Amateur jockey Anne Hambleton is a lifelong fox hunter, and her heart originally was in the sport of three-day eventing, but her love of cross-country riding developed into a taste for racing different horses over fences.
About five years ago, Hambleton started to ride on weekends with jockey and trainer Jack Fisher, of Monkton, Md. She eventually would buy her first racehorse from him, and last January she bought her current ride--Holzmann--from his stable.
Holzmann has paid off.
The pair raced to fourth place in the Steeplethon at the Virginia Gold Cup races last spring, and Holzmann is coming off a handy win at the Middleburg Fall Races at Glenwood Park, where he and Hambleton bested a field of five to win the Foxhunter's Timber race.
Hambleton, of Washington, hopes to continue her string of success Saturday in the Steeplethon--one of the most exciting races to watch--during the 16th annual International Gold Cup at Great Meadow in The Plains.
After several point-to-point wins during the spring, Hambleton tried her hand in some sanctioned races as well, including the Steeplethon. With her background in eventing, the Steeplethon course has the type of solid fences she was used to jumping, which can be intimidating to other riders. Both she and Holzmann found the course to be a lot of fun.
Over the years, the Steeplethon has developed into a popular race in which both amateur and professional riders compete. It features banks, logs and a water crossing for horses to negotiate and takes a special mount to ride in it--mainly because of the variety of fences that most horses don't commonly see at the races.
The bigger the fences, the better Holzmann races.
"Holzmann needs to be entertained in his races," Hambleton said. "He has an inquisitive mind, and it is to our benefit to keep him thinking."
Holzmann had plenty of experience before Hambleton purchased him, and she had known him for several years at Fisher's. He is a very well-bred horse, but soon exasperated everyone by constantly placing second in his races over hurdles and timber. When he came up for sale last winter, Hambleton knew he was the horse for her.
His forte is in jumping, where he is able to make up for any lack of speed. After several races over some bigger courses during the spring, Hambleton feels she and her horse have built up a special rapport that has given both of them confidence.
The biggest hurdle Hambleton has to overcome is the weight she often must carry aboard Holzmann. The horse is a small, dark bay gelding, and Hambleton hardly weighs 100 pounds. In the fox hunter's race at Glenwood Park, she had to weigh in at 180 pounds. This means she has to carry a lot of lead in her weight pad, plus she has a special weighted saddle in which she rides. In the Steeplethon this weekend, she only has to weigh 145, which should give Holzmann a bit of an advantage.
Working as a consultant for environmental policy leaves her little time to ride. And because Holzmann is stabled in Pennsylvania and Hambleton tries to hunt another of her horses in Maryland, she puts a lot of miles on her car during the weekends.
But Hambleton feels that competing against professional jockeys in the sanctioned races will push her riding up a level, and in doing so, she is achieving her long-term goal.