By Tod Marks
The jumpers land in Georgia and Virginia on Saturday, and Pennsylvania on Sunday as the 2023 National Steeplechase Association season heads toward the finish line at Aiken, S.C., on Nov. 18.
At the Montpelier Hunt Races, run on the front lawn of President James Madison’s historic home in Montpelier Station, Va., 43 horses have been entered for seven races worth $220,000. The meet was founded by racing pillar Marion duPont Scott, when she owned the estate. The feature, the Noel Laing Stakes at 2 ½ miles over Montpelier’s signature brush fences, received a $15,000 purse bump, to $75,000, and has drawn a strong field of seven, including Martin Tedham and Wasdell Properties’ Zabeel Champion, recent winner of the $50,000 Appleton Stakes (a 130 handicap) at Far Hills.
Three of those who finished far back in the Appleton are taking another shot at Zabeel Champion: Bruton Street-US’ Proven Innocent, the 2021 NSA novice champion who hasn’t been able to duplicate the form he showed when he defeated eventual Eclipse Award winner The Mean Queen; Riverdee Stable’s Gordon’s Jet, who took a 120 handicap at Tryon in the spring; and Del Rio Racing’s Soviet Pimpernel, who is seeking his first score since 2019.
Hickory Made Stables and Celtic Ventures Stable Eye of Gunfighter, who gave Larry Smith his 300th training victory at Virginia Fall on Oct. 14, was on the lead last Saturday in a 115 handicap at the International Gold Cup Races when he went off course on the final turn. Gill Johnston’s Mortlach and Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge are wheeling back after contesting the Grade 1 Grand National at Far Hills. Mortlach has made two 2023 starts since coming over from Europe, and wasn’t a factor in either the Grand National or G1 Iroquois in May. Scorpion’s Revenge, while far back in the Grand National, passed tiring horses to move up from eighth to fourth.
The co-feature is the $50,000 Marion duPont Scott Memorial handicap at 2 ⅜ miles for fillies and mares. The race has drawn a classy field of five led by Robocour’s brilliant Say Goodbye, who was a 3 ¼-length winner over a determined Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo in the $75,000 Peapack at Far Hills. Say Goodbye, who was the odds-on favorite in her NSA debut, carried 20 pounds more than Right Tempo at Far Hills, and the spread is even wider – 165 to 143 pounds – at Montpelier. Irv Naylor has a hard-knocking duo of Gold Charm (145 pounds), who came into the Peapack following back-to-back maiden and stakes wins, and Bercasa. Gold Charm was a distant third in the Peapack. Becasa, a two-time 2023 filly and mare stakes winner, has been rested since taking the Life’s Illusion at Colonial Downs in early September. In May, she captured the prestigious Margaret Currey Henley at the Iroquois Races. At Montpelier, Bercasa totes 151 pounds, 14 fewer than Say Goodbye. Bonnie Rye Stable’s Afraid Not (140 pounds) has a big task in front of her. A recent maiden winner at Foxfield, it was her first victory in 16 career outings, which includes starts both on the flat and over jumps.
The remainder of the card consists of a $25,000 handicap for horses rated at 110 or less; two $20,000 maiden claiming hurdles; a $30,000 maiden special weights hurdle; and a training flat race.
First race post time is 12:30 p.m. Here’s a link to the entries: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/FInal-Montpelier.pdf
$185,000 up for grabs at Callaway
Sharing the date on the calendar with Montpelier is the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., where the five-race card, highlighted by the $75,000 Aflac Supreme stakes for novice hurdlers, gets underway at 12:45 p.m.
The Aflac has attracted a competitive field of four, including the dazzling filly Calico, who was one of three winners at Far Hills two weeks ago for Irish trainer Gordon Elliott. Calico, who races for Del Rio Racing and Goldman Racing Syndicate, was bet down to $1.60-1 favoritism in the $50,000 Harry Harris four-year-old stakes and went wire to wire to dominate a field of males by 8 lengths.
Michael A. Smith’s The Hero Next Door, one of two runners saddled by leading trainer Leslie Young, led for much of the $100,000 Foxbrook novice stakes at Far Hills and held gamely until giving way late to Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Daignault Thoroughbreds’ Abaan. For The Hero Next Door, it was the five-year-old Irish-bred’s first outing since falling in the Green Pastures novice stakes at the Iroquois Races in May, a race he was on his way to winning until his mishap at the final fence. His Leslie Young stablemate Fast Vision finished third in last year’s Aflac, and ran a close second to Zabeel Champion in the Appleton (130) handicap at Far Hills
Riverdee Stable’s Cool Jet finished last in the Foxbrook, but capitalized on The Hero Next Door’s mishap in the Green Pastures and spurted off to a 7-length tally.
The remainder of the card consists of a $25,000 steeplethon over mixed obstacles; a $35,000 handicap for horses rated at 120 or less; a $30,000 maiden special weights hurdle; and a $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle. Post time is 12:45 p.m.
Click here for full entries: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Callaway-Final.pdf
And in Pennsylvania…
On Sunday, the day we turn back the clocks an hour, timber specialists head to Unionville for the 89th Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races. The traditional four-race card has grown by one, with two divisions of the Athenian Idol flat race to give apprentice riders an opportunity to gain experience and compete. This year’s meet is dedicated to the late Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, a local resident, who along with Paddy Neilson, created the Athenian Idol.
The card also includes a pair of three-mile events, a $15,000 maiden and $20,000 allowance contest for non-winners of two, and the testing $35,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Stakes at 4 miles over 22 fences of rolling countryside. First-race post time is 1:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Tuscany Racing’s Monbeg Stream, trained by Leslie Young, is on a roll, a winner of four of his past five, including the Grand National in Butler, Md., in April and most recently the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup. The Irish-bred seven-year-old, a 40-length winner at Genesee over soft ground, faces two foes from that race: Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse and Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River. Royal Ruse, a nine-year-old trained by Sanna Neilson, has run well over the Hunt Cup course, breaking his maiden in 2019, winning an allowance a year later, and finishing a sharp second to stakes star Mystic Strike last year. Ten-year-old Renegade River, trained by Willie Dowling, broke Monbeg Stream’s win streak with a victory in the Willowdale Steeplechase stakes in the spring. He was beaten 13 lengths in last year’s Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
Kathy Neilson saddles Nancy Reed’s Maryland-bred 10-year-old Awesome Adrian, who has 16 top-three finishes in his last 18 starts over the past four years, but is still looking for his first stakes score. Upland Partners’ Shootist, trained by Mystic’s Strike’s conditioner Todd McKenna, is also seeking his first stakes triumph. He broke his maiden over the course in 2021, and was third to Monbeg Stream and Renegade River in the Grand National in Butler.
Click here for full entries: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/FINAL-HUNT-CUP.pdf
You can watch the races via live stream from the link on the NSA homepage, www.nationalsteeplechase.com. The stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory.