The Elkridge-Harford Point-To-Point
The start of Maryland steeplechase season begins locally with the running of the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point Races at historic Atlanta Hall Farm. Long considered to be the tune-up races for Maryland’s “Triple Crown” of steeplechasing; the My Lady’s Manor, the Grand National and the Maryland Hunt Cup, the Elkridge-Harford Races are sponsored each year by the members of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club and hosted by the Voss family on their Atlanta Hall farm. Among the noted horses to have competed there are English Grand National champions, Jay Trump and Ben Nevis II.
The race meeting was originally thought to have had its origins in 1925 with the Harford Hunt Club Steeplechase held in December of that year however a recently discovered race trophy dates back to 1923. Information after 1925 is sparse however 1932 saw the inaugural running of the then Harford Hunt Races. Originally a fall meeting officially known as the Harford Hunt Races and Livestock Fair, the five race card was run in mid- November on Harvey S. Ladew's Pleasant Valley Farm (now known as Ladew Gardens.) The first hunt meeting consisted of three races over jumps and one flat race. The Breezewood Cup and the Little Gunpowder Cup were run over brush jumps while the Sergeant Murphy Cup was run over timber. The Lindenhope cup was run on the flat. The timber race was named after Stephen “Laddie” Sanford’s American owned winner of the English Grand National. Sanford and his wife, the stage and screen actress Mary Duncan Sanford, were members of the old Harford Hunt. The other races bore the names of prominent estates in the area.
The races continued on for some seven years at Ladew’s estate before the Second World War interrupted sport. However, in the 1940s the date changed to April and the meeting has been held then since that time. Upon its post-war renewal, the race meeting found a new venue at the home of Elkridge-Harford Master of Foxhounds, Edward S. Voss and his wife Elsa. The Voss farm, Atlanta Hall, located as it is on Pocock Road, straddles the Harford and Baltimore county lines and is within hailing distance of the old Ladew racecourse. The races are now held there on either the first or second Saturday of April and although the layout of the course has changed over the years it is still composed primarily of natural fencing obstacles.
In 1975 the Edward S. Voss Memorial Open timber was inaugurated and named in memory of Atlanta Hall’s late owner. The first running was won by jockey Thomas H. Voss on his own horse, Aruhappy. The trophy was presented to him by his grandmother, Elsa Voss, widow of Edward S. Voss. Tom Voss would go on to become the race chairman, a position he would hold through 2013.
As popular as the races are today, in the 1930s and ‘40s accounts from Baltimore and New York newspapers chronicled the Elkridge- Harford Point-to-Point on an almost daily basis from the lead in through the race day itself to the post race results and cited attendance by crowds in the thousands. Social events in the forms of parties, dances, luncheons and dinners were reported on in almost as great detail as the races themselves. Members of old Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York society all descended on the Monkton/Fallston countryside for the then mid-week event. Figuring prominently in the past coverage was Thomas Wells Durant who owned Atlanta Hall prior to the Vosses' purchase of the property. Durant was a well know gentleman (amateur) steeplechase rider who eventually left the East Coast for California where he became involved in the movie industry making uncredited appearances in such films as The Red Badge of Courage, The List of Adrian Messenger, Return to Peyton Place and Limelight.
The race meeting is also notable for the appearance in the saddle of United States Olympic Team rider Kathy Kusner who in the early 1970s was one of the first women to compete at the Elkridge-Harford races.
The contemporary race meeting is a more casual event than in past decades. Families may be seen in abundance with dogs and children in tow. Tailgate parties are held in back of suvs, pick -up trucks and station wagons with an occasional Rolls Royce making an appearance from time to time.