By Tod Marks
After an abbreviated four-race steeplechase program at Saratoga and 16 hurdle events at Colonial Downs, the National Steeplechase Association summer came to a dramatic end on Friday as Irv Naylor’s Bercasa gave the stable a season to remember while veteran NSA rider Ross Geraghty called it a career.
In the Life’s Illusion, a distaff handicap at 2 ¼ miles named after the first female to win the Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser, Bercasa, the starting 155-pound highweight, overcame adversity to come from off the pace in a driving finish to overtake Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo by a half length.
With Gerard Galligan aboard for trainer Kathy Neilson, Bercasa rated near the rear of the field, jumped poorly over the fourth fence, got shuffled back to last the second time around the course, then closed with a flourish to secure the win. Right Tempo, ridden by Harry Beswick for trainer Leslie Young, came from off the pace as well to vie for the lead, but just got outkicked. Carrington Holdings’ Cainudothetwist ran well to finish third, a neck behind Right Tempo.
For the Irish-bred eight-year-old mare, it was her second prestigious win in three 2023 outings. Her first victory came in the Margeret Currey Henley stakes at the Iroquois Races in May. In her previous start, she finished third over the New Kent, Va., course in the Randolph Rouse filly and mare stakes last month. For the Naylor stable, the victory was its fifth of the summer, four of which were stakes.
In the two other hurdle races on Friday’s card, Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Tease and Seize captured the $35,000 handicap for horses rated at 110 or less, under Mell Boucher for trainer Richard Valentine, while Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Daigneault Thoroughbreds’ Abaan was victorious in the $40,000 maiden special weights events for the rider-trainer duo of Bernie and Kate Dalton. Both races were also contested at 2 ¼ miles.
Tease and Seize, a five-year-old French-bred, took the lead at the flag drop, controlled the pace, and drew off easily by 7 ¼ lengths for his first NSA tally. William Russell’s Seismic Wave, ridden by Graham Watters, was second, with Tom Rice’s Oscar Winner (Gerard Galligan) third.
Abaan, a Grade 3 winner of more than $400,000 on the flat, ran a strong second in his hurdle debut on Aug. 11 at Colonial, and improved upon that effort with an even more impressive run on Friday for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, a prominent player in flat racing but a newcomer to jump racing. Abaan, a six-year-old son of Travers winner Will Take Charge, was never worse than fourth in the field of nine, and launched his bid on the far turn the second lap around the course, drawing off by 7 ¼ lengths as much the best. Rolling Tide’s Press Pause, a recent newcomer to steeplechasing, too, ran second for much of the going and maintained the place spot, a length and a half clear of Alexander Fulton’s Reassured (Jamie Bargary).
The finale was a rich $50,000 allowance race at 2 miles on the turf for runners who had started over jumps at this season’s meet without winning. The winner was Gill Johnston’s Riptide Rock, ridden by Graham Watters and trained by Neil Morris. A five-year-old son of Point of Entry, Grade 2-placed Riptide Rock had a long and successful flat career, earning more than $400,000 in 17 previous starts. In his one and only hurdle start, on Aug. 25, he finished third in a four-horse field. Sent off as the $2.70-1 favorite in the field of 12 on Friday, Riptide Rock made a four-wide move on the turn, closing from 10th to win going away by 3 ¾ lengths. Atlantic Friends Racing’s Just Another One finished second at nearly 21-1, under Gavin Ashton for trainer Keri Brion.
Ross Geraghty hangs up his tack
The veteran Irish reinsman, a fixture on the National Steeplechase Association circuit for 15 years, announced his retirement at Colonial following a stellar career. A champion rider, Geraghty retires with 125 wins in 831 mounts and $4.6 million in earnings.
Geraghty piloted many standout jumpers to Grade 1 victories including Optimus Prime, Dawalan, Surprising Soul, Top Striker, Black Jack Blues, and Your Sum Man (pictured with Ross after capturing the G1 Grand National at Far Hills in 2009 for trainer Tom Voss).
Just three years after leaving his home country, Ross won 17 races (in 2012), three more than runner-up Darren Nagle, to dethrone Paddy Young.