10/04/2001 11:00PM

Horsemen preserve Shawan for 'chases

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The inaugural Shawan Downs steeplechase meet, located several miles north of Baltimore, demonstrated what citizens can accomplish when they support a cause. On Sept. 29, the beneficiaries were more than 10,000 steeplechase patrons who enjoyed the beauty of nature on a crisp, fall day, highlighted by a seven-race card of excellent hurdle and timber racing.

Four years ago, the property known as Shawan Farm was 300 acres of overgrown, nearly forgotten dairy farm, located a stone's throw from the urban sprawl of corporate Hunt Valley in Baltimore County. But when the heirs to the farm decided to sell, it became prime real estate ripe for the picking by eager homebuilders.

The farm also served as a gateway to some of Maryland's most coveted farmland. Famed steeplechase competitor and area resident Charles C. Fenwick Jr. took note, then action, to ensure that the future of the area stays green. What developed was protection of the land by a group of local citizens who put up their own money to acquire the property.

The two main races on the card attracted steeplechase stars and stars on the rise.

The $30,000 Legacy Cup featured last year's Eclipse Award-winning steeplechaser, All Gong, in the field of 12. There was no parimutuel wagering at Shawan Downs, but if there had been, Darn Tipalarm's front-running, half-length win over All Gong would have created hefty payoffs.

The co-feature was the $25,000 Maryland Million Steeplechase at nearly two miles, restricted to Maryland Million nominees. Previously held at Pimlico and Laurel on Maryland Million Day, this year's steeplechase attracted a field of five, all of them making their first start of the year.

The headliner was Grade 1 steeplechase winner, Pinkie Swear.

Trainer Tom Voss had confidence in his entry, Wicomico. A 5-year-old bay son of Waquoit out of Northern Baby's daughter, Little Snow Bird, Wicomico was returning after a promising campaign at Saratoga in 2000.

In his three starts last year, Wicomico won his debut over hurdles by more than seven lengths and, after an unplaced effort over soft conditions, he finished second to top-class Praise the Prince (NZ) in an allowance. Voss gave Wicomico time off after that race when it was revealed that the gelding had suffered a minor injury.

Wicomico drew much attention before the race, mainly for becoming extremely unruly while being saddled. "He had never done that before," said Voss. "He was fine in Saratoga. But coming off the farm, he got excited with the crowds and loudspeakers."

Once the race was underway, Wicomico was all business. Settled off the pace set by Carnivalay's chunky bay son, Calliope, Wicomico and Pinkie Swear took over heading into the final turn. But Wicomico was the quicker of the two and drew off to a 2 3/4-length victory. Pinkie Swear settled for second and Calliope held on for third.

Wicomico's next start may come on the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase

undercard at Far Hills, N.J. on Oct. 20. "He doesn't have enough experience to go to the Breeders' Cup right now," said Voss. "But we think this is a really good horse - I think if we keep him sound, he's a future Breeders' Cup horse."