The first of 11 meets and 61 races spread across seven states through mid-November takes place on Saturday at Shawan Downs near Hunt Valley in Baltimore County with an eight-race card.
By Tod Marks
After more than two months of high-profile flat-track steeplechase action at Saratoga, Colonial Downs, and Aqueduct, the National Steeplechase Association returns to the hunt-meet courses on Saturday with the 22nd Legacy Chase at Shawan Downs equestrian center in Cockeysville, Md.
Jump racing at the flat tracks is a far cry from the atmosphere and activities at the hunt courses, which are billed as a family-fun days of not just racing, but picnicking, tailgating, and activities such as stick pony races, decorative hat contests, side-saddle competition, and pony races for young riders. At Shawan, gates open at 10 a.m., and first-race post time is 12:30 p.m.
Eight races, six over jumps, with purses totaling $160,000 – 60 percent higher than last year’s meet – have been carded including two maiden hurdle contests, one restricted to three years olds; two timber events, a maiden and a stake; an optional claiming hurdle (for horses rated at 115 or less or entered for a $20,000 tag); and an allowance hurdle for non-winners of two over jumps. There are also two training-flat contests at 1 ⅜ miles, and the second division marks the return of Bruton Street-US’ 2020 Eclipse Award champion steeplechaser, Moscato. (Click the link for full entries: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Shawan-September24-WedEntriesL.pdf)
Another former champion returns in the featured $35,000 Brown Advisory stakes at 3 ⅛ miles, Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, who is having a bang-up year and still going strong at age 12 under the care of trainer Leslie Young. After being on the sidelines for 20 months with a tendon injury, the 2019 timber champ returned in May to run a strong second in the Middleburg Hunt Cup, followed by two successive stakes victories, in the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup and $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase stakes. A field of seven will take aim Andi’amu, who will be making his first appearance at Shawan Downs. Freddie Procter rides.
His most accomplished foe is Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team (trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by Graham Watters), a winner of a quarter-million-dollars who conquered Andi’amu at Middleburg in the latter’s comeback race. Also in the field are Irv Naylor’s Junior Senator (Cyril Murphy/Eric Poretz), the younger half brother of Maryland Hunt Cup legend Senior Senator. Junior Senator broke his timber maiden at Winterthur in the spring. Fat Chance Farm’s Flaming Sword (Richard Valentine/Barry Foley) is looking for his first tally in nearly three years, but has hit the board in five of his seven career starts.
Rather Be Racing’s Our Legend (Jack Fisher/Connor Hankin) broke his timber maiden at Foxfield in April. Jeremy Batoff’s Lucky Soul (Willie Dowling/Justin Batoff) made 11 starts at Santa Anita and Del Mar before turning to jump racing, and is looking for his first top-three finish in eight tries. T and C Stables’ Mo’s in the House (Sam Cockburn/Gerard Galligan), a lightly raced nine-year-old son of Uncle Mo, makes his first start in more than four years, and is looking for his first victory on the NSA circuit.
Overall, the meet has drawn a broad mix of horses, trainers, and riders. In total, some 80 horses have been entered to run, along with 24 participating jockeys and 28 trainers.
There’s also significant incentive for Maryland-Million-eligible runners as well as horses bred in Maryland.
Each of the jump races offers a $5,000 bonus for horses that are Maryland Million eligible. To be eligible, a horse must be sired by a stallion who stands in Maryland, and that stallion, himself, must be nominated to the Maryland Million on a seasonal basis. In addition, Maryland-bred horses qualify for bonuses at Shawan. Any registered Maryland-bred will receive a 30 percent bonus on top of purse earnings if they finish in the top three. The Maryland Horse Breeders Association put this new program in place last spring for race meets that take place within the state.
New leadership team looks to enhance race-day experience
Since last year’s Legacy Chase, a new race committee, whose members bring a unique set of professional skills and love of the sport, has been assembled to ensure the future of the meet by appealing to new fans and making the race-day experience better for existing ones.
The committee is composed of a number of young professionals who represent a variety of industries across Maryland, and who have a shared passion for preserving open spaces and steeplechase racing. The committee includes Justin Batoff, Connor Hankin, Mark Lund, Posey Obrecht, Blake Sheehan, Devon Smith, Jackie Smith, Brooke Voss, and Ned Worthington.
The co-chairs are James Stierhoff and Blake Sheehan. Stierhoff is a retired amateur jockey best known for his partnership with dual Maryland Hunt Cup winner Twill Do. A partner and portfolio manager at Brown Advisory, he co-chaired the Green Spring Point to Point Committee and served on the Board of the Maryland Steeplechase Association for many years.
Sheehan, who also is a partner and portfolio manager at Brown Advisory, has been involved with non-profit work serving as treasurer of the Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital Foundation. She is an avid supporter of equestrian sports with strong family ties to the foxhunting and polo communities.
Obrecht, well-known as the race director at the My Lady’s Manor Races in Monkton, Md., has assumed those duties at Shawan, too.
Lund, a 15-year veteran of the advertising industry, will serve as the meet’s director of operations, and has been charged with expanding the meet’s reach beyond its existing audience.
In an interview with Stierhoff, he explained some of the changes fans will notice right off.
“To increase the attendance for the Legacy Chase, we have expanded our marketing scope beyond the traditional equestrian enthusiast and brought television and radio assets into the mix,” Stierhoff said. “We’ve also partnered with local companies including breweries, food trucks, and lifestyle brands to leverage their social media channels and offer experiential touch points to our patrons.”
In fact, Shawan has created its first “beer garden,” featuring three local breweries and food trucks that will be situated in an area where spectators can eat, drink, and watch the races.
New sponsors have also helped sweeten the purse pot, and have expressed a desire to maintain an ongoing relationship to support the event going forward. Among the new sponsors are Sentient Jet, MileOne Autogroup, Kelly Benefits, and the Quintessential Gentleman.
The paddock location has been relocated to the same side of the course as the spectators, allowing more fans to get a close-up look at the horses as they parade before the races. “For many of our spectators, this might be the first time they are close to a horse and we want to help create a wonderful encounter and long-lasting memory for future race fans,” he said. The paddock location was also chosen with the horses, horsemen and horsewomen in mind, conveniently located halfway between the stabling area and judges tower.
“We are expecting a terrific crowd this year, bolstered by what looks to be a perfect early Fall day in Maryland,” Stierhoff said, noting that ticket sales have been brisk leading up to Saturday. “We are encouraged by so many ‘new faces’ among ticket holders, giving us confidence our work to tap into new audiences is yielding promising results thus far.”
He also gave a shout out to Bruce Fenwick, whom Stierhoff credited with putting the course “in the best shape ever.”
“We are honored to build upon an amazing foundation that has been established over the past 22 years of this meet,” Stierhoff said. “We are also lucky to have such a world-class facility in permanent preservation to be used as our canvas as we continue to support steeplechase racing, the Land Preservation Trust and other local non-profits. Our team is energized and excited about the future and thankful to have the help and support of many – running an event like the Legacy Chase truly takes a village. We welcome feedback and ideas as we strive to provide the best races and experience for the hard-working members of our steeplechase community.”
You can watch the Legacy Chase via live stream from the link on NSA homepage, www.nationalsteeplechase.com. The stream, sponsored by Brown Advisory, is offered through Mandolin, which hosted the NSA spring meets. There is a fee to watch the stream, and meets can be viewed and paid for individually or for the entire Fall season.