Iroquois & Willowdale preview

Iroquois Trophy Presentation 2023 © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

The jumpers head to Tennessee for the richest and most significant meet of the Spring, while opportunities abound for timber and hurdle runners along with apprentice riders in Pennsylvania.

On the penultimate weekend of the National Steeplechase Association spring calendar, many of the top horses in training head to Nashville for 83rd Iroquois Steeplechase, a seven-race card – three of which are stakes – worth $475,000.

At 3 miles, the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois is the longest of the National Steeplechase Association Grade 1s. And with each horse carrying 158 pounds, it assures that weight won’t be either an excuse or an advantage for the eventual outcome.

Towering over the field of six is Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision, a two-time winner of the event. Now, 10, Snap Decision made his 2024 debut at Middleburg three weeks ago, putting on another head-turning display, taking his third Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey in four years while giving away 10 to 20 pounds to his opponents. With regular rider Graham Watters aboard, the Phipps-bred sensation sat behind the leader for most of the 2 1/2 miles and exploded heading toward the final fence, drawing clear of a solid field by 8 lengths.

Snap Decision’s victory added another $45,000 to his bankroll. A millionaire in combined earnings on the flat and over jumps, Snap has now amassed $839,400 in his heralded NSA career. That moved him into fifth place all time, $100,000 behind Demonstrative. Ahead of those two are McDynamo, with $1.310 million, Good Night Shirt, with $1.006 million, and Lonesome Glory, with $965,809. A victory in the Iroquois would put the 12-time stakes winner within a few thousand dollars of Lonesome Glory.

Lining up to face Snap Decision are several familiar faces and two wild cards. Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Noah and the Ark, also 10, engineered the biggest upset of 2022 with a 41-1 off-the-pace romp over Snap Decision in the G1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct while getting a huge break in the weights. The Todd McKenna-trainee followed it up with a second at level weights to eventual Eclipse Award winner Hewick in the Grand National at Far Hills, proving that his defeat of Snap Decision was no fluke. And last October, he won the Grand National, defeating Snap Decision once again. In the Gwathmey, Noah and the Ark rallied from seventh to second, so the added distance of the Iroquois should help.

Riverdee Stable’s Zabeel Champion, who like Snap Decision is trained by Hall of Famer Jack Fisher, entered the Gwathmey coming off of two straight stakes scores last Fall, but was overmatched. Fisher also saddles hard-knocking European newcomer Sebastapol, another 10-year-old. C and C Boultbee Brooks’ star is a seven-time winner in steeplechase and hurdle events in the UK, where he earned $240,000. He wasn’t a factor in his U.S. debut in the Gwathmey, finishing fourth, but should improve off of that effort.

Leading trainer Leslie Young unleashes classy European newcomer Vae Patron, a five-time winner of $314,000 in France. The six-year-old is owned locally by Leipers Fork Steeplechasers.

Madaket Stables and Paul and Molly Willis’ Jimmy P makes his first start of the season. He captured a 120 handicap at the Iroquois Races last year for Keri Brion. Later in the season he came within a length of catching Awakened in the Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga. He ran fifth in the Grand National to close out his campaign.

The two other stakes on the day are the $75,000 Green Pastures Sport of Kings novice stakes and $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley filly and mare stakes, both at 2 ¼ miles and both attracting top talent.

Five are entered in the Green Pastures led by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Daigneault Thoroughbreds’ spectacular Abaan, trained by Kate Dalton. After breaking his maiden at Colonial Downs last summer, the son of Will Take Charge stepped up to win the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills, then kicked off 2024 with a score in the Carolina Cup in March.

Noble Stables’ Total Joy earned his first stakes victory in the Daniel Van Clief Memorial at Foxfield two weeks ago for trainer Leslie Young, who also sends out exciting newcomer High Definition for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers.

Making his first NSA start following a career in Europe where he won a Grade 2 and boasted multiple top three finishes in G1 and G2 competition, the six-year-old son of Galileo rallied from fifth to first in a non-winners of two allowance contest at Middleburg in April, holding off hard-charging stablemate Rampoldi Plan. Rampoldi Plan subsequently became a Grade 1 winner last week, taking the $150,000 Commonwealth Cup at the Virginia Gold Cup Races.

Gill Johnston’s State of Affair, trained by Todd Wyatt, is a Saratoga allowance winner who won several handicaps in England back in 2019. He made his first start in nearly a year and a half at Foxfield in April and ran a credible third.

Bruton Street-US’ Neotropic, trained by Jack Fisher, is another allowance winner. He tried stakes competition for the first time in the Carolina Cup and after keeping up with the pace for about a half mile, tired and was eased.

The Henley has eight prospective starters. R and K Racing’s Molly Fantasy, trained by Keri Brion, won the Montpelier Cup filly and mare stakes in the fall of 2022 and has made just two starts since.  Paul and Molly Willis’ New Appointment, a maiden winner, also runs for Brion, and is looking for her first stakes score. Irv Naylor’s Gold Charm, who was victorious in the Randolph Rouse Memorial at Colonial Downs last summer, made her seasonal bow, against the boys, in the Good Night Shirt stakes at Foxfield, where she set the pace before tiring and finishing last. Cyril Murphy is the trainer.

My Forever Annie was an impressive maiden winner in her career debut recently at Middleburg for Green Valley Construction and trainer Leslie Young. Young has a second entry in Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo, winner of the Marion du Pont Scott Memorial at Montpelier last fall where she beat eventual division champion Bercasa. Right Tempo tuned up for her 2024 unveiling with a 22-length tally in the Middletown Cup training flat race at Winterthur last Sunday. Riverdee Stable’s maiden winner Fits the Jill, trained by Jack Fisher, made her lone stakes start in the 2023 Henley, where she tired and was pulled up before the final fence. A recent convert to jump racing, Exculpate finished second in her NSA-debut in a maiden hurdle at Aiken Spring for owner-trainer Arch Kingsley. Completing the field is Stonelea Stable and Bonnie Rye Stable’s Afraid Not, who was third in her initial stakes outing in the Marion du Pont Scott Memorial won by Right Tempo.

The remainder of the card includes the $45,000 Bright Hour handicap for horses rated at 120 or less at 2 ¾ miles; two divisions of the $40,000 George Sloan & John Sloan Sr., maiden hurdle at 2 ¼ miles; and the $25,000 Mason Houghland Memorial at 3 miles over timber for non winners of three races.

Post time is 1 p.m. Central time. The Iroquois goes off as race five, with a 3:40 p.m. post time. For complete entries, click here.

And at Willowdale

While Iroquois is a major meet filled with pomp and pagentry, the beauty of the Willowdale Races in Kennett Square, Pa., rests with its relaxed country-fair atmosphere.

Six races worth $130,000 are on tap, with the eponymous $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase timber stake at 3 ½ miles anchoring the event.  The feature has drawn eight starters, including 2023 Maryland Hunt Cup winner, Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado; last year’s Pennsylvania Hunt Cup star, Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse; Armata Stables’ Our Friend, recent winner of the My Lady’s Manor stakes; and Daniel Baker’s Road to Oz, the 2022 Grand National winner, who finished second second in this year’s running.

Also in the field are Greenlights’ The Butler Yates, who broke his maiden in April at the Grand National Races; Hyggelig Haven’s Druid’s Altar, a maiden winner at the Manor Races; Upland Partners’ Bob’s Bar, the runaway winner of an allowance contest at the Blue Ridge Point to Point a week ago; and Elizabeth Korrell’s Don’t Shout, who is looking for his first NSA score.

The remainder of the card consists of four hurdle and two timber events:

The $15,000 Liam Magee overnight handicap for non-winners of a stakes in 2023-24, at 2 ¼ miles restricted to apprentice riders; two divisions of the $15,000 Folly maiden claiming hurdle at 2 ¼ miles; the $20,000 Rose Tree Cup handicap for horses rates at 110 or less; the $15,000 Landhope Cup maiden over timber at 3 miles; and the $15,000 Willard Speakman Foxhunter’s Chase for non-winners of a stakes race in 2023-24, at 3 miles restricted to apprentice riders.

Post time is 1 p.m. Eastern time. For complete entries, click here.

If you can’t make it to the races, both meets will be streamed live at

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