ANNAPOLIS — Call it the marathon of horse racing.
Heraldic, an Arabian gelding from Anne Arundel County, and his rider, John Crandell III, were honored Wednesday by state officials after winning an individual and a team silver medal in a nearly 75-mile endurance race at the Pan Am Games in Chile last month.
The Pan Am Games is one of the largest international sporting events outside the Olympics.
In 2006, Heraldic became the only horse to ever win the Triple Crown of endurance riding. Standing just more than 15 hands tall, the bay has a competitive personality, Crandell said.
He’s aloof. Focused.
“He doesn’t particularly care about being anyone’s pet,” Crandell said. “He wants to get down to business.”
Back in 2008, Heraldic injured his stifle — the equivalent of the human knee — to the point that trainers weren’t sure he’d even live, let alone compete again.
“It was a huge retraining,” he said. “But we know he’s a one-in-a-million super-athlete. I’ve been around thousands of horses and never had one this athletically consistent.”
The Crandell family is known for its marine construction firm, E.A. and J.O. Crandell Inc. in Annapolis, and operates the Long Run Farms Stable in West River. John Crandell Jr. grew up riding horses, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the family began to seriously breed and train them, his son said.
In a statement, Erin Pittman, vice chairwoman of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, called Heraldic “a world-class athlete” and praised the horse for overcoming career-threatening injuries.
The Maryland Horse Industry Board presented its “Touch of Class” Award to Crandell and the Triple Crown Arabian. Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a proclamation declaring Wednesday “Heraldic and Crandell Family Day.”
Endurance races cover between 50 and 100 miles, and the Pan Am Games race was across rough, mountainous terrain, Crandell said.
“Even though it’s a race, it’s not the least bit reckless,” he said. Since only the rider knows the course and how long the course is, he has to pace himself and his mount appropriately.
Endurance racing of horses allows humans to learn better ways to manage horses and keep them healthy, Crandell said. “It’s a bonus for me that it happens to be fun and exciting as well,” he said.
Crandell said he’d paced Heraldic to hang back with other horses on the U.S. team. But in the final 7 miles, the horse and rider picked up the pace against a team from Uruguay.
The teams were neck and neck.
With only a mile to go, Heraldic tripped while running about 35 miles per hour. “All of a sudden, there’s no horse beneath me,” Crandell said. “I landed on my feet running.”
It knocked the wind out of the horse and skinned Crandell’s knee. But both horse and rider were otherwise uninjured, Crandell said. Crandell climbed back on Heraldic’s back and the two finished the race.
Coming in just about four minutes behind the first-place finisher, they took the silver medal. That’s an incredibly close finish for a 75-mile race, Crandell said.
The U.S. team took the silver medal as well. Heraldic will compete next for the U.S. team in the World Endurance Championship in England in 2012, which will be held simultaneously with the Olympics.
“It’s a tremendously big deal. The United States is in a decade-long slump after being at the top for years,” Crandell said. “It was exciting to see America back in the game and in a big way.”