It was rather obvious when you saw Wellingtons, mudders and other wet weather foot paraphernalia on spectators’ feet, they had heard the weatherman’s gloom and doom forecast for last Sunday’s 53rd running of the Potomac Hunt races.
Wrong! It turned out to be a weather-wise perfect afternoon at Gogo and Austin Kiplinger’s “Bittersweet Field,” Poolesville, where hundreds of steeplechase fans gathered to watch the eight race program and spread their tailgate picnics.
There is no guarantee how much horse watching took place, but if the number of fried chicken pieces served were scattered on the course, they may have stretched from start to finish.
Potomac Hunt member Mignon Smith would have been happy from the day’s results no matter what the weather brought forth. Her five-year-old “Class Crimson” squeaked by Randy Rouse’s “Fields of Omagh” in the homestretch to win the $7,500 purse, three-mile open timber, featured race.
Smith, and jockey Richard Boucher, tensely waited for a foul claim resolution that judges ultimately disallowed after reviewing the film.
“He ['Class Crimson'] won at Middleburg, too,” the happy owner advised.
Brooks Durkee, riding Michael Smithwick’s “Irish Embassy” didn’t fare as well in the only other foul claim of the day. In the first division of the Alice Keech Maiden Hurdle race, the stewards ruled, after reviewing the film, that Durkee’s mount had bumped Mrs. D.M. Smithwick’s, “Marine.” Consequently, “Marine” was declared the winner of the $1,000 purse, two-mile, hurdle event.
The second division winner, “Two Minute Warning,” was trained by Mrs. Smithwick, doubling her pleasure.
The near-photo finishes in several of the races provided much excitement, but none more so than the performance outrider, Nellie Hanagan, presented when capturing a runaway horse. “Irish Future” lost his jockey in the third race and opted to run the course rider-less, at top speed, passing the finish line. Without Nellie in hot pursuit, and grabbing his reins while maneuvering her own horse, the reluctant run-away could have headed down the road to Pooles’ Store for a Coke. With an all-in-a-day’s work appearance, and the crowd roaring its approval, she reined him in about a quarter mile past the finish line.
Additional equestrian expertise ensued when the Maryland National Capital Park Police team, including Jeff Adcock, Adam Sengbusch, Dennis Benden and Noell White, presented a demonstration on crowd control.
With about a hundred spectators who were invited to take part in the exercise, waving signs in the horses faces, and throwing balls at them, the team quietly backed the crowd up, urging their horses forward, as they would during an actual demonstration.
However, like many race events, there is much non-horse activity to see. The Wendy Walker, Liz Reese, John Kean tailgate was a treasure. More accurately, a pirate’s treasure.
“It (the idea) came about when we were stuck on Grande Cayman during the hurricane last fall. We watched ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ over and over,” she said.
The hosts built a ship replica, named it “The Tally Ho,” and perched it on a flatbed trailer. Appropriate racing-related, appointments graced the ship’s structure, from prow to poop deck.
A conspicuously absent tailgate was the annual spread Billie and Bob Webster presented for many years. Bob Webster, a Potomac Hunt member since 1958, died May 9. He had been ill with cancer since last fall. In the place where the lavish spread his wife, Billie, always prepared, was a memorial book where many of the Webster friends stopped by to sign.