At Gogo and Austin Kiplinger’s Bittersweet Field last Sunday, neck-and-neck races came down to the finish line. There were no serious injuries to horses or riders. Katie Freedman performed “The Star Spangled Banner.” Race steward, 90-year-old Randy Rouse, looked as fit as he did when he was circumnavigating steeplechase courses not that many years ago. Spectators enjoyed tons of fried chicken served at endless tailgates, and lined up as far away as Poole’s Store to enter the race course.
If you like all of the above, then you would have loved the 55th running of the Potomac Hunt Races last Sunday.
A day of picture-perfect weather brought hordes of horse lovers to the upper Montgomery County countryside, not only to enjoy the eight-race program, but to socialize, eat, drink, and place a few bets on their favorite entries.
THE FEATURED OPEN timber race with a $7,500 purse proved to be a thriller from start to finish. After leading the pack over most of the three-mile course, Java To Go, with Paddy Young astride, lost in the end to a photo-finish duel with Private Attack, ridden by Billy Santoro.
A jubilant Santoro remarked following the victory, “He was amazing. He had been sick for an entire year, came back to place second in the Grand National [in Maryland last month], and now this.”
The co-featured, open hurdle was another crowd-pleaser when Potomac Hunt member Mignon Smith’s Class Vantage, ridden by Richard Boucher, crossed first over the finish line to claim the General H.H. Semmes Perpetual Trophy and the winner’s portion of the $7,500 purse.
“He was named the Virginia-bred steeplechase horse of the year and also won the $100,000 Callaway Garden [Ga.] purse,” Smith said. Sporting a real shiner, and a patch above her left eye, this happy owner was more fortunate with winning races than watching them. She slipped on the last step at the Preakness and took a nasty fall.
Adding to the excitement of the day, the ladies flat race was also a close match. Michele Durbin, riding her first race ever, urged aptly named Thundering Home across the finish line a whisker ahead of Promiscuity with Amy Bone astride. Melinda Carter’s Two T’s was disqualified for third place. Announcer Will O’Keefe let it be known, “She didn’t cross the scale!” Huh?
Checking out the unfamiliar terminology with Clerk of the Scales Steve Spector, it was learned the term apparently refers to truck drivers. “He must know some drivers. That’s a term they use,” Spector explained. (Jockeys must weigh in after each race to be sure they are carrying the proper weights.)
WATCHING THE HORSES run is only a portion of the day’s sport. People watching runs a close second. “I would not miss seeing all my old friends, some I haven’t seen for 20 years,” said Ray Little, there with wife, Lynn. He arrived home at 3 a.m. on Sunday after driving a fifteen-horse tractor trailer from Lexington, Ky. where their daughter, Marilyn, was showing. “She came home with two championship ribbons,” he boasted.
Dropping by Denise and Rex Reed’s tailgate was Billie Webster, who for years earned (and rightly so) the reputation of “Queen of the Tailgates.” She, and her late husband, Bob, would be disappointed if at least 50 or so friends didn’t partake of Billie’s home-prepared recipes, some of which were proved to be hijacked by at least one national food reporter.
Master of Fox Hounds Vicki Crawford’s spread was another spectacular layout. “I cooked for three days. ‘Junior’ [Magassy] contributed and Peter [MFH Peter Hitchen] brought whatever he could buy,” she explained of the three-host spread. Dr. Csaba Magassy was the official physician of the day while Hitchen, MFH Beverley Bosselmann and MFH Skip Crawford enacted their duties as co-chairmen of this Gargantuan production.
Honorary chairman and host of the day, Austin Kiplinger, managed his tailgate sans help from his wife, Gogo. “She’s taking a break after 20 years,” the 88-year-young Kiplinger said. “Do you know what I call 88? It’s a double palindrome. It is not only the same backward and forward, but up and down,” he added.
Dear readers, you have now crossed the scales and gone backward and forward in one day, all at the 55th running of the Potomac Hunt Races.