"Are you crazy? The whole place could be a sea of mud and they'd never call this race off. Snow, blinding snow might stop it—I'm not sure."
The riders parade, some in silks over sweaters, others in sweaters knit in the owner's colors. The race starts unexpectedly, and the crowd strains to see as the horses begin to go down at the first fences. One scrambles up riderless and continues on the course. Then they are turning, and all at once the last few to survive the fences come pounding in. It's over. Last year sandy-haired Tommy Smith, considered by some the best amateur steeplechase jockey in the world, brought Jay Trump in ahead and then said modestly, "It's like using an automatic pilot. You set the switch to drive and Jay Trump does the rest."
Blonde Mrs. Mary Stephenson accepts the silver bowl from the judges and says she will retire her gallant gelding: "It is the culmination of a great dream. I would have been disappointed today if he hadn't won. I admit it. I didn't expect it, but I would still have been disappointed."
After the race the crowd drifts out and back to cars and on to the next round of parties. Past St. John's, the stone church where they bless the hounds on Thanksgiving Day, a large group drives to Mrs. B. W. Nichols' at Piney Grove Farm. She has added tents to her two patios and satisfies postrace theorists with a high tea served in a sumptuous dining room under an unusual Sartorius painting of an enormous horse with an exaggeratedly small jockey up. Tennis enthusiast and socialite James Van Alen peers at it and sniffs, "Who perpetrated that?"
Over at the Walter Brewsters' a real wingding is in progress. A lively, exuberant group has piled hats and coats on the L-shaped frame porch and is whooping it up inside, where the decibels are climbing dangerously high, considering the Lowestoft china in the pale-blue Federal dining room. Here hams and turkeys are being destroyed, and the horse centerpiece already bears the winning number with his jockey in the right colors.
Mrs. Brewster, a sister-in-law to the Senator, indicates her beige rugs and says, "This color is so good for the mud in this country." Soon the cr�me de la cr�me will skim off and go to soak in hot tubs and lay out gear for the Hunt Ball in Baltimore's Sheraton-Belvedere that night.
The men, when they appear in their scarlet hunt tailcoats and white-tie trappings, their collars accented in yellow, blue or green velvet signifying their hunts, put the ladies to shame. Like gigantic cardinals in full feather plumage they steal the show, and as the doors close over this ultimate horsy exclusivity up on the hotel's 12th floor an onlooker turns to a friend:
"Well, what would I have to do to be important enough to get invited to the Hunt Ball?"
The friend smiles. "Ride a few horses first. That helps."