Chasing the dream
By Bryan Cronan 14C
In 2006, Bug River, the championship horse of Ann Hankin 79C 79G and Michael Hankin 79C 79G, was running a warm-up race to the Maryland Hunt Cup—the Kentucky Derby of steeplechase races, where horses race four miles while jumping over timber barriers.
Bug River had won the Hunt Cup in 2004 and placed second in 2005. This was a month before the race, and things looked promising.
The gelding thundered down the grass field, easily making his jumps. Approaching the third fence from home, however, Bug River lost concentration and hit the fence, causing him to flip. Blair Waterman, his jockey from the past championship, was knocked unconscious. Bug River tore multiple muscles.
“As a friend would say, this is a sport of very high highs and very low lows,” Hankin says.
“We thought that was it for the year.”
He was wrong.
After a lot of attention, electromagnetic therapy, and swimming, Bug River not only participated in that year’s Hunt Cup, he won.
“Bug River demolished all the doubts yesterday,” read the resulting article in the Baltimore Sun. “Concerns about his fitness, willingness and a new jockey were all removed in slightly more than nine minutes when the 13-year-old son of Polish Numbers staved off a determined bid by Rosbrian to capture the $75,000 Maryland Hunt Cup by a neck...”
The Maryland Hunt Cup began in 1894 when two competing Baltimore foxhunting clubs decided to see who had the better horsemen. It regularly draws seven thousand spectators, who dress in hats and ties as they dine on crab cakes and white wine.
When Ann and Michael Hankin finished law school at the University of Virginia, they moved into a community north of Baltimore, Maryland, populated by horse farms, meaning lots of steeplechase activity. “You get the bug,” says Hankin.
Around 1997, after riding horses for pleasure for a number of years, the couple began Northwoods Stables, where they train and race horses for the steeple. They have competed in steeplechase races in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Georgia.
Michael Hankin, president and CEO of Brown Advisory, uses his business skills to run the farm. Steeplechase horses are different from flat track horses. Every horse is a thoroughbred and begins on the flat-track. Once a horse can no longer race, they are sold, and a new horse is bought.
Around the age of four, if the horse isn’t galloping past competitors on the flat track, they will sometimes move to the steeple if they have the athleticism to clear the jumps. Early in their careers, the horses stick to two-mile races over brush barriers, which are smaller and give way if the horse hits them. As the horses get older, they move on to the tougher three or four mile timber races, including the Hunt Cup.
The Hankins are passing down the legacy. Their eighteen-year-old son, Connor, raced in the Hunt Cup for the first time last year on their horse Battle Op, placing second.