By Tod Marks
Project Two goes wire to wire in maiden hurdle
Breaking on top and never looking back, Michael Smith’s Project Two stormed to victory in today’s $40,000 maiden special weights hurdle at the New Kent, Va., course.
Confidently ridden by Tom Garner for leading trainer Leslie Young, the four-year-old Irish-bred son of Belardo demonstrated the talent he flashed in his first National Steeplechase Association start in the Gladstone Stakes for three-year-olds at Far Hills last fall. In that race, Project Two finished a distant third to Ben Griswold’s powerhouse Realist, but was highly competitive with the rest of the field. Following that start, Project Two gave Baltimore Kid a tough battle in a classy maiden race at Great Meadow, where he finished a close second.
Today, Project Two was clearly in command from the get-go. Garner grabbed the lead at the start, and the eight-horse field gave chase but never really threatened. Lucy Goelet’s Ludicrous Mode and Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams’ Tapwood — both making their first starts over hurdles — stalked the leader for most of the 2 1/4 miles, attempting to overtake him at several points in the race, but were easily repelled.
Project Two inched away from his competitors turning for home the final time, then extended his lead to around eight lengths through the stretch, winning with authority while being geared down.
The International Venture and R & K Racing’s Grey Illusions, an Irish-bred four-year-old making his first career start, got up for the place position under Parker Hendriks. Mason Hardaway Lampton’s Thai Project, with Barry Foley aboard, finished third.
For trainer Young, it was her NSA leading 22nd victory of the season. For Tom Garner, it was his eighth trip to the winner’s circle.
Pleasecallmeback avoids traffic, draws clear in maiden starter allowance
Upland Flats Racing’s Pleasecallmeback made a wide move in a cavalry-charge finish to today’s second jumps race at Colonial, avoiding several loose horses and drawing clear by two lengths under leading NSA rider Parker Hendriks.
Making his third NSA start, the five-year-old Ontario-bred son of Hard Spun, trained by Keri Brion, raced well off the pace in the 10-horse field for much of the $30,000 maiden starter allowance hurdle for horses who have started for a claiming price of $25,000 or less, either on the flat or over fences.
Shortly after the break in the 2 1/4-mile contest, Hurricana Farm’s Real Factor snatched the lead under Mark Watts, and the duo maintained their advantage by as much as five lengths over Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams’ Market Bubble and Ballybristol Farm’s Ondalove during the early stages of the contest.
With the field spread out by more than 20 lengths, Real Factor continued to dominate while turning into the stretch the first time around. But the horse lost the lead when Watts was unseated while taking a jump in front of the grandstand. At that point, Ondalove took over with Market Bubble in pursuit. The latter then snatched the lead as Holwood Stable’s Quality Choice made his move on the final turn.
But there was plenty of drama left as not only Real Factor, but a second loose horse, William Russell’s Seismic Wave, joined the fray.
Straightening for home, QR Stables’ La Hara, under Graham Watters, snuck through on the inside, but then Pleasecallmeback unfurled his late rally on the far outside, scooting clear of the La Hara, and avoiding the loose horses.
For Hendriks, the victory was his 17th of 2022.
The replay of both races can be watched here: https://youtu.be/WfOyQ1d_Dzg
Full results can be found here: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/racing/