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Happy birthday, Buzz Hannum
May 7 is special for so many reasons, but especially to one of jump racing’s standouts
It happens all the time in American steeplechasing: The first names change but the last names don’t.

Pennsylvania’s Hannum clan is no exception.

Get to know Richard Penn Smith Hannum – Buzz to his many friends and admirers, and find out the surprising reason the iconic former amateur rider still feels strangely drawn south of the border.
By Betsy Burke Parker
It’s just a day of the week, but May 7 carries the burden of notoriety as well as wearing a beatific sheen. In 1915, the British liner Lusitania sank off the Irish coast on May 7, killing more than a thousand people. In 1945, May 7 was when German High Command Gen. Alfred Jodl begrudgingly handed Dwight Eisenhower the Nazi regime’s unconditional surrender.

On May 7, 1970, the Beatles released their last studio album, “Let It Be.”

On May 7, 1977, Seattle Slew won the Kentucky Derby, trainer Billy Turner having earned his spurs riding for Hall of Fame trainer Burley Cocks 1958-1963.

And in a darkened birthing room at the back of the Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on May 7, 1944, Richard Penn Smith Hannum took his first ragged breath and started squalling.

"And I guess I haven't stopped ever since," quips Hannum, at 77 retired from a standout race career that saw him ride winners of almost every one of the nation's top timber races, and a standout law career that saw him follow in the footsteps of his father, a longtime District judge in their native Pennsylvania.

The second-born of three children of Nancy Penn Smith Hannum and husband John Hannum, the tiny boy who they’d come to call Buzz (Douglas Lees photo, above) was pretty much born into the steeplechase world. His father was an amateur jockey in his day; Buzz followed John into racing as well as into law. His mother, a lifelong foxhunter and steeplechase trainer, encouraged all three of her children to pursue both hunting and racing.
Last spring, the pandemic and resulting shutdown had Hannum “very bored and pent up. I literally had nothing going on, so I called up Charlie Fenwick and asked to come for a ride,” he recalls. “We went out for about an hour’s hack.

“You know, I used to consider myself a contributing member of the horse-rider team, but, after that ride, I recognize that I no longer qualify.

“I literally fell to the ground when I went to dismount. It’d been a long time since I rode, but, wow, it was bad.”
Buzz Hannum on Royal Ruse (left) and Charlie Fenwick hacking out at Charlie's farm in Butler, Md., in May 2020.
South of the border, west of the sun
For a son of Pennsylvania, Hannum admits that he’s got a real sweet tooth for the signature race of one of the border states.

“I’m really devoted to the Maryland Hunt Cup,” he says. “Once you win the Maryland Hunt Cup, people really know who you are.”
Even in his non-riding retirement, Hannum says he tries to attend the Glyndon race every year. “This year was amazing,” he says of attending the 125th Hunt Cup two weeks ago. “I was standing at the third as Vintage Vinnie was approaching, already a fence in front of the field. He was going so fast, and I’m saying to myself ‘this is not going to be pretty, first-time Hunt Cup starter, first-time Hunt Cup jock (Dan Nevin.)'

“The horse stood off and flew it. Unbelievable. (Douglas Lees photo, left)

“Those are the things that make Hunt Cup, Hunt Cup.”

Hannum knows from experience: he won his first Hunt Cup – 1970 with his mother’s Morning Mac, and followed up in 1973 – Morning Mac again, and 1976 – with Fort Devon.

Hannum had gotten the ride on Fort Devon initially in a roundabout way.
Early in his race career, Hannum roomed with Paddy Neilson, sharing an apartment in Unionville. Hannum recalls he “was able to profit from the fact that my roommate couldn’t accept every single race ride he was offered. I sometimes got his spares.

“Paddy had elected to take (another) mount at Rolling Rock (in October, 1973.) I got the call on Fort Devon, who was making his first start in the U.S.” for trainer Betty Bird, Hannum recalls.

Fort Devon didn't win that day, but he ended up winning nine of 21 races – Hannum was his only rider; they won the Grand National twice, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup and the Maryland Hunt Cup. Fort Devon was 1974 and 1975 Timber Horse of the Year.
1976 Grand National 9th fence: Fort Devon (Buzz Hannum, up)--1st leading the field which included #13--Oliphant (Michael Plumb, up) and Minaccia with Charlie Fenwick, up. ©Douglas Lees
1976 Maryland Hunt Cup, 3rd fence left to right: Minaccia (Charlie Fenwick, up)--3rd, Fort Devon (Buzz Hannum, up) - 1st. ©Douglas Lees
Longtime friend and contemporary Russell Jones (left, ©Douglas Lees) says Buzz Hannum was a fierce competitor in his day. “He was brought up that way because that’s what his mother was,” Jones says. “He just about had no choice. His father was formidable too. Buzz was a good rider, and he did accomplish a lot.

“We had a ton of fun, for so many years. We raced together, foxhunted together, a whole gang of us from the Unionville area. Those were memorable years.”

When Hannum retired from racing in 1991, he did not want to pick up as a trainer like many former riders do. “I never trained, never wanted to,” he says. “I didn’t like the thought of having all that responsibility, day in and day out.

“I know it sounds awful, but I quite enjoyed coming to the paddock, getting on the horse, then going home afterwards. You could say my racing experiences, by and large, were all pleasure.”

Though Hannum doesn’t attend many races, he says he avidly follows the sport through NSA reports and watches the live stream most weeks. Great-niece Chloe Hannum, who won her first open point-to-point jump race this spring, is carrying the family tradition.

“Maybe I’m selfish to have extracted all the juice from the lemon, but not remaining involved directly,” Hannum reflects. “Those are just tremendous memories. There’s nothing that can replace that.”
Buzz building blocks:
Morning Mac
Nancy Hannum’s Morning Mac was a 1963 son of Gene Weymouth’s Cormac. Cormac, injured in the 1949 Maryland Hunt Cup, sired many winning ‘chasers – 1974 Hunt Cup winner Burnmac, 1970 and ‘72 Virginia Gold Cup winner King of Spades and 1976 Olympic (Montreal) individual and team three-day event gold medalist Bally Cor.

Morning Mac was a real family horse – owned and trained by Nancy Hannum, and ridden by all three of her children. Buzz Hannum followed sister Carol (third in the 1970 ladies’ timber at Andrews Bridge in the horse’s first start) and brother Jock (third in the heavyweight at Cheshire the next week) partnering the horse he called “a sweet ride, a real gentleman.” Buzz was second (to Landing Party) in the allowance at the Grand National then swept the biggest win of his life a week later.

“The going was bottomless. It had rained all week,” Hannum recalls of winning the 1970 Maryland Hunt Cup, his first ride in the stiff test. “Morning Mac was an outstanding jumper, so that kind of footing really showcased him.”

Event rider Kevin Freeman was third in the 1971 Hunt Cup with Morning Mac, then Buzz Hannum got the mount back in ‘72. He was fourth in the Hunt Cup that year but returned to win it a second time in 1973.

Buzz’s brother-in-law Bruce Davidson (Olympic three-day eventing gold in 1976 and 1984, and World Champion in 1974 and 1978) got the ride in 1975; Morning Mac retired the next year to the hunt field for Nancy Hannum.

(Photo, above: 1973 Maryland Hunt Cup, 13th fence L-R: Evening Mail (Frank Chapot, up)--3rd; Early Earner (J.W.Y. Martin, up); Morning Mac (Buzz Hannum, up)--1st. ©Douglas Lees)
Douglas Lees' first "The Maryland Horse" cover: Morning Mac and Buzz Hannum after the 3rd fence in the 1970 MHC
Buzz building blocks:
Fort Devon/Jacko rivalry
Russell Jones, Jr. swept the nation’s top timber races in the 1970s with Jacko – Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, Deep Run Hunt Cup, Chronicle Cup, the Radnor Hunt Cup, Rose Tree, My Lady’s Manor and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

He remembers Buzz Hannum came close to beating the four-time Timber Horse of the Year in the 1975 Hunt Cup.

“I put (Jacko) on the lead, that’s where he was comfortable,” says Jones, 85. The April 26 race included an added hazard of actual running water on the course, torrential rain having formed a little river across the galloping lane from the 15th down the hill to the 14th.

“Jacko was going well, but I remember Buzz coming to me (on Fort Devon) at the 19th along with Turney McKnight (on Hammurabi.)

“I have a great photo of the three of us all in the air at once, and you can see Hammurabi hanging a knee.”

Hammurabi fell, leaving the nation’s top timber stars to power to the line together. Jacko won on the nod, but Jones feels like he was easily best.

For his part, Hannum argues Fort Devon had an excuse.

“So I’m beaten a whisker by Jacko,” Hannum explains sheepishly. “Charlie Fenwick reminds me all the time it was my own damned fault. As Margaret Worrall so helpfully reported in her book (“100 Years of the Maryland Hunt Cup,”) I was overweight by two pounds. Fort Devon carried 167. Jacko carried 165.

“Did it make a difference? Could I have won? We’ll never know, will we?

“Those were serious horses.”

Jacko got the best of Fort Devon that day at Hunt Cup, but by year’s end, Fort Devon had accrued more points and secured his second-straight timber title. Jacko had been timber champ in 1971, ‘72 and ‘73, and came back for a fourth title in 1976.

(Photo, above: 1973 Grand National, 9th fence L-R: Jacko (Russell Jones, up)--3rd; Happy Orphan, partially obscured, Charlie Fenwick up - 1st, Paddy Neilson on Air Joy and #1--Fort Devon (Buzz Hannum, up). ©Douglas Lees)
Buzz building blocks:
Our Ivory Tower

Another Hannum clan family horse, Our Ivory Tower was a standout race mare and producer.

Owned by Nancy Hannum, the 15 hand chestnut was ridden exclusively by her children Carol – they won several ladies timber races, and Buzz – they were second in the 1970 Virginia Gold Cup and third in 1971, then won the 1972 My Lady’s Manor and Grand National.

Homebred by Mary Rumsey, Nancy Hannum’s cousin, Our Ivory Tower “was a little bit difficult,” Buzz Hannum recalls, “but my mother kinda liked that in a horse. She had some very, very good foals,” including 1985 Grand National and Hunt Cup winner Our Steeplejack and Our Climber, second in the 1987 Hunt Cup.

(Photo, above: 1970 Virginia Gold Cup left to right: Our Ivory Tower(Buzzy Hannum, up)--2nd; King of Spades(Doug Small, up)--1st. ©Douglas Lees)
Sibling rivalry in the 1985 Maryland Hunt Cup, left to right: Appollinax (John Coles, up)—5th; Our Climber (Buzz Hannum, up) - 4th; Cancottage (Joy Carrier, up)—3rd; Bewley’s Hill (Dixon Stroud, up)—2nd; Our Steeplejack (Johnny Bosley, up)—1st. ©Douglas Lees
Buzz building blocks:
First timber horse to ever win an Eclipse Award. (Sort of)
English-bred Master’s Degree was a winning hurdle horse for owner Mrs. William Wright and trainer Morris Dixon in the early 1970s. Kathleen Crompton bought the horse as a timber prospect after the 1975 season. She placed him with Pennsylvania trainer Bill Walsh.

Paddy Neilson had the call in three point-to-points but fell off at Radnor.

Walsh gave the mount to Buzz Hannum.

Hannum and Master’s Degree won a couple point-to-points then were second in the Virginia Gold Cup and the timber stake at Hardscuffle to cap the spring.

Next out was the timber at Foxfield Fall.

“I remember approaching that fence on the backside there at the bottom of the hill,” Hannum recalls Master’s Degree had been perfectly willing to be bold and stand off his fences up to that point, but when Hannum suggested the horse leave long – again, Master’s Degree set down and tried to add a stride.

There wasn’t room for it.

“The result, well the result you can see,” Hannum says of photographer Douglas Lees’ five-frame capture of the spectacular spill as a result of Master’s Degree chesting the stacked rail jump. “Honestly, it was a really soft fall, nobody was any worse for the wear.”

Lees won the Eclipse Award for the perfectly timed, perfectly framed, perfectly exposed shot of Master’s Degree standing on his head, Hannum poised mid-air as if still riding the horse across the turf.

“I used to tease Walshy that I won him the Eclipse Award that he’d always wanted.”

(1978 Eclipse Award-winning photo of Master's Degree and Buzz Hannum at the Foxfield Races. ©Douglas Lees)
Buzz building blocks:
John Berne Hannum died in 2007 at age 92. A graduate of the Dickinson School of Law, in 1969, he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President Richard M. Nixon. He served for 23 years.

John Hannum rode as an amateur in the 1940s and ‘50s, first to retire the Cheshire Bowl with Plunkett Stewart’s Our Hobo. Our Hobo was third in the 1949 Hunt Cup, second in 1950 and ‘51.

“The Maryland Hunt Cup was always this elusive prize my parents were always interested in,” Buzz Hannum says. “Our Hobo was a great jumper, but he kept running into Pine Pep,” who beat him in ‘49 and ‘50.

(Photo, above: Winner Pine Pep (No. 5 at right) clears the first jump in the 1949 Maryland Hunt Cup with Mikey Smithwick aboard. R - L from there: Village Gossip (No. 8), Count Steffan (No. 10), Our Hobo (No. 9) and Dunlon (No. 11) also clear the barrier. (Nolan / Baltimore Sun file photo)
Brooklawn, the Hannum family estate in Unionville, PA. Nancy Hannum's stepfather, W. Plunkett Stewart, taught her the value of preserving the land.
Hannum's son Corbett benefitted from hippotherapy - Hannum was and continues to be a huge supporter of Quest Therapeutic Services in West Chester, Pa.
Buzz building blocks:
Mother Nancy Penn Smith Hannum died in March, 2010 at age 90. Born on Long Island, Nancy was niece of New York governor Averell Harriman. Her parents were joint masters of the Orange County Hounds that had relocated from New York to The Plains, Virginia in the early 1900s.

After her father’s premature death in 1929, her mother married Plunkett Stewart and the family moved to Unionville, Pennsylvania where her stepfather was master of the Cheshire Foxhounds he’d founded in 1912.

Nancy married John Hannum in 1940; she took the horn, and the mastership, at Cheshire when her father died in 1948.

Nancy Hannum served the Cheshire more than five decades, avidly following as a road whip for years after she retired from the saddle.

In addition to leaving a continuing family line in the horse world, Nancy Hannum’s most enduring legacy is more than 30,000 acres permanently preserved through conservation easements.

“Mom could walk with kings and not lose the common touch,” eldest son Jock Hannum paraphrased poet Rudyard Kipling at her funeral. He told a story about Michael Daly, a World War II war hero who received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Speaking of Nancy Hannum, Daly told him, “Jock, never have I met anyone who could have led men into battle any better.”
1969 Bowman Bowl trophy presentation at the Fairfax Races at the Bowman's Sunset Hills property in Reston, Va. Jockey Buzz Hannum, who rode his mother's Bradford Meeting to the win, owner-trainer Mrs. John B. Hannum in center receiving trophy from then future (1970-1974) Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton.
©Douglas Lees
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