With a courageous, bravado performance, Irvin “Skip” Crawford’s Senior Senator won his third Maryland Hunt Cup and retired the historic trophy on Saturday with a four-length victory over Bruton Street-US’s Drift Society.
With his second straight win in American’s best-known timber race and his third victory in four years, Senior Senator became the first horse since Cancottage in 1983 to win the $100,000 Hunt Cup for a third time. But making history was by no means easy in a race that is justifiably regarded as one of the most testing jump races in the world.
Ridden by Eric Poretz, Senior Senator went to the lead shortly after the start and appeared to be gaining strength in the middle stages of the four-mile timber classic. But Hadden Frost moved Drift Society to the lead at the 19th fence and opened a two-length advantage.
As the leaders crossed the mulch-covered road that divides the Glyndon course, Senior Senator slipped and nearly lost his footing. The nine-year-old went to his knees, but Poretz remained in the saddle and kept his composure as he took aim on Drift Society, who finished third last year.
At the next to last fence, he was two lengths off Drift Society and slowly chipping away at the advantage. At the last fence, he jumped to the lead on the outside of his only competitor, quickly drew clear again, and raced powerfully to the finish line.
Armata Stables’ Joshua G., second last year, finished third in a field of nine, and his half-brother, Jeffery G., finished fourth.
The victory was the fourth straight for Senior Senator’s trainer, Joseph G. Davies, who has established himself as the premier Hunt Cup trainer of his generation.
Senior Senator won by a half-length in 2016, but fell at the third fence in 2017, and the winner that year was Gerry Brewster’s Derwins Prospector, trained by Davies and sixth in this year’s Hunt Cup. Although he walked off the course after his early exit, Senior Senator sustained a neck fracture that necessitated surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center.
He returned in top form last year and won the Hunt Cup for a second time, holding off Joshua G. by five lengths.
With his third straight Grand National victory on April 20, Senior Senator loomed as a heavy favorite and drew a smaller than usual group of challengers, three of whom—Joshua G., Drift Society, and Hill Tie—he had defeated handily in the Grand National.
After a modest mistake at the Hunt Cup’s seventh fence, Senior Senator appeared to gain strength and confidence as he sailed over the tall fences. Frost, the regular jockey of timber champion Doc Cebu, moved Drift Society forward at the 18th fence and attacked suddenly at the next.
The 11-year-old Irish-bred trained by Jack Fisher quickly opened a daylight lead that Senior Senator reduced as the field approached the road crossing. The near-fall cost Senior Senator another couple lengths, but his superior turn of foot cut into Drift Society’s advantage going into the next to last fence, and a huge jump at the last moved his to the front. Poretz drove him to the finish line, and Senior Senator prevailed in his most eventful victory.
He ran the Hunt Cup’s four miles in 9:16 4/5 on turf rated as good.