Locals help Steeplechase jump to new heights

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

NASHVILLE -- From horserace president to mechanical mule driver, Marshall County and its environs were represented at the 68th annual Iroquois Steeplechase Races in Percy Warner Park last weekend.

Overseeing and even repairing the racetrack was Albert Menefee, president of the Race Committee who between events drove to where galloping horses' hooves dug divots that required applications of special soil.

Menefee, a former secretary and treasurer of the race committee for more than 15 years, is a joint master of the Cedar Knob Hunt whose kennels are south of Cornersville in the Blue Creek Community.

Some 25,000 people went to see the 68th annual Steeplechase horse races with dozens of horses in seven races at Percy Warner Park. The field in the fourth race, the Margaret Currey Henley Sport of Queens Stakes, is shown passing the stands for the first time. The winner, Dynaskill, is third from left.

Many members of both the Cedar Knob and Hillsboro Hunt were listed in the race day program as officials and volunteers, and some do the same job year after year. Scottie Harris of the Blue Creek Community acts as assistant starter, chauffeuring the National Steeplechase Association's official starter down to the starting line and making sure that line is in the correct place, according to the prescribed length of the race. It is the drop of Harris' flag, as the horses sweep past him just after the start, that signals the timekeeper to start his stopwatch. One of the timers is Harris' neighbor Frank Davis, while Davis' wife, Dorothy, aided by their son-in-law Hank Vest, is in charge of the trophies. Cornersville landowner and long-time foxhunter, Rob Harwell, takes care of the trophy escort.

Also hailing from Cornersville were sisters Carrie and Catherine Fowlks who served among the many race staffers who shuttled VIPs across the muddy parkland where many of the fashionable ladies were out-done by Mother Nature's whims, including cleared skies for the races.

Attendance, estimated at 25,000, was "good... given the weather and mud," according to Larry Pefferly, also of Cornersville, who was found at the Wade & Egbert Insurance hospitality tent near the finish line with Alex Wade and his friends, Mary Ann and Calvin Houghland, owners of Pierrot Lunaire, the horse that won the Iroquois.

Houghland's horse beat Good Night Shirt. That second place steed was described by Houghland as "a helluva horse," largely because it had won the two previous Iroquois races and was competing to extend a seven-race winning streak with an unprecedented third victory.

It would have been a "big thing" if Good Night Shirt won again, Pefferly said, while walking back to the insurance firm's viewing deck where Alex Wade explained that Calvin Houghland, 92, rode in the first Iroquois.

Houghland's involvement grew from then and includes praise sounded by Wade and others at the hospitality tent for the beneficiary of the Iroquois Steeplechase -- the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"Very caring and empathetic," Wade said of the Children's Hospital and its staff. "They treat the family, the parents as well as the children."

Marshall County residents may remember Drayke Alan Crom, a premature child born of local parents, Lori King and Robert Crom, who suffered heart ailments. The child passed on Jan. 26, just two days short of being nine months old in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Children's Hospital.

The Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital is "a great cause," Wade said, noting it's received more than $9 million since the early 1980s from the annual sporting event at Percy Warner Park.

Tending to the health and safety of the crowd at the horse races on Saturday was Deanna Moore, a registered nurse who flies with the Vanderbilt LifeFlight helicopter ambulances.

Moore flew during 2001-'06 with Air Evac, the helicopter ambulance service based here at Ellington Airport on Franklin Pike.

Saturday, she was part of Vanderbilt's Event Medicine team, a group that also serves at Predators' games and other such events.

While there were "apparently" some in the crowd who may have seemed intoxicated when they were served by the team, there could have been more who needed first aid after having stepped on something in the dark brown mud while walking barefoot because flip-flops, high heeled shoes and other footwear proved to be no match for the wet ground.