More than 5,000 sun-splashed spectators braved the near-record pollen count and unseasonably warm temperatures last Sunday to see a high school senior from Pennsylvania, Lauren Smith, ride her father's 9-year-old chestnut gelding, Bibbit, home first to win the $9,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup at Glenwood Park.
"He isn't jumping as good as usual," admitted the 17-year-old rider as she toted her 16-pound saddle and 11 pounds of lead to the scales area after the race. "I was afraid he was too tired and we weren't going to make it. But he put out more than I thought he could."
The heat and the dry, hard turf took their toll on the entries in the eight-card program. Paddy's Punch, a 9-year-old dark bay gelding trained and ridden by Peter Holloway of Manakin, Va., died from an apparent heart attack after finishing second, eight lengths behind Delivery Man in the $4,000 Michelob Cup, a 3-mile timber race. At least six other horses broke down during the races and did not finish; nearly 25 percent of the entries in the events scratched after owners became concerned about course conditions and the heat.
Smith's victory was hard-earned. After taking the early lead at the second of 19 timber fences, Smith was forced to push Bibbit even harder when James Lawrence II managed to land Carlo Friend in front at the 17th jump. Carlo Friend showed the way over the next fences but lost ground when Smith spurred Bibbit into a driving charge down the stretch to win the 3 1/4-mile timber feature of the 64th Middleburg Spring Race meeting by four lengths in a brisk 6:35 clocking.
It was Bibbit's second timber victory in as many Sundays. The week before at Oatlands, Smith pushed the gelding over a tough 3-mile, 14 fence course to win the ladies timber race by a half length.
Determination to win at Middleburg not only brought Smith her first riding victory under National Steeplechase and Hunt Association rules, but a warning from the race stewards who "thought that I had pushed in a little too close to Mr. Don Yovanovich at the fifth fence," she recalled later. "They told me to be more careful in the future."
"She was riding a little loose and she was told to watch where she was going," admitted one of the stewards. "It was a little education, that's all."
Smith's father, William R. Smith, a University of Pittsburgh professor of history and philosophy who paid $600 for the horse seven years ago, has decided against running the jumper in the 60th Virginia Gold Cup on May 4.
"He wants to give him [Bibbit] a couple of weeks off," said Lauren Smith Monday evening. "We think this race took a lot out of him."
Even the seasoned riders had a hard time on the turf, which was left bumpy from the Middleburg point-to-point meeting last month and very hard from a dry spring CAPTION: Picture 1, Lauren Smith, riding Babbit, clears a fence on her way to winning the $9,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup at Glenwood Park. Picture 2, In the 8th race, for the Thomas and Talbot Bowl, rail birds watch the actiona s Heart of the Desert leads Fleeting Roy in a mile and a quarter run on the flat. Photos by Jeffrey Yorke for The Washington Post.