If last weekend’s horse racing had not been marred with bad luck, there would have been little luck at all.
With horror, millions of racing fans saw the Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, break his leg at Pimlico during the Preakness Stakes. With equal dismay, several thousand saw not one, but two, horses fatally injured at the Potomac Hunt Races last Sunday.
A perfect day weather- wise, crowds poured into Gogo and Austin Kiplinger’s Bitter Sweet Field, assembled lavish tailgate picnics and settled in for a long day of eat, drink and be merry while enjoying what 17th century author William Somerville dubbed, "The Chase, the sport of kings."
It was during the third event on the eight-race program that disaster struck. First, Randy Rouse’s Imprinted, a five-year-old bay gelding, took a nose dive over a fence early on in the maiden hurdle.
"He just fell awkwardly," said race steward Norman Fraley who witnessed the accident. "I called for the (horse) ambulance immediately, but his neck was broken," Fraley explained.
Meanwhile, just seconds later, spectators reacted in horror when they saw Anita Bailey’s four-year-old, American Diplomat, land over the last hurdle. He immediately went down, his leg obviously broken. Neither jockey was injured in either misfortune.
Imprinted’s fall was more visible to spectators than the first fall. The crowd was silently stunned. Although the race naturally continued, few saw Racing Rogues Stable’s Stall Swapper win over ten entries. Racing fans were praying for the best for the fallen horse, but it wasn’t to happen.
It wasn’t the best of days for race steward, Fairfax Hunt MFH Randy Rouse. In the featured open timber event his horse Edited lost his jockey. Ellen Horner had just won the previous race astride, Stall Swapper. She was unseated about a mile into this three-mile event. Carl Rafter guided Leslie McNamara’s Java To Go, in front of a field of nine contenders all the way from start to finish.
There were other slight mishaps, things one can only expect in any sport. For the most part hospitality flourished. However, there was a first-time exception. One "Patron Preferred" parking subscriber installed a thick, gold rope around the two spaces, from fence to car, causing one over heard remark, "They’re not very friendly, are they?"
As the race program progressed through the day, so did snippets of Potomac Hunt lore.
"I remember the first race," Joe Muldoon recalled while his wife, Alyse, arranged their tailgate.
"I won it and have a picture of me with the trophy and blue ribbon," he said.
A college student at the time, Muldoon couldn’t recall if it was a one-race event or not, but what he won was named the "Doodler’s Race."
More like an old-fashion point-to-point, contestants "walked to the first point, trotted to the second and ran home wide open," Muldoon explained. "It all took place on the [Richmond] Keech farm [now the Rales property on Glen Road] from start to finish," he said.
Property was on the mind of Goshen Hunt jtMFH Tom Pardoe, a patrol judge for the Potomac races.
"We are celebrating 50 years at our opening meet on November 1," he said. Pointing to his friend Norman Fraley, "We are inviting all the old timers to come," he added. Questioned about the hunting territory he explained, "We have plenty. We hunt the whole Patuxent River on the south side," he said.
Scaling down on property, Alan and Betty Weintraub have sold their "East Oaks" farm in Poolesville. "We are moving to Bozman, on the water," Betty said. "No more horses," Dr. Weintraub added. The new owners raise thoroughbred race horses.
The couple will also have an apartment in Chevy Chase. "I can walk to the office every day," he said.