Court Ruler, Frontline Citizen star at Radnor

Frontline Citizen © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

The two-month National Steeplechase Association spring season came to an end on Saturday with a pair of tight finishes in the featured events at the 93rd Radnor Hunt Races in Malvern, Pa.

In the $35,000 National Hunt Cup, contested at 2 1/8 miles as an allowance hurdle this year, Straylight Racing’s Frontline Citizen earned his first trip to the winner’s circle in two and a half years. The Mark Beecher-trainee stalked leaders Lightning Ridge and Tufton Avenue, took command under Evan Dwan with two fences to go, and prevailed by a neck in a driving finish with Riverdee Stable’s hard-charging Rocket One and Sean McDermott. Michael Smith’s Foxy Walk was 10 lengths back in third.

It was a battle for the ages in the co-featured $25,000 Radnor Hunt Cup at 3 ¼ miles over timber. At the wire, the two main combatants, 10-year-old Court Ruler and Mystic Strike, 15, were separated by less than a length following a spirited duel that began as the duo came out of the final turn, continued over the final fence, and lasted through the long stretch run.

For the winner, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Court Ruler, ridden by Conor Tierney, it was his fifth win in his last six outings, the only blemish on his record coming in the Steeplethon at Great Meadow on May 4 when he went off course and was disqualified. The victory was particularly remarkable because not only did the Leslie Young-trainee lead from the outset, but he opened up by 10 lengths on the field at one point and still had enough in the tank to repel Upland Partners’ timber ace, a multiple stakes winner of nearly $400,000 in a career that began in 2012. For Mystic Strike, ridden by Gerard Galligan, it was a brilliant performance in his first start in a year.

The four-race undercard began with an historic victory by Irv Naylor’s Travesuras, ridden by Gerard Galligan for trainer Cyril Murphy in the $30,000 Milfern Cup maiden, which like all hurdle races at Radnor was contested at 2 ⅛ miles.

With the win, the Naylor Stable, a powerhouse on the National Steeplechase Association circuit since 2010, became the sport’s leading purse earner of all time. Naylor, who captured his seventh leading owner crown in 2023 with a stable of sluggers under the care of Cyril Murphy, Kathy Neilson, and Neil Morris, surpassed George Strawbridge. He added to his total when Westerland scored in the sixth, the $20,000 Henry Collins optional maiden starter/claiming event, for trainer Kathy Neilson and jockey Paddy O’Hanlon.

The victories added a combined $27,000 to Naylor’s 2024 earnings, which now total $68,550. He began the season with $9,003,852, $42,459 shy of Strawbridge’s Augustin Stable.

Ever humble, Naylor had this to say when about this milestone:

“On Friday, we shed tears of sadness at Will O’Keefe’s Celebration of Life. On Saturday, we shed tears of joy while watching the live stream of the Radnor Races with friends.

“We were just so happy to have finally won two races – the first two for us this year. I didn’t focus on the fact that a win would catapult me to the Leading Owner spot. Our trainer Cyril and jockey Gerard alerted me to the fact.

“I am grateful to all the trainers, jockeys, staff, and wives (most especially Diane) over many, many years that made this great milestone possible for me.

“Obviously, this is one of the most meaningful accomplishments in my life. I have always remained passionate about this sport and it seems the time, effort, and money involved paid off. It only goes to show – Miracles do Happen!”

In the $30,000 Thompson Memorial maiden special weights hurdle, Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Blue Nile, with Virginia Korrell aboard, rallied for a three-quarter-length come-from-behind score over Paul and Molly Willis’ Royne (Stephen Mulqueen) and Bart Beswick’s Honeymooner (Harry Beswick).

And in the finale, the $15,000 Runnymoore Racing and Ashwell Stables Trophy, also an optional maiden starter/claiming hurdle, Riverdee Stable’s Penicillin Success and Stephen Mulqueen overcame a dicey jump at the final fence while on the lead, then steadied to defeat Sycamore Run Farm’s late-closing Department of War (Gerard Galligan) by 4 ½ lengths.   

Racing resumes on June 9 with the inaugural running of the Grade 1 $150,000 Beverly R. Steinman stakes at the Belmont Stakes at Saratoga Festival. The Steinman is a prelude to the NSA summer season at the flat tracks in Saratoga (beginning July 17) and Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va. (July 11).

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