by Tod Marks
This weekend promises to be a bonanza for jump racing fans as three National Steeplechase Association meets will run concurrently for the one and only time this spring. In Glyndon, eight horses are expected to face the starter in the 126th Maryland Hunt Cup, America’s oldest, longest, and most challenging timber race. Meanwhile hurdlers will take center stage at the Foxfield in Charlottesville, Va., and Queen’s Cup in Mineral Springs, N.C., with a combined nine races including two stakes.
At four miles over 22 post-and-rail fences — some nearly five-feet tall — the Maryland Hunt Cup – the third and final leg of the Maryland Timber Triple series over a three-week span – is a unique test of jumping skill and stamina. This year’s race carries a $100,000 purse and, as always, is restricted to amateur riders. Neither winner of the first two legs of the series will run in the Hunt Cup. Two of the most notable race winners have gone on to win the English Grand National at Aintree, the world’s most famous steeplechase. Ben Nevis II and Jay Trump, both Hall of Famers, accomplished the rare double.
Towering over the field is Armata Stable’s Vintage Vinnie, who is seeking his third straight Hunt Cup score. The Irish-bred 14-year-old, trained by Joe Davies, will be ridden by Dan Nevin, the jockey who piloted him in his first of two record-setting victories, which was also Nevin’s very first NSA mount. Vintage Vinnie enters this year’s race off of a rare loss, finishing second to 2021 timber champion Tomgarrow in the first (shorter) leg of the series, the My Lady’s Manor stakes in Monkton, two weeks ago. Before that, Vintage Vinnie had captured four straight.
Taking on the champ are seven foes, five of whom have attempted to win the great race before. Kinross Corporation’s Blackhall, also trained by Davies, finished fifth last year, and prepped for the Hunt Cup with a sharp second to stablemate Great Road in an allowance race at the Grand National Races in Butler, Md., last Saturday. Sportsmans Hall’s Hill Tie, trained by Billy Meister, has started just four times over the past three years, and was last in his first race in two years, the same contest won by Great Road. He was fifth to the late legend Senior Senator in the 2019 Maryland Hunt Cup.
A maiden and allowance winner, Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado, trained by Kathy Neilson, finished a non-threatening fourth to up-and-comer Monbeg Stream in the recent Grand National stakes and makes his first start in the Hunt Cup. Upland Partners’ Shootist was third in the Grand National and a distant second to timber champion Andi’amu in the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup to close out 2022.
Lucy Goelet’s Rocket Star Red, trained by Mark Beecher, finished a distant second and third to Vintage Vinnie in past Hunt Cups. At age nine, Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse, trained by Sanna Neilson, hasn’t visited the winner’s circle in two years, but was picking off rivals one by one late in the 2021 Hunt Cup before flattening out. Armata Stable’s Goodoldtimes has competed in six straight stakes, taking the 2021 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup and finishing third in four of his other five outings, including last year’s Maryland Hunt Cup.
Post time is 4 p.m. For full entries, click here.
Home to presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, as well as the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va., nestled in the Eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, will host the new-and-improved Foxfield meet.
Over the past several years, the facility has undergone major improvements to the course and grounds, created new partnerships with charitable organizations, de-emphasized the consumption of alcoholic beverages, and made a commitment to becoming a good neighbor to the community.
The Foxfield card consists of six races worth a record $180,000, anchored by the $60,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial Sport of Kings stakes at 2 1/8 miles, the distance of all hurdle races over the course. The rest of the card features four hurdles races – a $15,000 maiden claimer; two $25,000 handicaps for horses rated at 110 or less; and a $30,000 maiden special weights event. There’s also a $20,000 maiden race over timber at 3 miles.
A field of six is set to contest the Van Clief. Trainer Cyril Murphy, who won the 2022 edition with Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice, returns with Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge, a precocious seven-year-old who has captured three of his six career starts. Scorpion’s Revenge quickly advanced to novice stakes competition last year, winning the Jonathan Kiser at Saratoga and finishing third in the Michael G. Walsh after being rank early.
Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision, trained by leading conditioner Leslie Young, was victorious in last Saturday’s Alfred Hunt Steeplethon at Middleburg, Va., and was third to the impressive Welshman in November’s Aflac Supreme novice stakes at Callaway Gardens.
Long on experience, Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer is a three-time NSA novice stakes winner and stakes placed in open competition. In 35 career starts, the Jack Fisher-trainee has earned more than a quarter-million dollars.
In a career that has seen him go back and forth on the flat and over jumps, Upland Flats Racing and John Lewis’ West Newton, trained by Ricky Hendriks, began 2023 in dramatic fashion, taking a 120 handicap at Aiken after relinquishing the lead while striking a wing traveling over the final fence, then reasserting himself to win going away.
William Russell’s Animal Kingston, trained by Neil Morris, hasn’t been off the board in seven NSA starts, including wins in a 110 and 115 handicap, and a close third to City Dreamer and Historic Heart in the 2021 Aflac Supreme novice stakes.
Tom Rice and Ashwell Stable’s Booby Trap began his jump racing career in 2021 with two straight scores, in maiden and allowance competition, then followed those up with a second in the William Entenmann and a third in the Foxbrook Champion, both novice stakes. He got back on track in his final start of 2022, romping in a 120 handicap at Callaway Gardens for trainer Leslie Young.
Post time at Foxfield is 12:30 p.m. For full entries click here.
At the Queen’s Cup
Five races, four over hurdles, worth $125,000 are on the line at the Queen’s Cup outside of Charlotte, N.C. There’s a $25,000 handicap at 2 1/2 miles for horses rated 115 or entered for a $25,000 tag; $30,000 maiden special weights contest at 2 1/8 miles; $25,000 maiden claimer at 2 miles; and training flat race at 1 1/4 miles.
The eponymous Queen’s Cup Sport of Kings novice stakes at 2 1/8 miles is the headliner and carries a $50,000 prize. All eyes will be on Sharon Sheppard and Gill Johnston’s exciting newcomer Caramelised. The son of the multiple graded stakes winner Dansili made a big impression in his NSA debut in the $50,000 Carolina Cup earlier this month. Trailing Sonny Via’s highly regarded Welshman by 10 lengths with three furlongs to go, it appeared as if the five-year-old British-bred would have to settle for second or third. Welshman had a clear lead heading over the final fence, but Caramelised made up ground with huge strides through the long Springdale Race Course stretch to win by a length.
A strong field will oppose Caramelised. Bruton Street-US’ 2022 novice champion Proven Innocent makes his seasonal bow following a three-win campaign capped by a monumental takedown of 2021 Eclipse Award winner The Mean Queen in the William Entenmann novice stakes at Aqueduct.
Similarly, Upland Flats Racing’s Freddy Flintshire, trained by Keri Brion, makes his initial start of the year coming off of a win in the Michael G. Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga last summer. Richard C. Colton’s High Mounte was a runaway winner in a 110 handicap at Aiken in March for trainer Arch Kingsley, while Riverdee Stable’s Cool Jet, trained by Jack Fisher, won the richest maiden race on the NSA circuit at Far Hills in October. Del Rio Racing’s Step to the Bar, an allowance winner for trainer Kate Dalton, prepped for the Queen’s Cup with a third in the Carolina Cup.
Post time is 1:30 p.m. For full entries, click here.
If you can’t make it to the races, you can watch the live stream, sponsored by Brown Advisory, via the NSA web site at www.nationalsteeplechase.com.