Aiken, Cheshire recap

The Insider avenges the loss that cost him a title; millionaire flat star Cross Border breaks his maiden over hurdles, and Court Ruler emerges as new timber ace.

The Insider, ridden by Parker Hendriks, won the Imperial Cup at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase. ©Tod Marks

by Tod Marks

The National Steeplechase Association Spring season got underway this past weekend with a combined 10-race doubleheader at Aiken on Saturday and Cheshire on Sunday, with standout performances from familiar names and newcomers alike.

English jockey Harry Beswick began his third season on the NSA circuit with a bang, capturing three races, including back-to-back tallies at the 56th running of the Aiken Steeplechase in South Carolina, and one at the 76th Cheshire Hunt Races in Unionville, Pa. Leading 2022 rider Parker Hendriks doubled at Aiken, while his dad, trainer Ricky Hendriks took a pair – one at each meet. Trainers Keri Brion and Arch Kingsley also bagged two, with Kinglsey’s daughter, Taylor picking up where she left off in 2022 – with her second straight win in a training flat race.

Here’s a breakdown of the action:

At Aiken

Kingsley, Cundith run one-two in training flat opener

The James W. Maloney training flat race at a mile and a quarter got the day started, and young Taylor Kingsley, the daughter of former NSA rider and current trainer Arch Kingsley, picked up where she left off in the 2022 season finale at Charleston, where she earned her first victory.

Piloting Cainudothetwist, also owned by her dad, the duo started quickly and finished with speed to spare, taking the contest by three lengths over Irv Naylor’s Family Tree.  Family Tree was piloted by local Aiken rider Sarah Cundith for trainer Neil Morris.

Former flat star — and millionaire — Cross Border earns his first hurdle win

The nine-year-old New York-bred son of English Channel, who recently kicked off his NSA career, was a 4 3/4-length winner in the $15,000 G.H. Bostwick maiden starter hurdle for horses who have competed for a claiming price of $20,000 or less on the flat or over fences. It’s hard to believe, but the multiple graded stakes winner actually ran for a $20,000 tag — several times — early in his career at Woodbine.

On Saturday, Cross Border, under Parker Hendriks, broke on top in the 2 1/16 mile event, controlling the pace and holding off a determined Flying Elvis Stable’s Be Yourself, with Gerard Galligan aboard.

Trained by Keri Brion, Cross Border gave the Wycoff family’s Three Diamonds Farm (who campaigned their star on the flat) their first NSA score.

Cross Border won 11 races in 44 career starts over seven seasons on the flat. Along the way, he has earned $1,171,479, mostly while under the care of trainer Mike Maker. He finished second eight times and third, five. Among his victories were two in the G2 Bowling Green at Saratoga. During his long and productive first career, Cross Border amassed victories over classy competition including Channel Maker, Rockemperor, Tribhuvan, Sadler’s Joy, and Red Knight.

High Mounte reaches the summit in $20,000 110 Ratings Handicap

Richard Colton’s High Mounte, the son of the Sea the Stars — the seven-time Irish-bred G1 winner of Europe’s most prestigious turf races — did something his illustrious sire never accomplished: win over hurdles.

The eight-year-old, trained by Arch Kingsley and ridden by Graham Watters, sat off the pace in the field of seven for most of the 2 1/8-mile contest, ranged up four wide in the final turn, poking his head in front. From there, it looked like it might be a real race as Sherry Fenwick’s Anticipating, under Gerard Galligan, made a bid exiting the final turn. But High Mounte was just too much horse, extending his lead to the final fence and driving home 10 3/4 lengths clear of Anticipating to record the widest winning margin of the day. Fearnaught Farm’s Hooroo was third, three-quarters of a length behind the runner up for jockey Barry Foley and trainer Doug Fout.

For High Mounte, it was his second victory in five NSA outings, and the first in a handicap. His first score was in a maiden claimer at the Carolina Cup last year.

Seismic Wave jolts foes in $25,000 maiden hurdle

William Russell’s Seismic Wave is proof positive that an accomplished horse on the flat can have a productive second career over jumps.

With Harry Beswick in the irons for trainer Neil Morris, the seven-year-old son of Tapit stalked Gary Barber’s pacesetter, Finding Freedom, launching his bid entering the stretch. At about the same time, Three Diamonds Farm’s Girl Dad, under Parker Hendriks, unfurled his rally, and the trio hit the last jump in unison. And that’s when things got a bit rough.

Girl Dad fell at the fence, and Seismic Wave came out under left-hand urging, bumping Finding Freedom, a four-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro making his NSA debut for jockey Bernie and trainer Kate Dalton. The winner was able to straighten out and eventually edge clear over a gutsy Finding Freedom to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.

Dalton lodged an objection against Seismic Wave for interference, but there was no change in order of finish following a stewards’ review. Hill Parker’s Carl Timothy was third.

For Seismic Wave, a three-time black-type stakes winner of more than $400,000 on the flat, it was his first NSA win and his first victory since taking the English Channel stakes at Belmont Park in the fall of 2019.

Royally-bred West Newton survives trouble to prevail in $30,000 handicap

Talk about overcoming adversity. Dueling for the lead at the last fence, Upland Flats Racing and John W. Lewis’ West Newton smacked the wing, briefly lost his momentum, then straightened himself out before kicking clear by 3 1/4 lengths.

Bred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth — and now trained by Ricky Hendriks — the seven-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy opened up a clear lead under Harry Beswick shortly after the flag dropped in the 2 1/8-mile handicap for horses rated at 120 or less.

West Newton was cruising along with a narrow lead late in the race over Daniel Baker’s Decisive Triumph, under Jamie Bargary, and Potter Group USA’s hard-charging Uco Valley, with UK veteran and NSA newcomer David England aboard.

As the trio approached the final fence, West Newton veered inward, hitting the wing, and relinquishing the lead briefly to Uco Valley. Incredibly, horse and rider were able to pull themselves together, and when Beswick stepped on the gas, West Newton accelerated and Uco Valley was unable to keep up with the winner.

The Insider avenges Alston Cup mishap with convincing Imperial Cup victory

With leading rider Parker Hendriks aboard, Hudson River Farms, Madaket Stables, and R and K Racing’s The Insider broke on top and never looked back in the finale, the featured $35,000 Imperial Cup Sport of Kings four-year-old hurdle stakes.

A field of three — all trained by Keri Brion — contested the 2 1/16 mile event, and it was a spirited battle from the get go.

Toting highweight of 157 pounds, The Insider controlled the pace, never leading by more than a few lengths, repelled a challenge by Topic Changer (with Barry Foley) and a big move by the filly Clara Belle and Bernie Dalton before pulling away from the latter to score by three lengths.

For The Insider, a runaway winner of the prestigious Gladstone three-year-old stakes at Far Hills last October when trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Davy Russell, the triumph was consolation for a spill involving both the Irish-bred and Clara Belle at Charleston last fall. The spill occurred at the final fence and the winner was Topic Changer, who avoided the mishap, winning the race and along with it, the three-year-old title.

At Cheshire

Court Ruler rules in $15,000 Cheshire Bowl

It looks like timber racing has a shining new star. A proven talent over hurdles, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Court Ruler took off like a jet and finished like a rocket, storming to victory in the Cheshire Bowl by 14 lengths. Like all of the sanctioned timber races at Cheshire, the distance was three miles.

Ridden by 2022 leading apprentice Freddie Procter and trained by leading trainer Leslie Young, Court Ruler proved he’s a force to be reckoned with over timber. Taking the lead at the break in the four-horse field, the nine-year-old Irish-bred skipped along the course, flying over fence after fence, building a 20-plus length lead at one time or another.

Veteran timber ace Mystic Strike, making his 14-year-old debut, was second, with The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory third. Fat Chance Farm’s Flaming Sword was fourth.

Court Ruler was a two-time winner over hurdles in 2022, including a score in a 120 ratings handicap, and romped by 37 lengths in his second start over timber at Callaway Gardens last fall.

Master Seville wins the Paddy Neilson as rest of field goes off course

Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian rallied late to take command then held off a stiff challenge by South Branch Equine’s Master Seville to capture the $10,000 Louis Neilson III timber allowance (restricted to apprentice riders) by a diminishing half length.

But hold all tickets. After a stewards’ review, it was determined that three of the four runners went off course, and the race was awarded to Master Seville, who was correctly ridden by Brett Owings for trainer Mark Beecher.

Master Seville, a two-time winner over timber last year, broke his maiden over the Cheshire course in 2022.

Chosen Mate holds off Rhythmia in first division of maiden timber

In a thrilling finish, Armata Stable’s Chosen Mate, ridden by Harry Beswick for Ricky Hendriks, held off a determined challenge by Upland Partners’ Rhythmia to prevail by a length and a half in the first division of the maiden timber contest.

For much of the going, the five-horse field remained tightly bunched behind pacesetter Chosen Mate, who was able to scoot clear whenever challenged.

But as the real racing began with the long uphill climb to the finish, Chosen Mate began to open up but couldn’t completely shake clear of Rhythmia, ridden by Colin Smith for trainer Todd McKenna. In fact, it appeared as if Rhythmia might catch the winner as both competitors gave it their all.

For Harry Beswick it was his third winner of the weekend, having doubled at Aiken. For Chosen Mate it was his first on the NSA circuit. His last victory came at Kilarney in Ireland back in the summer of 2020.

Fletched claws back to take second division of $10,000 maiden timber

In another exciting finish, Black and Blue Stable’s Fletched, the pacesetter who appeared to give way late, staged a remarkable comeback under Elizabeth Scully to edge Ballybristol Farm’s Cause for Pardon at the wire by less than a half length. Stewart Strawbridge’s Lap of the Gods, who came from far off the pace to stage a stirring rally of his own under Parker Hendriks, was another half length behind in third.

For most of the three miles, there was little change in position among the seven starters, with Fletched on top, Ashwell Stables’ Bet the Pot in second, and Cause for Pardon close behind in third.

As the pace quickened with three fences to go, Fletched was joined by Cause for Pardon, under Freddie Procter, and the duo separated themselves from the rest of the field. It wasn’t long before Cause for Pardon pulled away and looked like a sure winner. But Fletched got his second wind, narrowing the gap as Lap of the Gods made his move to get up for the show spot.

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