Iroquois & Willowdale preview

Snap Decision and Graham Watters look to repeat their performance in the 2021 Iroquois Steeplechase. ©Tod Marks

Iroquois & Willowdale preview

The jumpers head to Tennessee and Pennsylvania this Saturday, with opportunities for purses and pride for runners at every level of competition.


This Saturday’s $150,000 Iroquois in Nashville was supposed to be a showdown between steeplechasing’s brightest stars, Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision and Buttonwood Farm’s The Mean Queen, whose rivalry last fall drew worldwide media and fan attention. But even though an injury to the Eclipse-Award winning “Queen” has put their battle-of-the-sexes rematch on hold, a stellar field, with international flavor, has been assembled for what promises to be an intriguing 81st renewal of America’s longest hurdle stake. 

The Iroquois, scheduled to go off at 3 p.m. Central Time as the fourth of six races at Percy Warner Park, has drawn a field of seven, led by Snap Decision, who has finished second three straight times after his record-tying nine-race winning streak was snapped by The Mean Queen in the Lonesome Glory Stakes at Belmont Park in September. Most recently, Snap Decision, trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by Graham Watters, was narrowly upset by Hudson River Farm’s Iranistan in the $75,000 G2 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg last month. Iranistan, who broke on top and led throughout, got a 14-pound break in the weights in the Gwathmey, which was contested under handicap conditions. In the Iroquois, all the runners will carry 158 pounds. Iranistan, who has captured four of his last five starts, is in the field as well, and gets the services of champion Irish jockey Davy Russell for trainer Keri Brion.

British training legend Nicky Henderson, who captured the 2019 Grand National at Far Hills with Brain Power, returns to the States, this time with Anthony and Mark Speelman’s Pistol Whipped, a Class 2 National Hunt winner. Nico de Boinville, who piloted Brain Power at Far Hills and boasts more Grade 1 winners than any other active British jockey, has the mount.

Snap Decision’s stablemate, 2020 Eclipse Award winner Moscato, who put in a solid effort in the Gwathmey following a 20-month layoff from a tendon injury, is likely to improve off of that effort. Jamie Bargary, who rode the 11-year-old for the first time at Middleburg, again gets the call. 

Atlantic Friends Racing’s Historic Heart takes a big jump in class in the Iroquois, but has shown plenty of heart in his three U.S. starts following a career in Europe. Sent off as the favorite in his debut last October, he took the Harry Harris four-year-old hurdle stakes at Far Hills, then just missed against Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer in the AFLAC Supreme novice stakes at Callaway Gardens. He came back to win his 2022 bow, the Carolina Cup novice stakes, rallying after the final fence to win going away. Leading NSA rider Parker Hendriks has the mount.

Also in the field is Irv Naylor’s Amschel, who chased The Mean Queen and Snap Decision in major races last year, and completed the season with a close second to Iranistan in the Noel Laing Stakes at Montpelier. He was fourth in the Gwathmey. Barry Foley rides for trainer Cyril Murphy. Gill Johnston’s Brianbakescookies, who won the 2021 Queen’s Cup, had his best finish in open competition in the G2 David Semmes Memorial last year, when he set the pace and tired to finish third. His only attempt in a Grade 1 came in the Lonesome Glory, where he finished off the board.

There are five other races on the card, which along with the Iroquois, offers total purses of $360,000. Seven runners are expected to face starter Stirling Young in the $75,000 Green Pastures Sport of Kings novice stakes at 2 ¼ miles, including exciting newcomer Boulette, who races for Paul and Molly Willis and trainer Keri Brion. The four-year-old Irish-bred is two for two since joining the NSA circuit, romping in an optional claiming allowance at Aiken in March, and winning a handicap for horses rated at 120 or less by 10 lengths at Tryon in April. Metahorse Racing, Blue Streak Racing, CFC Stables and the International Venture’s Going Country, another up-and-coming Irish-bred trained by Brion, broke his hurdle maiden at Tryon, won an allowance at Middleburg, and loomed a menacing threat to take the $50,000 G2 David Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow last week, when he was forced off course. Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge was a sharp second to Going Country, beaten a length, at Middleburg. Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Drewscourt comes into the race off of a hard-fought score in an optional claiming allowance at the Queen’s Cup, where he trailed the leader by as many as 15 lengths before unleashing a furious rally. Port Lairge and Holwood Stable’s Decisive Triumph was a good third in the Carolina Cup, and ran a tremendous race in the Queen’s Cup, where he raced in a hotly contested pace on the front end throughout, and only grudgingly gave way to Irv Naylor’s French Light at at the wire. Local ownership group Del Rio Racing will be represented by Recent Revelations, who had nine top-three finishes in 23 starts overseas before coming to the U.S. last year. After five starts on the flat, at Belmont Park, Saratoga, and Laurel, Sonny Via’s Welshman made his hurdle debut for trainer Jack Fisher at Foxfield recently, and promptly broke his maiden by nine lengths.

The third stake on the card is the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares at 2 ¼ miles, which has attracted five entries. Joseph Fowler’s stunning gray, Down Royal, won three of four starts last year including the Randolph Rouse at Colonial Downs and Peapack at Far Hills for trainer Kate Dalton and rider Bernie Dalton. She was a solid second to The Mean Queen in last year’s Henley. Metahorse Racing’s Kicking Myself, trained by Brion, made an auspicious career debut at Middleburg, overpowering nine competitors to break her maiden with authority. Champion European trainer Gordon Elliott, of dual English Grand National winner Tiger Roll fame, is no stranger to the NSA or Nashville, and he saddles Burning the Evidence in her American debut for Del Rio Racing. A winner of three of her last four starts, and with six top-three finishes in seven career outings, Burn the Evidence will be ridden by Davy Russell, who also piloted the great Tiger Roll. Lightly raced Cup of Aiken, who runs in the colors of Ashwell Stable LLC for trainer Leslie Young, turned heads with her 10-length maiden blowout at the Carolina Cup Races. Beverly Steinman’s Eve’s City was third in last year’s Peapack and Randolph Rouse Stakes. She was an allowance winner at Montpelier last fall, but in two starts this season has yet to finish.

The remainder of the card includes the $25,000 Bright Hour Handicap for horses rated at 115 or less at 2 ¾ miles; the $40,000 George Sloan & John Sloan Sr., maiden hurdle at 2 ¼ miles; and the $25,000 Mason Houghland memorial allowance to be run over Percy Warner Park’s brand new timber course.

Major flat owner joins the NSA community

If you check out the entries for the second race, the Sloan maiden hurdle, and notice the connections and turquoise and pink silks of the number three horse, first-time starter Montmartre d’Ange, they might ring a bell. The gray, four-year-old French-bred son of Montmarte is owned in part by Sol Kumin’s Madaket Stable (along with Paul and Molly Willis, and CFC Stables). 

Kumin, 47, races under the Madaket name and also is involved in numerous partnerships with many of thoroughbred racing’s most prominent owners. His roster of horses includes some heralded recent names including Triple Crown winner Justify, Monomoy Girl, Lady Eli, Midnight Bisou, Yoshida, Whitmore, Mind Your Biscuits, Authentic, Exaggerator, and Catholic Boy.

So how did Kumin come to be involved with a jumper?

“I have a friend named Paul Willis from Boston that has been raving about Keri (Brion) and he owns jump horses and trains with her. I started doing some diligence on her operation and I liked what I saw and learned. I plan to send her a few flat horses as well to train.  

I love horses and I love racing. I truthfully don’t know much about jump racing, but I feel like I am in good hands and will ease my way in and see if it’s enjoyable. I expect it will be.”

Andi’amu and Freddie Procter, easy winners in last weekend’s Virginia Gold Cup, return in the Willowdale Steeplechase. ©Tod Marks

And at Willowdale: A feast for timber and hurdle runners

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

Seven races worth $120,000 are on tap, with the eponymous $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase timber stake at 3 ½ miles anchoring the event. The feature has drawn only three starters, but two are coming off of wins only a week ago. Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, trained by Leslie Young, was a dominant 26-length winner of the prestigious $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup at soggy Great Meadow last Saturday, which capped a remarkable comeback for the 12-year-old after a 20-month layoff following a tendon injury. Hot new jockey Freddie Procter, who has won with six of his 11 mounts this spring, will be aboard the 2019 timber champion as he was for the Gold Cup. 

Also being wheeled back on six-days rest is Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado, trained by Kathy Neilson and ridden by daughter Skylar McKenna. Withoutmoreado turned on the jets in the $25,000 Winterthur Bowl timber allowance last Sunday, pulling away by 11 lengths. This is his first attempt in stakes company. Neilson will also be represented by Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian. Awesome Adrian has been sharp in his two 2022 outings, finishing a close second to Road to Oz in the Grand National Stakes in Maryland in April, which followed an allowance score at Cheshire to start the season. Eric Poretz rides.

The remainder of the card consists of two timber and four hurdle events. The co-feature is the $20,000 Landhope Cup overnight handicap for horses rated at 110 or less at 2 ¼ miles. The field of eight is led by QR Stables’ Criticize, who graduated from the maiden claiming ranks in Aiken in March and went on to finish second in a race in this company at Foxfield. Wendy Hendriks’ Embrace the Grind was six and a half lengths behind Criticize in that race, and tries again. Mimi Voss’ Bella Coola was in the field, too, and failed to menace. Mason Hardaway Lampton’s Three O One, a maiden claiming winner at Charleston in November, hasn’t been a factor in two efforts in this ratings class in 2022. Riverdee Stable’s Twenty Years On beat Three O One at Callaway Gardens in a maiden claimer in the fall, and was competitive at this level at Tryon in April, finishing second best to Brownland Farm’s Jump Ship. Irv Naylor’s Island Nation did not finish in his U.S. debut in a 110 handicap at Foxfield, following 19 starts in England. After a career on the flat in the Mid-Atlantic region, Matthew T. Groff’s Bold Quest got a perfect trip in a maiden claimer at the Queen’s Cup and won with ease.

Post time for both meets is 1 p.m., though Iroquois is in the Central Time zone, meaning a 2 p.m. start for those on the East Coast. For Iroquois entries, click HERE.

For Willowdale entries, click HERE.

If you are not attending the races in person, be sure to sign up to watch the live stream via the NSA’s website. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, Charleston’s Post & Courier, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.

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