By Tod Marks
The first weekend of the National Steeplechase Association fall season was a blockbuster for Leslie Young, who padded her lead in the training standings, while Freddie Procter zoomed into the top three among riders.
With a hat trick at both Shawan Downs in Cockeyesville, Md., and at Foxfield in Charlottesville, Va.,Young has amassed 27 victories with nine meets to go on the calendar. Five of those wins came over hurdles. Last season, Young won her first training title, with 37 wins, and you’d have to go back to the late Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard in 1988 to find a trainer who won more races than that (39). Jack Fisher is currently second in the standings, with 13 wins.
Procter, who rang up 19 victories and 33 top-three finishes in 51 starts in his first year on the circuit, hasn’t ridden as much this year, but he’s made the most of his opportunities. His four weekend victories give him a total of nine in 22 starts, which moves him up to third, three behind Harry Beswick and two behind Graham Watters, and tied with Barry Foley (who is out with an injury).
Here’s a rundown of the action at Shawan Downs:
Cracker Factory gets in gear late to take $35,000 Brown Advisory timber stakes
Racing at the back of the five-horse field for much of the 3 1/8 miles, The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory unleashed a powerful rally past the final fence to edge Boudinot Farm’s Elusive Exclusive by a head in the Brown Advisory timber stakes.
Ridden by Jamie Bargary for trainer Mark Beecher, the eight-year-old British-bred son of Poet’s Voice looked like he’d be in a dog fight for second with defending timber champion Andi’amu heading to the last, as Elusive Exclusive, with Freddie Procter, seemingly in command. But Cracker Factory dug down and gained ground with every stride to get up just in time. Andi’amu was third.
Fat Chance Farm’s Flaming Sword, ridden by Zach Miller, set the pace for the first 2 miles, with Andi’amu (Harry Beswick) alongside. Andi’amu took the lead on the final circuit, but relinquished it near the last fence to Elusive Exclusive, who was caught by Cracker Factory at the wire. Andi’amu hung in gamely, only a length behind the top two.
The win was the second NSA timber stakes score for Cracker Factory, the first coming in last fall’s National Sporting Library & Museum Cup at the Virginia Fall Races at Middleburg.
Lightning strikes in first try over jumps
KMSN Stable’s Lightning Ridge made his debut over hurdles a winning one, taking the opener — a $20,000 maiden for sophomores — in wire to wire fashion under Parker Hendriks for trainer Keri Brion.
The Pennsylvania-bred son of Peace and Justice had made seven previous starts, at Colonial Downs, Penn National, Parx, and Presque Isle Downs, with a single maiden claiming victory.
Lightning Ridge broke swiftly, opened up a lead of as much as nine lengths, and rolled home by 6 ¾ lengths over Gill Johnston’s late-closing Anzio, a lightly raced son of Temple City, also making his first NSA start. Jamie Bargary rode the runner up for trainer Jack Fisher. Riverdee Stable and Joseph Fowler’s Snow Geese was third.
Here comes the Judge
Making his first career start at age 4, Sharon Sheppard’s Chosen Judge sat off the pace for much of the 2 mile going, then took charge around the final turn and withstood a closing charge by Irv Naylor’s Travesuras to take the second race, a $30,000 maiden hurdle.
The Irish-bred winner, ridden by Mikey Hamill, was the first of three victories on the card for leading trainer Leslie Young. Travesuras, making his second NSA start following 11 in England, showed sharp improvement since his debut at Colonial Downs in August. Gerard Galligan rode the place horse.
Rocket One soars in $25,000 handicap
Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Rocket One began his NSA career last April and in just four starts, the Kentucky-bred son of Into Mischief has made a strong impression.
Following two seconds and a victory in maiden special weights company, the four-old, trained by Jack Fisher, gutted out a win in a 115 handicap, scoring by a head over Bruton Street-US’ South Mountain.
With Graham Watters riding, Rocket One sat in sixth for the first 1 3/4 miles of the 2-mile race, closed strongly on the final turn, took the lead over the last jump, and prevailed in a spirited drive over South Mountain and Jamie Bargary. Gill Johnston’s Ping Pong Champ (Tom Garner) was third.
Total Joy romps in allowance hurdle
Noble Stables’ Total Joy gave Leslie Young her second winner on the card when the Irish-bred son of Ribchester scooted off to a 10-length victory in the fourth, a $35,000 allowance for non-winners of two.
Ridden by Freddie Procter, the four-year-old is now a perfect two-for-two since coming over from Europe earlier this season. In his first start, at the Radnor Hunt Races in May, he defeated Irv Naylor’s Gold Charm by a neck. Gold Charm would go on to win the $75,000 Randolph Rouse Stakes for fillies and mares at Colonial Downs in her following start.
In Saturday’s race, Total Joy stalked in third early, secured the lead in the stretch, and was home free from there. Leipers Fork Steeplechasers For The Parish, also trained by Young and ridden by Conor Tierney, was second, a neck ahead of Gill Johnston’s Pure Courage (Elizabeth Scully).
Salamanca School breaks maiden over timber
Making his first start since last November, Fat Chance Farm’s Salamanca School gave Leslie Young a training hat trick and Freddie Procter a riding double, with a runaway victory in the $15,000 timber maiden at 3 1/8 miles.
With a stalking trip behind owner-trainer Elizabeth Korrell’s Don’t Shout, ridden by Virginia Korrell, the six-year-old French-bred son of Rock of Gibraltar was in charge by the time the field turned for home, opening up a big lead over the last and coasting home by nine lengths. Don’t Shout hung on for second, with Happenstance Stable and Achsah O’Donovan’s Hero’s Return (Brett Owings) third.
The victory was the first in two U.S. outings for Salamanca School following 22 starts in Europe.
Chosen Mate leads from start to finish in apprentice timber race finale
Armata Stable’s Chosen Mate, a veteran of 34 starts over five seasons, continued to add to his productive 2023 resume with his third score of the season in the day’s finale, a $7,000 allowance over timber restricted to apprentice riders.
With Virginia Korrell aboard for trainer Ricky Hendriks, Chosen Mate began with a flourish and ended with a kick, going wire to wire to prevail by 2 1/2 lengths over a late-charging Schoodic. Schoodic, owned by Dolly Fisher and trained by Jack Fisher, is a multiple stakes winner over timber and hurdles with career earnings of a half-million dollars. The 13-year-old Tiznow gelding’s best days may be behind him, but he was unhurried early, hit his best stride in mid-stretch, and closed stoutly, showing he still has plenty of grit. Ballybristol Farm’s Rakhaa, ridden by Sarah Cundith, was a close third.
Chosen Mate, a 10-year-old Irish-bred son of Well Chosen, has now captured three of his four 2023 starts, giving him 11 lifetime tallies, most of which came in Europe.
And at Foxfield
Eye of Gunfighter wins shootout in maiden claimer
Virginia Korrell, who had a winner on the final race on Saturday at Shawan Downs, picked up where she left off on Sunday, piloting Hickory Made Stables and Celtic Venture Stable’s’ Eye of Gunfighter to a front-running score over eight rivals in a $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle at 2 ⅛ miles.
Sprinting to the lead at the flag drop, the six-year-old Pennsylvania-bred, trained by Larry Smith, led by as much as five lengths and repelled challenges at one time or another from Tom Rice’s Secret Soulmate, Runnymoore Racing’s Codigo, and a late surge by Vivian Rall’s Icandothat, who finished second, under rider/trainer Sean McDermott, beaten two lengths. Louisa Stevens and Achsah O’Donovan’s Greylover (Jamie Bargary) was third.
In his lengthy, 54-race career, Eye of Gunfighter has seesawed between flat and jump racing. This was his first victory over hurdles.
The Hero Next Door makes heroic return
Michael Smith’s The Hero Next Door, a budding star en route to victory when he fell at the final fence in the Green Pastures novice stakes at the Iroquois Races in May, made his first start since his mishap in the second at Foxfield, a training flat race.
Ridden by Mikey Hamill for trainer Leslie Young, The Hero Next Door was content to sit in second in the field of 11 going 1 1/4 miles, as Shannon Hill Farm’s Sliabh Aughty, with Tom Garner, exploded to a huge lead and nursed his advantage until running out of gas near the final turn. At that point, The Hero Next Door snatched the lead and prevailed in a hand ride by 2 ½ lengths over Sonny Via’s late-closing Welshman (Graham Watters). Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision was third.
The victory by The Hero Next Door sets the Irish-bred four-year-old up for the fall’s big races to come, notably steeplechasing’s championship day at Far Hills on Oct. 21. The lightly raced gelding had won his first two starts impressively and had a clear lead in the Green Pastures when he fell.
Afraid Not takes $30,000 filly & mare maiden
Bonnie Rye Stable’s Afraid Not, another runner who has alternated between flat and jump racing, defeated nine foes by 3 ¼ lengths in the maiden special weights hurdle for fillies and mares at 2 ⅛ miles.
Breaking alertly under Gerard Galligan, the Julie Gomena-trainee set the pace as Atlantic Friends Racing’s Lacey Underall and Mell Boucher stalked in second. But with two fences to go, the field bunched up and fanned across the course, and it looked like any one of the eight runners had a legitimate shot. Heading to the final fence, Buttonwood Farm’s Lady’s Game (Tom Garner) made her move on the outside, but Afraid Not had plenty left and actually drew off powerfully in the final furlong. Lacey Underall fought back to finish second, with Lady’s Game 4 ½ lengths behind in third.
Newcomer Garrison Forest takes down nine foes in $30,000 maiden hurdle
The third time proved a charm for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Garrison Forest. The four-year-old Irish-bred, who began his career with two previous unplaced starts over the summer at Colonial Downs, benefitted from those experiences with a come-from-behind victory in the fourth race, another maiden special weights event at 2 1/8 miles.
With Freddie Procter riding for Leslie Young, the Walk in the Park Gelding broke in midpack, rallied on the outside from seventh after the ninth fence to pass the frontrunners, Northwoods Stable’s Look North, with Jamie Bargary, and Gill Johnston’s Active Duty (Tom Garner). Active Duty was tough as nails and dug in, until Garrison Forest drew clear by a length and a half in the final strides. Look North was four lengths behind Active Duty in third.
Arrowheart makes it back-to-back wins with $25,000 handicap score
Starting slowly and waiting patiently to strike, Charlie Fenwick’s Arrowheart took charge after the first mile and didn’t look back, drawing off by nearly 10 lengths in a handicap for horses rated at 110 or less at 2 ¼ miles.
The five-year-old New York-bred Hard Spun Gelding, a veteran of a dozen starts on the NYRA circuit, entered the race off of a layoff of nearly 11 months. In his previous start, he captured a maiden claiming hurdle at the Montpelier Hunt Races.
The win was also the second straight on the card for both trainer Leslie Young and jockey Freddie Procter.
Content to sit in midpack as Ann Jackson’s Left Blank and Elizabeth Scully set the early pace, Arrowheart assumed control with two fences to go, widening his lead with every stride. Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Kid, ridden by Stephen Mulqueen, came within striking distance with a quarter mile to go, but faded. After a poor start, Paul and Molly Willis’ New Appointment rallied to finish third under Mell Boucher.
Who’s Counting an easy winner in $35,000 handicap
In a third win on the day for horses who have concurrently competed on the flat and over jumps, South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting pounced on Genet Racing’s Wicked West after the second to last fence, cut the corner on the far inside and spurted clear to take the finale at Foxfield, a 120 handicap at 2 ¼ miles, by 6 ¾ lengths.
Trained and ridden by Sean McDermott, the five-year-old Maryland-bred won for the first time since consecutive victories at Colonial Downs in 2022, a starter allowance on the flat over turf, and a handicap over fences.
When Wicked West (ridden by Tom Garner) weakened in the late going, Bruton Street-US’ Presence of Mind (Jamie Bargary) launched his bid from sixth at the10th fence and appeared as if he’d be in the thick of things, but was unable to gain ground on the winner. William Russell’s Animal Kingston (Graham Watters) was third.