The thrill of the race: Foxhunter’s Cup

Published 2:58 pm Friday, April 18, 2008

It&squo;s that rumble you hear in the distance. It&squo;s that faint breeze that the group of horses sends over the crowds of thousands at the Block House Steeplechase. It&squo;s that sound of hooves on grass, that thrill of the race that local riders and horse enthusiasts love.

One time a year, local amateur riders can experience that thrill from the other side of the track. They can speed around the track, create the rumble and the breeze and hear the muffled screams that circle the track.

The Foxhunter&squo;s Cup race is designed to allow amateur riders to live out their dream of speeding around the track, seeing just how fast their horse can run.

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And this year, in the fifth year of the Foxhunter&squo;s Cup race, three local riders will enjoy that thrill.

Charlene McMurray, Garry Gill and Gary Ford will be racing in front of the masses at Steeplechase this year.

This year there will be two Foxhunter&squo;s Cup races, one for thoroughbreds and another for non-thoroughbreds. Ford will be riding in the non-thoroughbred race, and McMurray and Gill will compete in the thoroughbred race.

Perk&squo;s Special Effort

For Gary Ford, his second race in the Foxhunter&squo;s Cup will have special meaning.

His first trip around the track was when he moved to Landrum five years ago in the first year of the race.

But this year, his horse Perk&squo;s Special Effort, is special.

He found the four-year-old quarterhorse through local trainer Tracy Doubek. Then through price negotiations, he found out the story behind the horse.

The horse belonged to the seller&squo;s daughter, who bought the horse in Oklahoma, where she was barrel racing.

One year ago, the man&squo;s daughter was murdered by her boyfriend, who then turned the gun on himself.

Although Ford didn&squo;t know the girl, the horse he bought one month ago gives his race purpose, he said.

&dquo;When I ride this horse, I&squo;m not just riding him,&dquo; he said. &dquo;I&squo;m riding him for her.&dquo;

And although he just got the horse a month ago, Ford thinks that the horse may have enough athletic ability to really compete.

&dquo;He&squo;s young and long-legged,&dquo; he said. &dquo;I&squo;m hoping he&squo;s so athletic that it doesn&squo;t matter (that I&squo;ve only had him for a month).&dquo;

Ford&squo;s been doing lots of hill work with Perks and hopes that will be enough, but the main obstacle has been overcoming how green the horse is.

&dquo;The big thing was getting him gentle enough to make it around the track,&dquo; he said.

But with just a month to prepare, Ford admits that he and Perks may be behind the curve, but says he&squo;s hoping for the best.

No Hesitation

For McMurray, who lives in Green Creek, this will be the first time she has ever raced.

With some motivation from her friend Erin Gambrell, McMurray decided to take the plunge.

&dquo;My first reaction was &squo;no,&squo;&dquo; McMurray said, &dquo;but then I thought about it and decided it&squo;d be fun.&dquo;

McMurray will be racing on No Hesitation, a 16.3-hand thoroughbred, on Saturday. She&squo;s owned the horse for six years.

Her main preparation so far has been riding the FETA trails.&bsp; She started the horse out at a slow pace and has eventually worked up some speed to get a good workout.

&dquo;I can definitely see her stride open up and her stamina getting stronger,&dquo; McMurray said.

The only concern that she has, however, is the weather.

With a mixture of hot and cold in recent weeks, McMurray hopes No Hesitation will be fine in the heat. Forecasts are predicting 70s for race day.

&dquo;It&squo;s the same as with people,&dquo; she said. &dquo;When it&squo;s cooler running is a lot easier,
but when it gets hot, it gets harder.&dquo;

But McMurray and her horse are ready, she said. She feels that No Hesitation is ready both mentally and phyically.

&dquo;(The race) has been fun to get ready for,&dquo; she said. &dquo;You have to have a horse that can mentally handle it. I&squo;ve done a lot with this horse so I think she can handle it.&dquo;


This will be Garry Gill&squo;s second time racing in the Foxhunter&squo;s Cup. He raced three years ago and hasn&squo;t forgotten the excitement yet, he said.

&dquo;It&squo;s the most fun thing I&squo;ve ever done in my entire life,&dquo; the Tryon resident said. &dquo;She (Dancer) took care of me on the track that day.&dquo;

That year, he raced his 18-year-old thoroughbred to a third place finish.

He hopes to do better this year. Gill will be riding Channel, a five-year-old that he borrowed from friends.

He began working with Channel two months ago and it&squo;s a mystery as to how well she&squo;ll do, he said.

&dquo;I&squo;ve been working with her every day since,&dquo; he said. &dquo;We have no idea how she&squo;ll do. I have no idea how competitive she&squo;ll be.&dquo;

But for Gill, the thrill is just being able to get out on the track and race. It&squo;s much different than riding for fun, he said. The horses won&squo;t let you know how fast they&squo;ll go unless they&squo;re racing other horses, he said.

&dquo;It&squo;s a wonderful opportunity,&dquo; he said. &dquo;Everyone wonders how fast their horse can go. You never know until you run against others.&dquo;

The race

For the five years that the Foxhunter&squo;s Cup has existed, Kelly Murphy has been the race organizer.

In the weeks leading up to the race, there are two mandatory meetings. The first meeting is to discuss rules and the actual race day.

In the second meeting, the horses are inspected and the riders go out into the pastures at FENCE and practice the start of the race.

Murphy organizes all of that.

The appeal of the race, Murphy said, is the familiarity.

The thousands in attendance on Saturday will not know most of the racers on the Steeplechase circuit, but many will recognize those who run in the Foxhunter&squo;s Cup.

&dquo;The public just loves it,&dquo; he said. &dquo;They certainly love to see their neighbors ride.&dquo;