Huge day for Young, Hendriks, England, and sweet newcomer Caramelised.
by Tod Marks
Saturday proved a milestone day at Springdale Race Course as Ricky Hendriks recorded his 700th training victory, while Leslie Young won three, new NSA rider David England doubled, and an exciting five-year-old emerged as a formidable presence in the novice ranks.
What began as a dark and rainy day in Camden, S.C., ended in glorious sunshine where the only thing brighter than the weather was the achievements of both horses and humans.
Ricky Hendriks, a two-time NSA champion jockey in the 1980s before turning to training, scored his 700th career victory – over jumps and on the flat – with Daniel Denefrio’s Fightinirishtabit in the $25,000 Kirkover-Woodward Cup handicap for horses rated at 115 or less. It was an emotional moment for Hendriks, who notched his first training win in 1991, as he accepted congratulations from his fellow horseman, owner Denefrio, and jockey Harry Beswick, who piloted the winner.
Fightinirishtabit, an eight-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Tiznow, has been an incredible find for Denefrio and Hendriks who picked up the horse off the flat in Florida in 2019 for $6,000. His wire-to-wire win at 2 1/8 miles (the distance of all hurdle races at Springdale) on Saturday was the fourth for his connections. Gill Johnston’s Ping Pong Champ, with Graham Watters up, finished 3 1/2 lengths behind in second.
It was also a monumental meet for Leslie Young, last year’s leading conditioner, who saddled three of the five hurdle winners on the card, including a sensational newcomer in Caramelised, who had no trouble adapting to U.S. racing following 16 starts in his native England to take the featured $50,000 Carolina Cup novice stakes.
It wasn’t simply the victory itself that turned heads, but how the son of Dansili came from behind to get up in time. After setting the pace in the field of four for the first mile and a half, Del Rio Racing’s Step to the Bar gave way as Sonny Via’s Welshman took charge under Graham Watters. Welshman, coming off of two straight tallies including an authoritative score over tough foes in the the AFLAC Supreme novice stakes last fall, had a three-length advantage entering the long homestretch, flying over the final fence all alone. Heading to the wire, Watters looked back at the competition and seemed to have a solid lead, but Caramelised, under another NSA newcomer – veteran UK reinsman David England – took aim at the leader and blew past him to win by a length.
Owned by Gill Johnston and Sharon Sheppard, Caramelised came from the barn of English trainer Alan King by way of bloodstock agent Hamish Macauley. King has been the source of other good European runners who came stateside including City Dreamer, Gibralfaro, Invocation, and Cracker Factory, according to Young.
“He has settled in super well,” the trainer added.” He has been very straightforward and seems to enjoy our training style. He had a great prep at the Warrenton (Virginia) point to point, finishing right behind The Hero Next Door. We’re super happy with him. He will go in the Queen’s Cup (April 29) if all goes well.”
For 36-year-old David England, it was his second victory on the circuit. His first also came for trainer Young, in the second, the $30,000 Dale Thiel maiden hurdle, with the aforementioned The Hero Next Door, owned by Michael Smith. As impressive as Caramelised was, The Hero Next Door ran like a horse with an equally bright future.
Making his first career start, the stunning near-black Irish-bred stalked Buttonwood Farm’s Sa’ad, who set the pace for a mile and a half, took command by six entering the stretch, and drew off with authority to win by 19 lengths. Sa’ad, with Parker Hendriks in the saddle, held the place spot.
The Thiel was one of two maiden special weights hurdles on the day, the other being the $30,000 C.P. and Edith DuBose Cup. The winner, Joseph Fowler’s Met in Miami, is another recent convert to steeplechase racing, and though her margin of victory was much more narrow than that of The Hero Next Door, her time was a full second faster.
With Bernie Dalton in the saddle for his trainer-wife, Kate, Met in Miami raced on or near the lead for the entire journey, holding off challenges from Rolling Tide’s Press Pause, a first-time starter for Barry Foley and trainer Doug Fout, and Imonlysaying, an Irish-bred trained by Keri Brion making his first U.S. start and second overall. Imonlysaying, owned by Paul and Molly Willis, Upland Flats Racing, Christopher LaBerge, and CFC Stables, made a strong bid but couldn’t keep up with the winner, finishing a length and a half behind in second.
The day began with the $25,000 National Steeplechase Museum maiden claiming hurdle, which gave Young her first winner on the card with Tom Rice’s Lumberjack. The five-year-old son of Declaration of War, who came off the flat in 2021 and made his first jump racing start last October, sat in second for a mile and three quarters behind CFC Stables’ Undercover Rowdy, with Barry Foley. With about three furlongs to go, Mikey Hamill asked his mount for run, and the duo snatched the lead. But Undercover Rowdy fought back and it became a battle to the wire with Lumberjack prevailing in a driving finish by a head. It was another 24 lengths back to the third-place finisher.
Young rider Taylor Kingsley, the daughter of Arch Kingsley, continued her winning ways, taking the training flat finale aboard Hudson River Farms’ Cibolian, trained by her dad. It was the third straight score on the flat for the teenager, who finished a nose in front of Greg Hawkins’ Kiymori, ridden by Harry Beswick.