Iroquois & Willowdale recap

Snap Decision and Vae Patron © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

Snap Decision, Abaan, and Right Tempo turn heads in Nashville, while Our Friend scores at Willowdale.

Saturday’s steeplechasing doubleheader at the Iroquois in Nashville, and Willowdale Races some 800 miles away in Kennett Square, Pa., was nothing short of sensational, with three of the sports brightest stars putting on a show for the ages.

With 14 races and $605,000 in purses, the two meets drew 105 hurdle and timber entries from maidens, claimers, and ratings handicappers, to novice, allowance, and stakes stars, looking to increase their bankrolls as we head into the summer season at the flat tracks.

The centerpiece was the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois, one of only two Grade 1 stakes contested at level weights, at Percy Warner Park. At three miles, the Iroquois is the longest hurdle stake on the circuit, an endurance test of a horse’s ability to handle the distance, often under heat and humidity. But this year, the weather was spectacular. And so was Bruton Street-US’ 10-year-old star, Snap Decision, who became only the second horse in the race’s long history to win the event for a third time. 

In doing so, the Jack Fisher-trainee, ridden by Graham Watters, raised his NSA career bankroll to $959,400, just $6,000 shy of the immortal Lonesome Glory, and closing in on Good Night Shirt for second place behind McDynamo.

Victory didn’t come easy, however. Newcomer Vae Patron, making his NSA debut for local owners Leipers Fork Steeplechasers and leading trainer Leslie Young, led for the first 2 ½ miles under Jamie Bargary with Snap Decision in close pursuit. The latter took the lead before the 15th fence, but his rival fought back nearing the final jump and dug in gamely to miss by a neck. Riverdee Stable’s Zabeel Champion, with Bernie Dalton aboard, rallied for third, 1 ¼ lengths behind Vae Patron. Snap Decision has been a force of nature on the NSA circuit since 2019, winning 15 times, including 13 stakes, four G1s.

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the results:

Abaan amazes in winning third straight novice stake 

There’s no shortage of budding stars on the NSA circuit. The novice division is deep and strong, and the small, three-horse field that was assembled for the $75,000 Green Pastures stake showcased some of the brilliant up and comers.

Noble Stables’ Total Joy came into the Green Pastures with three wins in five NSA starts including a big win in the Daniel Van Clief Memorial at Foxfield.

Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ High Definition, a multi-talented runner who also earned a maiden victory over jumps at Leopardstown and followed that start with an ambitious attempt at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival, was an impressive winner in his NSA bow in an allowance contest at Middleburg over stablemate Rampoldi Plan, who went on to capture the Grade 1 Commonwealth Cup at the Virginia Gold Cup Races.

Then there’s Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Daigneault Thoroughbreds’ head-turning Abaan, who was riding a three race win streak that included the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills and Carolina Cup at Springdale Race Course in March prior to Saturday’s race.

In the Green Pastures, Total Joy and Paddy O’Hanlon set the pace with High Definition and Jamie Bargary at his side. Meanwhile, Abaan, under Bernie Dalton riding for his wife, trainer Kate Dalton, was never more than a few lengths behind, running easily the entire time. Turning for home and the long uphill run to the final fence, Abaan took the lead, but High Definition dug in, too, and the race was on. Abaan held a brief lead over the final fence and extended it to 2 3/4 lengths at the wire over his game foe.

Right Tempo crushes field in $50,000 Henley filly & mare stakes

In her brief career, which began a little over a year ago, Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo has flashed signs of brilliance. After breaking her maiden on her second try, the now six-year-old French-bred has raced exclusively in stakes, winning once, finished second twice, and third in last year’s Margaret Currey Henley stakes at Percy Warner Park. On Saturday, the Leslie Young-trainee exploded turning into the stretch the final time, cruising past longtime leader Exculpate, and extending her lead to nearly 12 lengths through the stretch in a jaw-dropping performance.

Jockey Jamie Bargary, who had three winners at the most prestigious race meet of the spring, was aboard the winner, and barely had to move a muscle in the 2 1/2 mile test. Right Tempo signaled her readiness for a big effort with an gaudy 22-length tally in a training flat event a week earlier at Winterthur.

Bargary was the meet’s leading rider. Besides his three wins, he had two close seconds in the day’s other two stakes races. Vae Patron ran a brilliant second to Snap Decision in the Iroquois, while High Definition was close behind Abaan in the Green Pastures novice stakes.

Ziggle Pops kicks off big day for Bruton Street-US

Since running his first race in the U.S., Bruton Street-US’ Ziggle Pops had his career slowed with two long layoffs, resulting in just five starts in three years.

On Saturday, four races before stablemate Snap Decision captured his third Iroquois, the British-bred son of Zoffany began the seven-race card with an explosive 10 ½-length victory in the $45,000 Bright Hour handicap hurdle for horses rated 120 or less. It was the gelding’s third win in six NSA starts.

With Graham Watters riding for Jack Fisher, Ziggle Pops sat in third behind Sherkali for most of the 2 3/4 miles, made his move three fences from home, and extended his advantage with every stride. The margin of victory over Maranto Manor’s Lydford (Evan Dwan) was 10 1/2 lengths. The win was was one of two for Watters, who concluded the weekend in a tie with Jamie Bargary for wins on the season with nine.

Leipers Fork Steeplechasers sweep both divisions of the $40,000 Sloan maiden 

Saturday proved to be a magnificent day for Mark George and Mark McMillan and their Leipers Fork Steeplechasers team. The local owners, who are based around 20 miles away from Percy Warner Park, came up big with a couple of newcomers. Old Tom Morris, a five-year-old Irish-bred, made his debut a winning one, taking the first division of the Sloan, at 2 1/4 miles, scoring by 2 1/2 lengths ahead of his Leipers Fork stablemate, Walk the Warrior. Jamie Bargary rode the winner; Paddy O’Hanlon was aboard the runner up. Both were trained by Leslie Young. Walk the Warrior, another five-year-old Irish-bred, was making his first NSA start after a pair in his homeland.

In the second division, Ready to Wear, also with Bargary aboard, was a narrow winner — by three-quarters of a length — ahead of Riverdee Stable’s Snow Geese, trained by Kate Dalton and ridden by husband, Bernie. In a crackerjack duel to the finish, the two contenders battled it out over the final fence, dueling all the way to the wire. Ready to Wear, like his stablemates in the first division of the Sloan, is a five-year-old Irish-bred. He was making his second career start. Snow Geese, making his fourth trip to the post, is the son of multimillionaire and Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tourist and the Dalton’s magnificent mare Cat Feathers, a two-time winner of the Mrs. Ogden Phipps steeplechase stakes at Saratoga.

The Leipers Fork folks also finished a close second in the Iroquois and Green Pastures novice stakes.

Hard Strike takes Houghland for third consecutive win

Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Hard Strike is on a roll. The six-year-old son of Hard Spun, who has sired a growing collection of jump race winners, broke his maiden at Cheshire in March, followed by an allowance tally at the Manor Races in April, and on Saturday made it three in a row with a determined win in the $25,000 Mason Houghland for non winners of three timber races.

Content to sit at the rear of the seven-horse field for most of the 3-mile contest, the Todd McKenna-trainee took command at the 16th of 18 fences, and managed to hold off Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Jet Setting Johnny despite jockey Harry Beswick losing his right iron over the final fence and running the rest of the race without it.

The margin of victory was three-quarters of a length. For Jamie Bargary, who had three winners on the day, it was his third close second-place finish on the seven-race card, all aboard Leipers Fork/Leslie Young runners.

And at Willowdale

The Willowdale card featured seven races worth $130,000, headlined by the $35,000 Buttonwood Sycamore Willowdale Steeplechase timber stakes for amateur riders at 3 1/2 miles. The Willowdale drew a field of seven led by Armata Stables’ Our Friend, trained and ridden by the father-and-son duo of Joe and Teddy Davies. Our Friend, who won the My Lady’s Manor stakes in April, went from last to first, advancing steadily with a mile to go. He was still second at the final fence, and got up in the final strides after a spirited stretch battle with Hyggelig Haven’s Druid’s Altar (Dan Nevin), who was subsequently disqualified for running over a beacon and going off course.

The day began with another victory for Bruton Street-US and trainer Jack Fisher, who saddled 2022 novice champion Proven Innocent to his first victory in more than a year and a half in the $15,000 Liam Magee handicap hurdle for apprentice riders.

Whitney Schweizer piloted the six-year-old son of Blame to a 1 ½-length score over Daniel Baker’s Decisive Triumph. Baltimore Kid was third.

In the first division of the $15,000 Folly maiden claiming hurdle, jockey Virginia Korrell teamed up with Ricky Hendriks for a facile victory with Morningstar Farm’s I Am Fortunata. The seven-year-old Irish-bred assumed the lead after a mile and a half and remained in command the rest of the way, scoring by 5 ½ lengths over Brown Road Racing’s Ricky’s Revenge (Ben Ffrench Davis).

Leading trainer Leslie Young, who is on a record-setting pace in 2024, added to her three wins at Nashville with another pair at Willowdale, taking the second division of the Folly with Runnymore Racing’s Codigo, a five-year-old Empire Maker gelding. Codigo took the lead from his stablemate, Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Fox in the Park, approaching the last hurdle and prevailed by a length and a half over that foe in a driving finish. Brian Barry was in the irons. 

Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Jimmy Dan made his NSA debut a winning one in a maiden claiming hurdle at Tryon earlier this spring. He followed up that score with another at Willowdale, stepping up to the handicap ranks in the $20,000 Rose Tree Cup for horses rated at 110 or less. With Teddy Davies aboard for his second win on the card, Jimmy Dan broke on top and was never headed, romping by 11 ½ lengths. Windflower’s Prohets Voice (Virginia Korrell) was second. Jack Fisher was the winning trainer.

With 10 victories, six seconds, and two thirds in 21 starts since 2019, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers Court Ruler has been a model of consistency in the allowance and handicap ranks over hurdles and timber. In the $15,000 Willard Speakman Memorial, an allowance contest over timber for apprentice riders, Conor Tierney guided his mount to the front halfway through the race and maintained a comfortable advantage before accelerating in the stretch to draw clear by 11 lengths. The victory gave Leslie Young her second win at Willowdale and five overall on the day.

The $15,000 Landhope Cup timber maiden closed out the card, and provided trainer Mark Beecher with his first win of the spring. Beecher gave jockey Brett Owings a leg up on Happenstance Stable and Achsah O’Donovan’s Hero’s Return for the seven-year-old gelding’s first NSA victory in 17 starts. Hero’s Return stalked in third, then second, drawing even with leader Uco Valley at the final fence, and finished two lengths clear of late-closing Glencorrib Sky (Teddy Davies).

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