The commanding officer of the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, achieved a lifetime’s ambition last weekend when he rode in the Maryland Hunt Cup, the USA’s premier timber race.
Major Harry Wallace said his ride was “exhilarating and unique”, and that he would “do it again in a heartbeat”.
“I felt pretty honoured,” said the 38-year-old. “There are seven billion people on the planet and only nine of them got to rode in this fantastic race.”
The Maryland Hunt Cup, which takes place in Worthington Valley, Maryland, is a four-mile race over 22 upright timber fences of up to 1.50m in height.
“I wouldn’t usually gallop at 5ft of upright fixed timber on a horse I’ve only sat on a handful of times.” said Harry with a laugh.
He rode the Elizabeth Voss-trained Wildcatter, who is owned by Perry Bolton and Ben Griswold.
Harry explained: “There is a shortage of amateur jockeys in the US compared to the UK, and so they always have a smattering of foreign riders.”
Former jockey Richard Pitman made the contact with Elizabeth Voss for Harry, and he sent her a “race-riding CV” – Harry has ridden in point-to-points and cross-country races such as the Melton Hunt Club Ride and the Golden Button, and has won both the Grand Military Gold Cup and the Royal Artillery Gold Cup under Rules.
Harry flew out to America three weeks before the Maryland Hunt Cup to ride Wildcatter in a point-to-point race over timber.
“It was a sharp trajectory – I flew in on the Thursday, schooled him on the Friday and rode in the race on Saturday,” said Harry.
He rode Wildcatter in another prep race under rules before the Maryland Hunt Cup, but between the first two runs and the Hunt Cup, Harry, in his King’s Troop role, was in charge of firing three royal salutes, including one for the Queen’s birthday and one celebrating the birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s third child.
“The race owes its uniqueness to the fact that it has absolutely remained unchanged for over 120 years and is still one of the ultimate tests in competitive race riding,” said Harry.
“My horse had never run over the distance or over those fences, so I was rather the test pilot. I jumped off towards the back of a field to get a lead going into the third fence, which is one of the biggest on the course. But my lead tipped up in front of me there and I was only about two lengths behind.
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“Upright timber is pretty unforgiving, so it really is about getting into a good rhythm as soon as you can. It takes a brave horse, but also a smart horse, and one that is really clever in front.”
Harry pulled Wildcatter up two fences from home.
“He was getting quite tired and the tank was empty,” he said. “But it was great fun. I would love to go back, to complete the race but also to have a chance of being competitive in it.”
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