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Spills and Thrills

The 50th running of the Potomac Hunt races May 19, at the Austin Kiplinger’s “Bittersweet Field,” provided thrills and spills for more than 7,000 spectators.

For all who came to watch the horses run, partake of tailgate picnics, or to see and be seen, there was never a dull moment on this weather-perfect race day.

“These races today have been the best I have seen all season,” said veteran race official Norman Fraley. The eight-race Potomac program, including brush and timber jumps as well as flat races, attracted top-notch entries.

There were also some tense moments. Potomac Hunt’s whipper-in, Steve Currey, riding his own “Darn That Erica” in the novice timber race was blind-sided by a loose horse. Approaching the last turn of the three mile event, “Complete Verdict,” who had dumped jockey Woods Winants, collided with Currey’s “Erica” sending both horses and Currey sprawling. Currey, who said he never saw the horse coming at him, suffered a concussion and bruises from head to toe, but later that evening was released from the hospital. Neither horse was seriously injured.

IN ANOTHER FREAK accident, jockey Simon Hobson was thrown in the featured open timber event when the Bay Cockburn-trained “Gol Lee” hit a fence. Hobson preceded his horse over fence, and his foot was severely injured when the horse stepped on it.

To counteract the misfortunes there were exciting finishes down the home stretch in numerous races, giving those nibbling fried chicken parts cause to pause. Jockey Grace Pariso rode two Cockburn-trained mounts to victory, including the ladies open flat and the novice timber, the latter providing a half length finish over Marilyn Ketts’ “ Ivory’s Pleasure.”

Former Potomac resident Rose Marie Bogley entered her “Bencivenga” in the maiden hurdle Alice Keech perpetual plate event, but lost out to a fellow Virginia-trained “Middleburg Life.”

“I really wanted to win Alice’s plate for old-times sake,” she reminisced.

Tailgate picnics lined both sides of the race course. “We have spread out a lot more this year,” Vicki Crawford explained. Corporate tents housing hundreds of guests and individual tailgates with elaborate decor and picnic fare, could be seen for a quarter of a mile down the home stretch. These included the Skip Crawford-Dan Callahan offering where dozens gathered, including Wendy and John Pagenstecher, former Potomac residents who drove over from their Eastern Shore home.

FOR A SHORT TIME at Monica and Ron Breland’s Selbre Associates tent area there was an uninvited guest.

“He either came over the fence or ran through an open gate, we’re not really sure,” she said of a loose race horse. “He was still running when he made a hard right turn, slipped and skidded into Len Maisel’s car,” she reported.

Maisel, a guest, had to enter his car through a window after the collision caved in the door. Outriders corralled the horse who appeared unscathed.

Rockville historian Eileen McGuckian and husband, Phil Cantelon, were guests at the Morgan-Libeau annual spread where Gary Gosnell dropped by with his two young daughters as did Liz Beer. Meanwhile, a multitude of future race enthusiasts, all four years and under, feasted on, (what else?) fried chicken and ham. A greatly admired added side dish included Cantelon’s sauerkraut and tomato casserole.

Similar scenes blanketed the area where racing enthusiasts congregated under a clear blue sky with cooler than expected mid-May temperatures.

THE FESTIVITIES began Friday evening with a celebration at Bretton Woods Country Club where a party was given in honor of Austin Kiplinger commemorating his knowledge and generosity to the sport of hunt racing. It was billed as an “evening of steeplechase memories, musings and memorabilia.”

A plaque designating the Potomac Hunt race locales over the years was presented to the Kiplingers, who have hosted the event at their historic Poolesville estate since the mid-80s. The Potomac Hunt race course is recognized as one of the best in the area for both racing conditions and spectators.

This explains why 7,000 people will show up, with an equal number of fried chicken pieces, set up elaborate tail gates (on occasion, complete with their best sterling candelabra and stuffed foxes,) to spend a Sunday afternoon watching the horses fly by.