For the past 31 years, not since Mrs. Miles Valentine with Cancottage in 1983, has anyone has been able to take home the coveted Maryland Hunt Cup Challenge Cup. This year, at the 118th running of the most difficult timber race in the world on Saturday, April 26, four miles and 22 fences over Worthington Farms in Glyndon, three owners have a chance to jump into that void: Lucy A. Goelet, Northwoods Stable, and Arcadia Stable.
The Challenge Cup, first presented in 1913, “will become the permanent possession of the owner winning the Maryland Hunt Cup three times, not necessarily with the same horse nor by successive wins.” It took from 1913 to 1940 before that first Challenge Cup was attained by Mrs. E. Read Beard, owner of Blockade. Only five winning owners have had that honor since: Stuart S. Janney Jr. (Winton 1947), Mrs. W. J. Clothier (Pine Pep 1952), Mrs. M.C. Stephenson (Jay Trump 1966), Redmond C. Stewart (Haffaday, Ben Nevis 1978), and Mrs. Miles Valentine (Cancottage 1983).
This year three of the fifteen entries have an opportunity to grant their owners the prize: Twill Do who won in 2010 and 2012, Battle Op whose owners had the winner Bug River in 2004 and 2006, and Delta Park whose owner sent Buck Jakes to victory in 1995 and 1997.
Lucy Goelet’s Twill Do, age 14, has the most positive record. The son of Yarrow Brae has run over this demanding course three times, ridden by James Stierhoff, winning two and finishing fourth last year.
Northwoods Stable’s Battle Op by Ops Smile, also 14, has run four times, finishing third in his first appearance in 2010, then losing rider Christopher Read in 2011. Subsequently owner Michael Hankin put his son Connor up as rider and Battle Op scored a second in 2012, but lost young Hankin at the tenth fence in 2013.
The final aspirant to the Challenge Cup, Delta Park, in his first trip in the race, is owned by Andre Brewster who campaigned the great Buck Jakes to two wins a decade ago. Delta Park, a 10-year old by Johannesburg, finished third in last week’s Grand National, ridden by Connor Hankin, who will be riding Battle Op this week. He is replaced, however, by consummate amateur rider Mark Beecher, the winning jockey in 2013 on the now retired Professor Maxwell.
Notwithstanding, the quality of the above three entries, there are eleven others standing in the way of Lucy Goelet, Michael Hankin, or Andre Brewster decorating his or her mantle with the seventh Challenge Cup. And no measly piece of tin it is. The current Challenge Cup by silversmith Paul Storr was venerated in a letter to Hunt Cup secretary Charles C. Fenwick from Donald A. Fennimore, associate curator of the Winterthur Museum: “I congratulate you on your recent acquisition and assure you that the ownership of a piece of Paul Storr silver is the epitome aspired to by all silver collectors.”
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