 4’10” high with nearly unbreakable chestnut
rails 18” in circumference, and the 4’9” high fence demands
an even bigger leap due to being faced on a slight uphill grade.
Cold-blooded field hunters
were used by most riders in the early years. Redmond Stewart’s half-bred,
Tim Burr, who was second in 1894, is typical. He was used by Stewart as a trusted
field hunter for 10 seasons with the Green Spring Valley Hounds, which Stewart
founded in 1892. Tim also won the five-foot high jump class at the Baltimore
Horse Show, and he was equally adept when hitched to a buggy or four-in-hand.
On occasions, he was driven from the Green Spring Valley to Upperville, Va.
for visits to Stewart’s friend, Col. Richard Dulany. On one drive, Stewart
proposed to his wife-to-be.
Princeton, a Thoroughbred
who won in 1903, 1905, and 1906, was driven on race days in a buggy by owners
Sidney Watters and W.J.H. Watters Jr. to the course, a distance of at least
10 miles. After the race, he was cooled out and hitched for the return trip.
Princeton was also a fine
hunter. Ridden in a snaffle, he was often hunted by ladies and children. He
lived to age 30.
In time, the pace of the race accelerated, favoring Thoroughbreds. Some were royally bred. Blockade, the winner in 1938,1939, and 1940, was sired by Man ‘o War; Mountain Dew, a three time winner, was out of a mare by War Admiral, who was Man o’ War’s best son.
Other Thoroughbred winners were of obscure parentage. The sire and damn of Jay Trump raced with little success at tiny Charles Town race track in West Virginia, whereas Jay Trump went on to win the Hunt Cup in 1963, 1964, and 1966, and the English Grand National in 1965.
The backgrounds of the riders
in the Hunt Cup have also changed. Early on, they were foxhunteres with business
careers. Many rode only in the Hunt Cup and other timber races in Maryland.
Jervis Spencer, a lawyer who rode in a record 20 Hunt Cups for 1899 through
1922, with five wins and five seconds, rarely rode in races outside of Maryland.
Today, many Hunt Cup riders are career horsemen who compete in steeplechase races throughout the U.S. some also train steeplechase horses professionally. Riders, however cannot accept pay for riding the Hunt Cup.
The involvement of several
families through sever generations contributes to the tradition and constance
of the Hunt Cup. From 1894 to 1993, 27 Hunt Cup riders have had sons or daughters
ride, and seven families have three generations of rider: the Bonsal, Bosley,
Brewster, Merryman and Stewart families of Maryland, and the Neilson and Hannum
families of Pennsylvania.
Last year’s winner,
Ivory Poacher, is a classic example of family participation. His owners include
Redmond C. S. Finney and Jervis Spencer Finney, who are grandsons of Redmond
C. Stewart. Stewart rode in 15 Hunt Cups and won on Landslide in 1904. Ivory
Poacher is trained by Ann Stewart Fenwick, also a Stewart granddaughter, and
he was ridden by Sanna Neilson, a great-granddaughter of Stewart,
The late Janon Fisher Jr.
and family had great satisfaction with Mountain Dew, who was bred by Fisher,
schooled and hunted by his daughters and ridden by son Janon III. Mountain Dew
compiled the finest record in Hunt Cup history. He started eight times, with
wins in 1963, 1965, and 1967, and he was second in three Hunt Cups (each time
to Jay Trump) and third once. Mountain Dew did not fall in his career, which
included six wins in the Maryland Grand National.
Family Ties also run rampant
in the connections of Cancottage, the winner of the Hunt Cup in 1980, 1981,
and 1983. He was owned by Mrs. Miles Valentine of Pennsylvania, trained by the
owner’s daughter, Mrs. Philip F.N. Fanning, and ridden by Mrs. Valentine's
granddaughter, Joy Slater Carrier. Additionaly, Mrs. Fanning’s husband
won in 1958, and she bred Hunt Cup winners Freeman’s Hill and Bewley’s
Hill, who are full brothers. Joy and Rusty Carrier, meanwhile, had great fun
with their Irish-bred Tom Bob, who won the Hunt Cup in 1991 and was second in
1988 and third in 1989 and 1990. The Smithwick name is prominent in Hunt Cup
history. D.M. (Mikey) Smithwick was the winner of a record six Hunt Cups from
1946 to 1960; many consider him most skilled of all Hunt Cup riders. Mikey’s
brother, Paddy, his nephew, Patrick, and his son, Speedy, have also ridden in
the Hunt Cup.
Charles C. Fenwick Jr. who
is tied with Jervis Spencer with five wins in 15 rides in the Hunt Cup, has
an incredible heritage. He was raised on the Fenwick farm adjacent to the race
course. His grandfather, G. Bernard Fenwick, rode in the Hunt Cup in 1909; his
other grandfather, Howard Bruce, owned Billy Barton, the winner in 1926; his
mother, Rosalie Culver, owned Dosdi, the 1979 winner, ridden and trained by
Charlie; his uncle, H. Robertson Fenwick, owned and trained Fluctuate, the winner
in 1959 and 1960, and Bobby Fenwick hunted and trained Jay Trump; Charlie’s
brother Bruce, has ridden in the race nine times; and his father has been secretary
of the race committee since 1967.
Gary L. Brewster, who rode in the Hunt Cup four times in the 1980s, and was second on his home-trained Balantic in 1986, has Hunt Cup Heritage on both sides of his family. His mother’s father, J. Gary Leiper Jr., won in 1913 on Pebbles, who was owned by Alexander Brown. And the Brewster family has been prominent in the Hunt Cup for three generations. Gary’s father, former United States senator Daniel B. Brewster Jr., rode in four Hunt Cups; his grandfather, Daniel B. Brewster, rode in a like number; his great-uncle, Benjamin H. Brewster Jr., owned Chuckatuck, the winner in 1919, ridden by Jervis Spencer; and Gary’s uncle, Walter Brewster, rode in three Hunt Cups and was third in 1948.
Nancy Penn-Smith Hannum is
the matriarch of a hard-riding family of Pennsylvanians that rivals the families
of Maryland in Hunt Cup heritage. Her stepfather, W. Plunket Stewart, rode The
Squire to win in 1898 and owned Marcellinus to win in 1918; her husband, John
B. Hannum, rode in four Hunt Cups in 1948-1951, with two seconds and a third
on Our Hobo; her son, R. Penn-Smith (Buzzy) Hannum, has ridden in 15 Hunt Cups,
with wins on his mother’s Morning Mac in 1970 and 1971 and on Fort Devon
in 1976; her son, John B. (Jock) Hannum, rode in four Hunt Cups, with a second
on Our Climber in 1987; and Mrs. Hannum’s son-in-law, Bruce Davidson,
and her grandson, John B. (Jeb) Hannum, have ridden in the Hunt Cup.
Frank A. (Downey) Bonsal,
the winner in 1927 and 1928 on Bon Master, Frank A. Bonsal, who won in 1956
on Lancrel, are the sole father/son winners; Louis (Paddy) Neilson II and Sanna
Neilson are the only father/daughter winners. Paddy has won three times in 18
starts since 1958; Sanna has a perfect record in two starts, having won in 1991
on Tom Bob as well as on Ivory Poacher.
Sanna and Paddy rode against
each other in the 1991 Hunt Cup. Additionally, Paddy’s father and brother
rode in the Hunt Cup, as did his wife, the former Toinette Phillips.
Besides the Neilsons, two
other husband/wife teams have contested the Hunt Cup: Mr. & Mrs. W.B.D.
Stroud of Pennsylvania and Mr. & Mrs. H. Turney McKnight of Maryland. The
McKnights each had wins on Tong, who was bred by Turney’s mother. Liz
(Turney’s wife) is from a Hunt Cup family: her father, David Pearce, and
her brother, Ross Pearce, rode in the race.
Descendants of prior Hunt
Cup heroes will surely ride in this year’s race. Perhaps a member of the
Griswold family of Maryland will ride the winner, which would break an 0-26
Griswold Jinx as riders in the Hunt Cup. George
Brown Jr. the patriarch of this family, rode in 15 Hunt Cups, with wins in 1900
and 1916, but victory has exceed his descendants. Brown’s grand-son, Benjamin
H. Griswold III, rode five times in 1936-1950; Brown’s great-grandsons,
B.H. Griswold IV and Jack S. Griswold have had five and 16 rides respectively,
Jack was frustratingly close, with four seconds and four thirds in 1960-1985.
Members of yet another generation of Griswolds are approaching the age to ride in the Hunt Cup, and, hopefully, to emulate their great-great grandfather’s success.
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