What could be more Maryland than a fine Saturday in April spent picnicking on the grass while taking in some thrilling steeplechase races?

If you’re one of those Marylanders for whom springtime is synonymous with racing season, you know the excitement of watching the jockeys fly past—almost superhuman in their grace and daring. For over one hundred years, the incredible sportsmen (and women) of Maryland steeplechase racing have kept the sport alive and thriving locally; and the races are as incredible (and demanding) as ever. This April, be sure to catch three of the season’s most beloved events:My Lady’s Manor (Saturday, April 15), Grand National (Saturday, April 22) and the Hunt Cup (Saturday, April 29). Each race features its own unique course and set of challenges for the horses and jockeys. And each is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your picnic blanket.

Photo by Douglas Lees
Photo by Douglas Lees

The My Lady’s Manor Steeplechase Races, also one of the state’s oldest days of timber racing, will be run this year for the benefit of the exquisite Ladew Topiary Gardens. The afternoon includes four steeplechase races—each with a purse of between $15,000 and $30,000. You can see why it’s one of the sport’s most competitive events. In addition to the races, there will be live bluegrass music, food vendors as well as horse-themed merchandise tents and exhibits.

Photo by Doug Lees

The Grand National is often compared to the Hunt Cup, for how demanding it is, but at only three miles, it comes in a bit shorter than the Hunt. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less exhilarating. The shorter distance means that the horses move at breakneck speed—soaring over obstacles and whizzing past spectators. Each race has its own set of charms—from the glorious setting of Ladew Gardens, to the traditional atmosphere of the Hunt Cup in Worthington Valley. So mark your calendars and start planning your picnic baskets.

The Hunt Cup itself has been run in Maryland since 1894. It began as a race to be run over natural hunting country; ridden by amateurs; and without any kind of commercial activity involved. Fast forward to 1922, when Worthington Valley became the permanent home of the four mile, twenty-two fence racecourse. Since then, the spectacle around the race has grown, of course, but the traditional feel and location of the course remain the same.

Maryland Steeplechase racing season begins Saturday, April 1 and runs through Sunday, May 21. For more information on specific race times and locations, visit www.marylandsteeplechaseassociation.com.