Headed down the half-mile homestretch, going hell bent for leather toward the finish line, were six race horses and their jockeys all vying for the Labadie Mill Perpetual Trophy, a mile and a half flat race for ladies only.
It was the fifth race of the Potomac Hunt’s 61st annual race program. It was not exactly billed as the featured event, or the most exciting. That was soon to change.
About a quarter of a mile into the race, going around the first bend, “Sir Gus,” lost his rider and became a loose horse. One reason outriders are posted throughout the nearly four-mile course is to protect other riders, horses, and spectators from a loose horse that might run amok. It is also why outriders are chosen for their horsemanship ability and their mounts capability.
In a flash, “Sir Gus” took off down the home stretch, going in the opposite direction. The remaining entries continued on course with a mile-and-a-quarter to go before they would cross the finish line. As any racing fan knows, it doesn’t take long for a racing horse to go a mile. Certainly outrider Richard “Dick” Hagen, honorary whipper-in for Potomac Hunt, knew immediately what could transpire.
Seemingly, within seconds, astride his big, gray horse “Hawaii,” he reached and clutched the reins of “Sir Gus” who by then was galloping flat out toward the finish line … going the wrong way.
Holding his own reins and that of the frantic runaway, the three of them were running at break-neck speed toward where the others would be headed. Four thousand hunt racing fans must have held a collective breath as Hagen managed to steer his wayward charge, after passing the judge’s stand, from one side of the home stretch to the other, in a matter of seconds. It seemed more like minutes.
He reined in “Sir Gus” and “Hawaii” as close as possible to the far side fence line away from the racing pack. As the trio approached a timber jump going away from the racing horses headed to the finish line, he wedged the spooked horse between the wing of the jump and the fence line to stop him.
Free from their burden, Hagen and “Hawaii” turned themselves around and headed back down the home stretch where a spontaneous roaring applause came from 4,000 spectators of whom 3,999 couldn’t imagine how he did it. They however could imagine what catastrophe could have taken place if there had been a head- on collision. Fortunately, no horses or riders were injured. “Royal Fling Shot,” ridden by Keri Brion, was the eventual winner followed by Zoe Valvo on “Triton Light.”
“It’s his first caught horse,” Hagen remarked, while receiving congratulations for the heroic effort from spectators hanging over the fence. “Hawaii” just hung his head.
The Preakness Open Hurdle race once again had the crowd’s roaring approval. Sara Colette’s “Wahoo”, ridden by Darren Nagle, edged out by Randy Rouse’s “Hishi Soar” at the finish line. It was so close announcer Will O’Keefe, pronounced “Wahoo” the winner “by a nostril.” It was jockey Nagle’s second win of the day as he had previously ridden William Pate’s “Nation Builder” to capture the featured Preakness Open Timber.
It was also a second pinning for owner Colette. Her “Vladykov” placed fourth in the Alice Keech Perpetual Plate, a maiden hurdle race for three year olds. The winning trophy went to Magalen Bryant’s, “Lea Von.”
The Kiplinger family, Austin, Knight and Knight’s wife, Anne, presented the Travilah Perpetual Cup trophy to 15-year-old Zoe Valvo astride Niki Valvo’s “Questioning.” The flat race is open to amateurs, 15 to 18 years old.
On the May 19 race day, the Kiplingers were among a multitude of others, hosting traditional tailgate offerings for many friends. It was a prelude to more excitement for the family next week. Knight and Ann Kiplinger’s daughter, Daphne, will marry Dave Steadman. The May 26 wedding will take place in the family red barn, throughout the years the scene of many colorful square dances at the family’s historic River Road home, Montevideo.
“There will be rows and rows of wooden chairs and twinkle lights,” the proud father-to-be said. On the lawn, following the ceremony, Knight said there will be games of croquet, Bocce ball and Corn Hole following the ceremony. He didn’t mention if the bride will have changed from her wedding gown. The wedding dinner will later take place under a big tent.
You can bet there will be lots of singing at the event. Both Daphne and Dave met while singing in the Washington Chorus as Knight and Ann did, “34 years ago.”
“It’s the second wedding for us in eight months,” Knight said. Their son, Brigham, and his wife, Eliza, were married last October.
Drizzle and clouds gave way to sporadic sunshine throughout Potomac Hunt’s race day. The dozens of volunteers producing the event, including the hunts four jtMFHs, Beverley Bosselmann, Vicki and Skip Crawford and Peter Hitchen were assisted by nearly 50 more volunteers to produce the eight race program that ended with pony races. Once again, part of the proceeds from the races were donated to the Yellow Ribbon Fund, an organization that supports returning wounded service members.