International Gold Cup preview: Major hurdle, timber stakes highlight $320,000 Great Meadow card

The International Gold Cup returns on Saturday. ©Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

The jumpers return to Virginia on Saturday for the third time this fall with the eight race International Gold Cup at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains. First race post time is early, 12 noon, with betting opportunities available at parimutuel machines onsite and online via TwinSpires – see more info here:

The card, the second richest on the National Steeplechase Association fall lineup, is anchored by the $75,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes at 3 ½ miles, and the $75,000 Grade 2 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson hurdle stakes at 2 ⅛ miles. The Ferguson is scheduled to go off as the fifth race, at 2:20 p.m., while the Gold Cup is next up, at 3:00.

The Gold Cup has drawn a field of five familiar foes. But the race takes on more intrigue because of the emergence of The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory. The seven-year-old British-bred son of Poet’s Voice, who hadn’t won a race in nearly four years, broke his maiden over timber at Shawan Downs in September, and was promptly wheeled back two weeks later by trainer Mark Beecher in the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup stakes at Virginia Fall. After sitting at the rear of the pack, Cracker Factory, under Jamie Bargary, unleashed a late run to edge Ballybristol Farm’s Boutonniere and a field that included powerhouse stakes winners Storm Team and Mystic Strike.

Cracker Factory will face another Ballybristol competitor in Saturday’s Gold Cup, but he’s a formidable one in 2019 NSA timber champion Andi’amu, who is on his way to another title this season. Andi’amu, trained by Leslie Young and ridden by Freddie Procter, has won three stakes in five tries this season, and enters the Gold Cup in top form, coming off a 12-length romp in the Genesee Hunt Cup in upstate New York. Andi’amu is a three-time winner at Great Meadow, including two Virginia Gold Cups. The two times Andi’amu has finished second this season, it’s been to Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, who is skipping the race.

Also in the field are Fat Chance Farm’s Flaming Sword, trained by Richard Valentine and ridden by Barry Foley; South Branch Equine’s Master Seville (Mark Beecher/Brett Owings), and Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado (Kathy Neilson/Gerard Galligan).

Flaming Sword, an allowance winner, is seeking his first stakes score, but ran well at Shawan, finishing just a length behind Andi’amu in the Brown Advisory. Master Seville has two wins, a second, and a third in four 2022 timber starts, and captured an allowance at Genesee last out. Withoutmoreado is another steady performer with a win, two seconds, and a third this year. He finished behind Master Seville at Genesee, and was a distant second to Andi’amu in the Willowdale Steeplechase last spring.

A field of four tough competitors has been entered for the Ferguson, led by Joseph Fowler’s magnificent eight-year-old mare, Down Royal, who runs for trainer Kate Dalton and her husband, jockey Bernie Dalton. The New York-bred daughter of Alphabet soup has been nothing short of sensational, taking the Grade 1 AP Smithwick at Saratoga against males and the Margaret Currey Henley filly and mare stakes at Iroquois. Entering 2022, Down Royal was on a two-stake winning streak, having taken the Randy Rouse at Colonial Downs and the Peapack at Far Hills. Her only off day this year came in the Sheppard, where she did not mount a threat. 

After back-to-back wins in maiden and allowance company at Tryon and Middleburg last spring, Going Country, trained by Keri Brion, went on to finish third in a pair of novice stakes, at Iroquois and Saratoga, then was second best to Snap Decision in the G1 Jonathan Sheppard at the Spa. Returning to face The Mean Queen in the William Entenmann novice stakes at Aqueduct last month, Going Country finished fourth, beaten around seven lengths by the winner, Proven Innocent, who was a nose in front of The Mean Queen. Leading jockey Parker Hendriks rides.

Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer was a dual novice stakes winner last year, and has made only one trip to the post this year, in the bizarrely run Grade 2 David Semmes Memorial, also at Great Meadow, in the spring, when he went off course. He prepped for the Ferguson in September with a training flat run at Shawan Downs.

The fourth starter is Del Rio Racing’s Soviet Pimpernel, who loomed a serious threat over the final fence before tiring in the $50,000 Appleton Stakes at Far Hills last Saturday. It was a solid effort considering it was his first U.S. start. Ricky Hendriks takes over the training duties from his European conditioner, Gordon Elliott. Harry Beswick rides.

The six other races on the card include a pair of $30,000 maiden special weight hurdle events; the $30,000 steeplethon at 3 miles over mixed obstacles featuring a rematch between Middleburg steeplethon winner and runnerup Duc de Meran and Bodes Well; $35,000 allowance hurdle; $25,000 handicap for horses rated at 115 or less or entered for a claiming tag of $20,000; and a $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle. All hurdle races will be run at 2 ⅛ miles.

You can watch the races via live stream from the link on the NSA homepage, The stream, sponsored by Brown Advisory, is offered through Mandolin, which hosted the NSA spring meets. There is a fee to watch the stream, and meets can be viewed and paid for individually or for the remainder of the Fall season.

You can also watch through TwinSpires if you have an account.

For all the entries, click here.

About National Steeplechase Association