International Gold Cup recap

Heroics by Andi’amu, Down Royal make it a Gold Cup Day to remember

Down Royal and Bernie Dalton (right) lead over the final fence in the Grade 2 Zeke Ferguson. ©Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

If there’s one word that captures Saturday’s International Gold Cup at Great Meadow Race Course in Virginia it’s electrifying.

The two highly popular and highly accomplished veterans put on an incredible show in their respective races. Joseph Fowler’s magnificent mare, Down Royal, was up first, in the $75,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson stakes, a Grade 2 hurdle race at 2 1/8 miles.

With Bernie Dalton riding for his wife, trainer Kate Dalton, the eight-year-old NY-bred daughter of Alphabet Soup (and the Dalton’s mare Miss Crown) was one of four starters, all separated by pennies in the wagering.

Dalton bided his time, waiting to make his move until entering the far turn the final time, taking command approaching the last fence, and kicking clear by 3 1/4 lengths over Going Country, who was a length ahead of City Dreamer. Soviet Pimpernel was last.

The victory set off an explosion of cheers for the charismatic mare, now almost completely white, and her equally popular trainer and rider. The trio were greeted by a bevy of fellow horsemen entering the winner’s circle.

For Down Royal, it adds to her already rich legacy — and bankroll. The victory was her third 2022 stakes score in four outings, and her sixth in her last seven starts. Over the summer at Saratoga, she beat males (again) in the Grade 1 AP Smithwick. 

Andi’Amu and Freddie Procter lead in the International Gold Cup timber stakes on Saturday. ©Tod Marks

Andi’amu cracks the $500,000 earnings mark, and likely locks up another timber title

Whereas Down Royal came from off the pace, Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu went wire to wire in the $75,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes at 3 1/2 miles.

Ridden by Freddie Procter for leading trainer Leslie Young, the remarkable 12-year-old won his fourth stake of the year in remarkable fashion, not only leading from the start, but extending that advantage by as much as 19 lengths at one point.

The outcome was never in doubt. Breaking alertly, Andi’amu coasted along a course he has come to know so well, setting the pace in the field of five, and drawing away as he pleased under Procter’s urging. The margin of victory was almost 10 lengths. The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory, exiting a stakes score at Middleburg, ran solidly to be second best for Jamie Bargary and trainer Mark Beecher. Fat Chance Farm’s Flaming Sword, with Barry Foley aboard, was far back in third.

For Andi’amu, it was yet another milestone in an 11-year, 45-race career. Among his 14 wins are nine stakes, and three prestigious Gold Cups at Great Meadow. This was his first International Gold Cup win to accompany two previous tallies in the Virginia Gold Cup, run in May. The triumph also elevated his earnings above the half-million-dollar mark, and it’s unlikely anyone will catch up to him to take away the timber title, an honor he also earned in 2019.

“Gold” strike in $30,000 maiden opener

Rolling Tide’s Gold, a four-year-old French-bred son of the Arc de Triomphe winner Golden Horn, broke his maiden in dominating style, drawing clear in by 5 1/2 lengths in a field of 10.

Showing substantial improvement in his second U.S. start, Gold assumed the lead at the break under Bernie Dalton, set the pace and led by as much as 7 lengths, while jumping fluidly.

The winner, who went off at 22-1, was never seriously threatened. He took the last fence by himself, and won as much the best for trainer Doug Fout. 

Ann Jackson’s Left Blank, making his first start over jumps since coming off the flat, finished well under Elizabeth Scully to be second for trainer Todd Wyatt. Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Tapwood was third under Graham Watters.

Potus wins in a landslide

In three starts since coming off the flat this summer, Riverdee Stable’s Potus has steadily improved, and on Saturday, the Phipps-bred son of Travers winner Lemon Drop Kid broke his maiden with an exclamation point.

With Graham Watters riding for Jack Fisher, Potus sat just off the pace in the crowded field of 10 for most of the 2 1/8-mile contest, launched his bid on the far turn, then outkicked Del Rio Racing’s Riendo and Bernie Dalton to score by 6 1/4 lengths.

Potus, who over the course of his flat career was trained by Hall of Famers Shug McGaughey and Steve Asmussen, signaled his readiness for a big effort at Virginia Fall two weeks ago, falling a length short of Straylight Racing’s RS One. On the strength of that start, bettors sent Potus off as the 4-1 second choice.

Bodes Well evens score with Duc de Meran in Steeplethon

Two weeks after Irv Naylor’s Duc de Meran got the better of Bodes Well in the steeplethon over mixed obstacles at Virginia Fall, the Silverton Hill star got his revenge at Great Meadow.

With only four horses entered in the unique $30,000 contest, Tom Garner put Bodes Well on the lead and held it for the entire 3-mile journey. Running easily and jumping comfortably over wooden and natural brush fences, and through water, Bodes Well was never able to shake loose of his determined foe by more than a couple of lengths. And when the real running began through the stretch, Bodes Well dug in and was able to hold off Duc de Meran and Jamie Bargary by a slowly shrinking half length. It was another 17 1/2 lengths back to Four Virginia Gents’ Nathanielhawthorne and Barry Foley.

Bodes Well, a seven-year-old Irish-bred son of Rock of Gibraltar, has now captured three steeplethons in 2022, raising his career earnings to nearly $200,000

Robert’s Luxury makes it back-to-back wins for McDermott

In nine starts this year, South Branch Equine’s Robert’s Luxury has straddled both the flat and jump-racing worlds. And while he’s had some success across those realms, he’s made a bigger mark on the National Steeplechase Association circuit.

In the fourth at Great Meadow, a $35,000 allowance hurdle for non-winners of two, trainer-rider Sean McDermott, who has been having a bang-up season in both roles, sat just off the pace for most of the going, then drew to the inside of Straylight Racing’s RS One at the last, and powered clear by nearly 4 lengths. Paul and Molly Willis and Madaket Stable’s Jimmy P finished well to be second. RS One held for third.

All of the top three finishers were coming off of maiden victories earlier in the month. Both Robert’s Luxury, a four-year-old Maryland-bred son of Shanghai Bobby, and RS One, won at Virginia Fall; Jimmy P scored at Foxfield.

Molly Fantasy beats the boys in ratings handicap

After a rough trip in her U.S. debut at Virginia Fall two weeks ago, R and K Racing’s Molly Fantasy laid off the pace, stayed out of trouble and proved much the best through the lane to defeat Mason Hardaway Lampton’s Three O One by 5 lengths in a handicap for horses rated at 115 or less or entered for a $20,000 tag.

Under leading rider Parker Hendriks, the five-year-old German-bred mare was well placed, never more than four lengths behind the leaders. When the time came to make her move, Molly Fantasy swung to the outside and easily put away the rest of the field.

In her NSA debut two weeks ago, Molly Fantasy had to steady when another runner encountered trouble, then still managed to finish third.

The runnerup, Three O One, was ridden by Mell Boucher for her mom, trainer Lilith Boucher. Sales Inc. and Ashwell Stable’s Top Brass, a maiden winner in his first NSA race two weeks ago, was third under Tom Garner.

Ping Pong Champ bounces to victory in $20,000 maiden claimer

In an exciting end to the eight-race Great Meadow card, Gill Johnston’s Ping Pong Champ, with Graham Watters, hooked up with David Hain’s Hail to the Chief and Gerard Galligan in the stretch, eventually edging clear by 1 3/4 lengths.

It was the first career victory in 10 starts for the Jack Fisher-trained four-year-old son of Temple City, who had four previous trips to the post in hurdle races. Before that, he ran on the flat, mostly at Belterra Park in Ohio.

The runnerup, Hail to the Chief, is another recent convert to steeplechasing after a career on the flat where he was trained by Danny Gargan, Saffie Joseph, and Wesley Ward. Kathy Neilson is the current conditioner. Celtic Venture Stable’s Eye of Gunfighter, with Bernie Dalton, was about 10 lengths back in third.

A look at the leader board

Counting wins, jockeys Bernie Dalton and Graham Watters, and trainers Jack Fisher and Leslie Young each doubled on the day. Young has an NSA leading 30 victories on the season, five more than Keri Brion, who had one win at Great Meadow. Parker Hendriks had one win, and maintains an eight-race cushion over Freddie Procter and Tom Garner, who each had a winner at Great Meadow.

Full results can be found here:

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