Grade 1 Sheppard highlights summer season

Noah and The Arch walking to the paddock at Saratoga for the Smithwick. ©Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

The National Steeplechase Association’s summer season reaches its crescendo this week with the $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga along with a trio of hurdle races at Colonial Downs in Virginia.

With the rescheduling of the $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard to this Wednesday and the cancellation of the Michael G. Walsh novice stakes, it’s no surprise that the centerpiece of the Saratoga steeplechase season has drawn a field of 10 seeking Grade 1 glory.

Heading the field for the Sheppard, a handicap contested at 2 ⅜ miles, is Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Noah and the Ark, longshot winner of the G1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct last September. Noah and the Ark, trained by Todd McKenna, totes highweight of 158 pounds but has yet to replicate his performance in the Lonesome Glory. He wasn’t a factor in the Grade 1 Iroquois in the spring, but closed from ninth to fourth in the G1 A.P. Smithwick, at 2 1/16 miles, at the Spa in July. Noah and the Ark will be giving away eight to 14 pounds to his rivals.

Cyril Murphy sends out Irv Naylor’s McTigue, winner of the recent Jonathan Kiser novice stakes over the course three weeks ago. The Naylor stable and Murphy, who saddled Belfast Banter to victory in the Smithwick, have been red hot at both Saratoga and Colonial Downs, capturing four races, three of which were stakes. McTigue carries 150 pounds.

Atlantic Friends Racing’s Theocrat, trained by Keri Brion, makes his first start since November, and also carries 150 pounds. Following a long career in the UK, the Irish-bred made four U.S. starts in 2022, winning twice and finishing second twice in four starts, three in stakes. One of those wins was a gritty 13-1 score over Brion stablemate Freddy Flintshire in the Michael G. Walsh novice stakes. Brion has a second entry in Madaket Stables and Paul and Molly Willis’ Jimmy P, 144 pounds, who has two wins – an allowance and 120 handicap –  this season, the latter coming by 10 1/2 lengths at the Iroquois Races in May.

Arch Kingsley also has two entries, Hudson River Farms’ L’Imperator (148 pounds) and Hurricana Farm’s Merry Maker (144 pounds). L’Imperator, a graded stakes-winner on the flat, posted an impressive allowance romp on July 26 at the Spa where he notched his first triumph against winners over the hurdles, coming from far back to win easily by 8 ¾ lengths.

Merry Maker won an allowance race at the Virginia Gold Cup Races in May and was a non-threatening third to McTigue in the Kiser. But he did move up from sixth to third at the Kiser’s shorter distance.

Another allowance winner, Riverdee Stable’s Awakened, trained by Hall of Famer Jack Fisher, was a game second to McTigue in the Kiser, finishing 3 ¾ lengths behind and 10 ¾ lengths in front of Merry Maker. Awakened gets a seven-pound drop in the weights since the Kiser, and carries 146 pounds.

A 10-time winner of $364,000, Sharon Sheppard’s Recidean, trained by leading conditioner Leslie Young, was a two-time stakes victor last year, taking the David Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow and Appleton at Far Hills. He began this season with a gutsy second to Snap Decision, but was subsequently unplaced in the Iroquois and Smithwick. Last year, he was third in the Sheppard, and in 2020 finished second, beaten two lengths, when it was named the New York Turf Writers Cup. He carries 146 pounds.

Young, who won the 2020 Turf Writers with Rashaan, will take a second shot with Gill Johnston’s Caramelised. Caramelised, a five-year-old British-bred, made a sensational U.S. debut in the Carolina Cup, coming from behind with a powerful late kick after the final fence to overtake stakes winner Welshman. Following a distant third to Freddy Flintshire in the Queen’s Cup in April, Caramelised brought his A-game to the Kiser, where he held the lead for 1 ¾ miles before fading on the flat and tiring in the stretch. He carries 146 pounds.

Upland Flats Racing’s West Newton, trained by Ricky Hendriks, was bred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and has five victories since coming over from England in 2019. The son of Kitten’s Joy captured his first stakes, the Van Clief Memorial, at Foxfield in April, then stepped up in class in the Smithwick, where he set the pace for 1 ¾ miles before fading to fifth. He carries 146 pounds.

For complete entries, click here:

Post time is 1:10 p.m. NYRA races are broadcast live on Fox2 TV, with replays available on NYRA website,

And at Colonial Downs…

Three non-betting jump races worth $100,000 have been carded for Friday at the New Kent, Va., course, beginning at 11:30 a.m.

A field of six is expected for the opener, a $30,000 maiden starter hurdle for horses who have started for a claiming tag of $25,000 or less. There’s a second $30,000 maiden starter hurdle, with six potential starters, with a 12 noon post time. The third race is a $40,000 open maiden special weights race that has drawn a field of seven. Post time is 12:35 p.m. All races will be run at 2 ¼ miles.

For complete entries, click here:

You can watch the races via live stream from the National Steeplechase Association home page,

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