By Tod Marks
After a 17-race tripleheader, Graham Watters overtook Harry Beswick in the race for leading jockey honors, while Leslie Young continued her march toward a second straight training title.
At Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga.
Court Ruler lays down the law in $25,000 steeplethon
Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Court Ruler ran his 2023 record to two wins and two seconds in four starts with an emphatic wire-to-wire triumph over veteran Storm Team in the steeplethon over mixed obstacles at 3 ½ miles.
With Freddie Procter riding for leading trainer Leslie Young, the nine-year-old Irish-bred led every step of the way, drawing clear of Sheila Fisher and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team by 6 ¼ lengths. Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur, who captured a similar steeplethon at the International Gold Cup Races on Oct. 28, was far back in third. The victory was Court Ruler’s third in four tries at Callaway Gardens since 2019.
Animal Kingston goes over $200,000 mark with handicap score
Making his 42nd start since 2017, William Russell’s Animal Kingston got up in the nick of time under visiting Irish rider Ricky Doyle to capture the $35,000 handicap for horses rated at 120 or less.
With only four horses going postward, Animal Kingston was in no hurry to make his move, and the eight-year-old son of Animal Kingdom lagged at the rear for the first mile and a half as Go Poke the Bear Syndicate’s Go Poke the Bear set the early fractions. At the two-mile mark, Animal Kingston advanced to third, and progressed to second to Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ For the Parish (Conor Tierney) entering the stretch. The two dueled to the wire with Animal Kingston prevailing by a neck.
With the win, Animal Kingston, trained by Neil Morris, brought his lifetime earnings to $204,402.
Foxy Walk runs big to break maiden
Following a sharp second in his career debut at Virginia Fall last month, Michael A. Smith’s Foxy Walk gave trainer Leslie Young and jockey Freddie Procter their second win on the Callaway card with a runaway victory in the $30,000 maiden special weights hurdle.
Why Not Racing’s McSteamy, with Mell Boucher aboard, took the lead in the compact field of four at the start of the race, and held it for the first half of the contest. That’s when Foxy Walk, an Irish-bred son of Walk in the Park, made his move, opening up by about six lengths over McSteamy with the rest of the field far back. At the wire, the winner had an advantage of about eighteen lengths, with Irv Naylor’s Macheeda (Conor Tierney) in second and Gill Johnston’s Riptide Rock in third.
Cool Jet outduels The Hero Next Door in Aflac Supreme
Rebounding from a last place finish in the Foxbrook stakes at Far Hills on Oct. 21, Riverdee Stable’s Cool Jet got a measure of revenge by collaring Michael A. Smith’s The Hero Next Door in the late going to capture the $75,000 Aflac Supreme novice stakes.
With Graham Watters aboard for trainer Jack Fisher, the seven-year-old Irish-bred was content to allow The Hero Next Door, who finished a close second to Abaan in the Foxbrook, to set the pace under Freddie Procter, and the pair held the lead through the 10th and final fence. With a sixteenth of a mile to go, Cool Jet narrowed the gap and quickly drew even. After a brief duel, Cool Jet edged clear by 2 lengths. Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision (Conor Tierney) was third. Del Rio Racing and Goldman Racing Syndicate’s Calico, who beat the boys in the Harry Harris four-year-old stakes at Far Hills, was a disappointing fourth and last, after tiring badly on the final time around the course.
For Cool Jet, it was his second novice stakes score of the season. The first came in the Green Pastures at the Iroquois Races in May when The Hero Next Door, who was on the lead, fell at the final fence.
Stakes winner Agitare breaks maiden over jumps
It was a year ago that Agitare, owned in partnership by Paul & Molly Willis, CFC Stable, Danny & Sheila Kelly, and L5 Racing, pulled off a 19-1 upset in the inaugural $100,000 John Forbes Memorial flat stakes at Far Hills. In his sixth start since that memorable day, the Keri Brion trainee was victorious in a $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle to conclude Callaway’s five-race card.
With Graham Watters in the saddle, Agitare battled Morningstar Farm’s I Am Fortunata and jockey Ricky Doyle for the lead for two miles before shaking clear of his rival in the stretch to score by 5 ½ lengths. Bonnie Rye Stables’ Karl Cares (Elizabeth Scully) was another 7 ½ lengths back in third.
At Montpelier in Montpelier Station, Va.
Former Brad Cox trainee makes successful debut on the flat
Lord Donegal, a three-year-old son of Noble Mission who started three times for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, made his NSA debut a winning one, taking the Montpelier Foundation Cup at a mile on the dirt for his new connections.
Owned by Karl McMillan and Richard Lam and ridden by Harry Beswick, Lord Donegal, who in his previous career won a maiden special weights win at Horseshoe Indianapolis in 2022, finished three lengths ahead of QR Stables’ Noble Gem (Bernie Dalton). Both Lord Donegal and Noble Gem are trained by Neil Morris.
Following an off-the-board finish in a black type stakes at Fair Grounds, Lord Donegal was claimed out of a race at Keeneland in April by Joe Sharp. The training race at Montpelier was his first start for his new team.
Hail to the chief: Potus takes $25,000 handicap in a landslide
In a handicap for horses rated at 110 or less, Riverdee Stable’s Potus took charge after the first fence, increased his margin, and won by daylight after Straylight Racing’s Frontline Citizen lost his rider while mounting a late bid.
With Jamie Bargary riding for Jack Fisher, the five-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid earned his first victory since breaking his maiden at the International Gold Cup Races in October 2022.
Though he controlled the pace from the outset, Potus faced a serious threat from Frontline Citizen in the stretch, who was challenging for the lead when jockey Alex Leventhal was unseated. Once that happened, Potus was able to score handily, by 11 ¼ lengths. Charlie Fenwick’s Withoutdestination (Harry Beswick) mounted a rally of his own two fences from home to finish second. William Russell’s Seismic Wave was third.
Rider-trainer McDermott wins first of two aboard Icandothat
Longtime NSA rider Sean McDermott has been turning more of his attention in the past few seasons to his training duties, but has remained active in the saddle as well, and on Saturday he piloted two winners while doing double duty.
In the $20,000 maiden claimer, McDermott broke swiftly aboard Vivian Rall’s Icandothat and was never seriously threatened, drawing off through the stretch by 9 ¾ lengths over Kiplin Hall’s Absam (Mikey Hamill), a one-time allowance winner on the turf at Saratoga. R&K Racing’s Bless Bless (Teddy Davies) was third.
The winner, a four-year-old Maryland-bred son of Divining Rod, has made nine starts this year, splitting his time between flat racing and steeplechasing. This was his first victory in 18 career outings.
Factotum opens NSA career with a victory
Celtic Venture Stable’s Factotum, a veteran flat runner at Woodbine and Penn National, made his NSA debut in a $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle and looked every bit like a seasoned warrior, digging in to hold off Hudson River Farm’s Sleight of Hand by a neck.
Trained and ridden by the father-and-son duo of Joe and Teddy Davies, the four-year-old Ontario-bred son of Blame started toward the back of the field, gained ground after the ninth fence, and had a lead into the stretch when Sleight of Hand (Tom Garner), also a recent convert to jump racing, came at him. Taco Tuesday Amigos Ice Bar, trained and ridden by Gerard Galligan, was third.
Casamo gives McDermott training-riding double
Sean McDermott was back in the winner’s circle in the fifth race with South Branch Equine’s Casamo, who made a late rush to surge past a handful of rivals in the stretch to break his maiden by 1 ¼ lengths. The Hundred Acre Field’s Samui Sunset (Mikey Hamill), who mounted a late rally of his own, was second.
Like many of McDermott’s runners, Casamo is a Maryland-bred, and the lightly raced four-year-old son of Mosler, a stakes-placed son of War Front, improved off of a sharp second in a maiden hurdle at the Virginia Fall Races last month. That race in Middleburg was only his second effort over jumps.
Right Tempo turns the table on Say Goodbye and talented field in filly & mare stake
On paper, it was hard to look past Robocour’s Say Goodbye in the $50,000 Marion duPont Scott Memorial filly and mare stakes. The seven-year-old made her first start outside of Ireland in October in the Peapack stakes at Far Hills. Sent off as the odds-on favorite off of two wins in her previous three starts in Europe, the Gordon Elliott-trainee sat behind pacesetter Bella Coola, took a slight lead heading up the backside the final time, and battled Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo from the final fence to the wire. It wasn’t until the pair was in deep stretch that Say Goodbye was able to edge clear, winning by 3 1/4 lengths.
But at Montpelier, Right Tempo, trained by Leslie Young and ridden by Jamie Bargary, was content to sit back in the field of four as Say Goodbye (Mikey Hamill) set the fractions for the first two miles. Right Tempo began to pick up the pace at the eighth fence and was in contention entering the stretch. Meanwhile, Say Goodbye – toting high weight of 165 pounds in the handicap, 22 more than Right Tempo – was out of gas by that time and faded to last. Irv Naylor’s Bercasa actually grabbed the lead before the final fence, but was outrun by Right Tempo, who was in front by 1 ¼ lengths at the wire.
For Right Tempo, a five-year-old French-bred, it was her first stakes score and fourth top-three finish in five stakes outings since starting her racing career in the spring.
Noel Laing gives Zabeel Champion back-to-back stakes wins
Coming off of a hard-fought victory in the $50,000 Appleton Stakes at Far Hills, Martin Tedham and Wasdell Properties’ Zabeel Champion proved his victory on racing’s championship day was no fluke.
The $75,000 Noel Laing drew a field of seven including three of those who finished far back in the Appleton: Bruton Street-US’ Proven Innocent, Riverdee Stable’s Gordon’s Jet, and Del Rio Racing’s Soviet Pimpernel. Also in the field were two runners exiting the Grade 1 Grand National at Far Hills: Gill Johnston’s Mortlach and Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge.
But it was all Zabeel Champion, who started slow under Bernie Dalton, moved up to stalk leader Eye of Gunfighter after the first mile and a half, and took charge entering the stretch. Scorpion’s Revenge, under Gerard Galligan, was also in contention through the stretch but outrun by the winner. The margin of victory was 3 ¼ lengths. Proven Innocent (Jamie Bargary) was third, about two lengths behind Scorpion’s Revenge. Hall of fame conditioner Jack Fisher trained both the winner and runnerup.
At the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races in Unionville, Pa.
Paddy’s Crown draws clear in $15,000 maiden timber
It’s been five years since Paddy’s Crown earned his lone career victory, in a maiden hurdle at the 2017 Virginia Fall Races. Now 10, the almost white New York-bred son of Paddy O’Prado is also a maiden timber victor following a hard-fought tally over Greg Hawkins’ Mekong in the Lewis Ledyard at 3 miles.
With Teddy Davies in the saddle for trainer Emily Hannum, Paddy’s Crown vied for the lead early, dropped back slightly during the middle stage of the race, then took a short lead over the final fence with Mekong and Happenstance’s Hero’s Return (Bret Owings) in hot pursuit. Mekong actually grabbed the lead, but Paddy’s Crown came on again, crossing the wire a half length in front. Hero’s Return was another two lengths back in third.
Mystic Strike’s little brother steps up
Upland Partners’ Rhythmia, the nine-year-old younger half sibling to multiple stakes winner and stablemate Mystic Strike, sat off the pace set by Armata Stable’s Mr Fine Threads, got into gear in the final furlong, and drew clear of Turks Head Turf’s Brooklyn Speights to win the $20,000 Arthur O. Choate Memorial allowance over timber by 10 1/2 lengths.
Brooklyn Speights, with Jamie Bargary aboard, was 15 lengths clear of the show horse, Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Hafajay.
Ridden by Freddie Procter for trainer Todd McKenna, who also conditions 14-year-old Mystic Strike, Rhythmia has now won two in a row to go along with a second and third in six outings since embarking on his NSA career. Prior to switching to jumps racing, the Florida-bred made 25 starts on the flat.
Both Rhythmia and Mystic Strike are out of the graded stakes-placed mare Mystic Rhythms, who won five of nine starts and earned $210,000. A black type stakes winner, she also finished third in the G3 Cicada stakes at Aqueduct and fourth (at 24-1) in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to the Phipps-bred-and-owned My Flag.
“Horse for the course” Royal Ruse earns first stakes win
Sitting off the pace set by two-time 2023 stakes winner Monbeg Stream, Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse and jockey Gerard Galligan advanced the final time around the course, launched his bid in the stretch and took command when Monbeg Stream fell at the 17th fence to take the 4-mile $35,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
For the nine-year-old son of Hat Trick it was his first trip to the winner’s circle in a stakes race after 38 starts on the flat and over jumps in a career that began at Keeneland in 2017.
Since joining the NSA in 2018, the Sanna Neilson-trainee has made 25 starts with six victories, three of which have come at Unionville. He broke his maiden over timber in the Lewis Ledyard in 2019, took the Arthur O. Choate allowance two years later, and finished second to Mystic Strike in last year’s Hunt Cup.
Royal Ruse’s margin of victory was 24 3/4 lengths over Keystone Thoroughbred’s Shootist (Tom Garner). Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian was a distant third. However, Shootist was disqualified when his rider failed to weigh-in and placed behind Awesome Adrian. The race would obviously have played out differently had the Tuscany Racing colorbearer, under Freddie Procter, not faltered at the second to last fence. Though Royal Ruse was rallying, Monbeg Stream still was in control when the mishap occurred.
After the race, trainer Leslie Young reported that the horse was OK. But also after the race, Kiplin Hall’s veteran timber star Renegade River, trained by Willie Dowling and ridden by Graham Watters, suffered a fatal medical event. The 10-year-old son of Bellamy Road also had made 38 career starts and was a two-time winner of the Willowdale Steeplechase stakes.
Newcomers shine in both divisions of the Athenian Idol
Del Rio Racing’s Get Khozy, making his first NSA appearance following eight starts on the flat mostly at Gulfstream Park, and Kenilworth King Syndicate’s Kenilworth King, a Maryland-bred exiting a 17-race campaign in England, each captured a division of the Athenian Idol training race at 1 3/8 miles on the turf.
Get Khozy, trained by Ricky Hendriks and ridden by Elizabeth Skully, rallied on the outside past Winflower’s Prophets Voice (Conor Tierney) and Jordan Wycoff’s Scotty (Teddy Davies) to score by almost a half length.
Kenilworth King, trained by Leslie Young and ridden by Virginia Korrell, withstood a strong challenge by Turks Head Turf’s Exuma (Brett Owings) to prevail by a nose.
The late Jonathan Sheppard was instrumental in creating the Athenian Idol, named after a storied jumper he trained, to give amateur apprentice riders an opportunity to compete.