Iroquois, Willowdale recap
Scaramanga turns back Snap Decision, Bercasa celebrates special Mother’s Day, Tierney triples, and Kingsley has first training win with longtime partner Ed Swyer.
by Tod Marks
Saturday’s steeplechasing doubleheader at the Iroquois in Nashville, and Willowdale Races some 800 miles away in Kennett Square, Pa., offered a feast for jumpers at every level of the sport.
With 13 races and $545,000 in purses, the two meets drew 85 hurdle and timber entries from maidens, claimers, and ratings handicappers, to novices, 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, the only Grade 1 of the spring, 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 as well as the heat and humidity. And it was a fair fight since all eight starters carried equal weight of 158 pounds. The race took on special significance as Bruton Street-US’ star, Snap Decision, was seeking to become only the second horse to win the fixture three times and the first to do so in succession.
But it was not to be as superstar European trainer Willie Mullins shipped over Malcolm Denmark’s Scaramanga along with his first-call rider, Irish champion Paul Townend, to upend the only U.S.-bred horse in the lineup.
As is his custom, Snap Decision, under Sean McDermott – substituting for the injured Graham Watters but familiar with his mount as they partnered for three stakes wins in 2020 – took an early lead, setting a conservative pace and withstanding challenges from Gill Johnston’s Mortlach and Upland Partners’ Noah and the Ark, who conquered Snap Decision in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory last year while getting a huge break in the weights. But Noah and the Ark couldn’t sustain his bid and Snap Decision appeared to pull away during the long uphill trek to the final fence. Scaramanga, however, who maintained a stalking position throughout, began gobbling up ground on the outside and headed Snap Decision at the last jump, drawing clear easily to win by 3 3/4 lengths under enthusiastic urging by Townend. Snap Decision held second by a diminishing half length over Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge, a novice stakes winner making his first effort in graded stakes company.
For trainer Mullins, who did not make the trip – the horse was accompanied by his assistant Rachel Scoop Robins – it was his first victory with Scaramanga since he joined his stable from Paul Nicholls yard less than a year ago.
Until Saturday, Townend had never competed at the Iroquois Races. He did make two trips to the U.S., in 2017 and 2019, to ride at Far Hills, where he captured the Peapack filly & mare stakes in each of those years.
Owner Malcolm Denmark, making his first visit to the Iroquois, said afterwards how much he and his son, Callum, enjoyed their time in Nashville and indicated he would consider returning stateside with his star later this year.
In other action
“Mama” Bercasa takes the Henley on Mother’s Day
Until Saturday’s $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley filly & mare stakes, Kathy Neilson’s Bercasa hadn’t run a race in almost two years. And her previous start came in the 2021 Henley at Iroquois, running a respectable third against two powerhouses in The Mean Queen and Down Royal.
Since then, the Irish-bred daughter of Casamento has been pretty busy. Following a tendon injury that put her on the sidelines, Bercasa gave birth on April 20, 2022, to a foal by millionaire Lookin At Lucky. Owner-trainer Kathy Neilson named the colt Leaping Louis, after her famous equestrian father, Louis “Paddy” Neilson, who was born on that very same date, April 20.
But Neilson wasn’t looking to make Bercasa a full-time broodmare. So it was back to work. Neilson wanted to run her in a softer spot closer to home at Willowdale on the same day as the Iroquois Races, but daughter and rider Skylar McKenna insisted she was up to the task of going after the bigger prize. All the pieces came together when Skylar’s dad, Todd McKenna, needed a traveling companion to Nashville for his Noah and the Ark, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Settling in the back of the crowded field behind Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s pacesetter Right Tempo, Bercasa, with Gerard Galligan aboard, closed with a rush to collar Joseph Fowler’s Met In Miami heading over the final fence and, after a spirited battle, inched clear by 1 3/4 lengths. Right Tempo, who led by as much as eight lengths, stayed on for the place spot.
The Hero Next Door stumbles, enabling Cool Jet to take novice stakes
Tough beat of the day. Michael Smith’s marvelous The Hero Next Door, coming off of impressive victories for trainer Leslie Young in his first two lifetime starts, was well on his way to remaining undefeated when he had a fall over the final fence in the $75,000 Green Pastures novice stakes.
The race drew a top field including Upland Flats Racing’s Freddy Flintshire, recent blowout winner of the Queen’s Cup, Bruton Street-US’ Proven Innocent, last year’s novice champion, and Grade 1-placed Going Country, from Madaket Stables and The International Venture. But it was Riverdee Stable’s Cool Jet who benefited when The Hero Next Door took a tumble, steering clear of the fallen horse and spurting clear by 7 lengths under Tom Garner for Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Fisher. Freddy Flintshire, who lost ground avoiding the spill, was second. Cool Jet, who was second to Freddy Flintshire in the Queen’s Cup, was certainly a deserving winner, having pressed the pace and matched strides with The Hero Next Door from the drop of the flag to shortly before the fall. Both horse and rider, David England, walked away from the spill.
Jimmy P, Danny Mullins roll to win in Bright Hour Handicap
Madaket Stable and Paul and Molly Willis’ Jimmy P captured his third victory since coming off the flat last summer, impressing onlookers with a 10-length romp in the $35,000 Bright Hour handicap for horses rated at 120 or less.
With Danny Mullins coming over from Europe for the day to ride for trainer Keri Brion, Jimmy P was never worse than fourth in the 11-horse field, as Daniel Denefrio’s Fightiniristabit set a torrid pace. When Fightinirishtabit faded, Go Poke the Bear, owned by a syndicate of the same name, rallied and took the lead, but couldn’t hold it into the stretch. That’s when Jimmy P took charge, flying over the last all alone and coasting to the wire.
Mullins, a multiple Grade 1 winning Irish jockey, is the nephew of trainer Willie Mullins. With a first, two seconds, and a third on the day, Mullins – who has had considerable success on his previous stateside visits – was named the meet’s leading jockey.
Kingsley is king in both divisions of George Sloan and John Sloan maiden
It was a big day for trainer Arch Kingsley and his jockey Stephen Mulqueen. The duo combined for back-to-back wins in both divisions of the $30,000 George Sloan and John Sloan maiden hurdle at 2 1/4 miles.
They began with Hudson River Farms’ L’Imperator, then repeated with Richard Colton’s Barbados.
L’Imperator, a French-bred son of Holy Roman Empire, was a Grade 2 winner of nearly $400,000 on the flat. He finished third in his two previous maiden hurdles, improving each time. On Saturday, L’Imperator settled toward the back early, made his move before the final fence, and prevailed by a nose in a thrilling stretch drive with CFC Stables, Paul and Molly Willis, Dark Horse Racing, and The International Venture’s Georgie Dreamer, a first-time starter for trainer Keri Brion.
The win was Kingsley’s first victory as a trainer for owner Ed Swyer’s Hudson River Farms. Kingsley’s relationship with Swyer goes back decades to when the latter was a rider. In 1999 he partnered with Swyer and trainer Jonathan Sheppard to capture the Breeders Cup Grand National (G1) at Far Hills with Ninepins.
In the second division of the Sloan, Richard C. Colton and Stella Thayer’s Barbados, fresh off of a sharp second to Eternal Story in his U.S. debut in a maiden at the Queen’s Cup Races, triumphed by a length in another close finish. Sitting off the pace set by Del Rio Racing’s Riendo, the seven-year-old son of Galileo mounted his rally just before the final fence and maintained the advantage over his gritty foe.
Family Tree upsets Court Ruler in Houghland timber allowance
The Irv Naylor Stable continued its hot streak as Family Tree put in a command performance drawing clear of favored Court Ruler in the $25,000 Mason Houghland timber allowance at 3 miles.
The eight-year-old son of Galileo, who began his NSA career with back-to-back hurdle scores in 2019 and later became stakes placed in novice competition, settled in the rear of the field of five. When Armata Stable’s pacesetter, Chosen Mate, tired, Court Ruler, locally owned by Leipers Fork Steeplechasers and a winner of three of his last four starts, assumed command briefly, as Family Tree narrowed the gap. Heading to the final fence, it was all Family Tree, under Barry Foley riding for Neil Morris, who widened his lead to 7 1/4 lengths at the wire.
The victory catapulted the Naylor Stable, which recently captured the Maryland Hunt Cup with Withoutmoreado, into first place in the standings with spring earnings of $198,750.
And at Willowdale
The Willowdale card featured six races worth $105,000, headlined by the $35,000 Buttonwood Sycamore Willowdale Steeplechase timber stakes for amateur riders at 3 1/2 miles. With timber racing’s leaders on the sidelines after busy spring campaigns, the Willowdale drew a field of four led by Tuscany Racing’s Monbeg Stream, who defeated eventual Maryland Hunt Cup winner Withourmoreado in the My Lady’s Manor stakes last month. A winner of three of five career starts before the race, Monbeg Stream, under Freddie Procter, took the lead and held it for 2 miles before tiring, leaving the course, and walking off. Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River, who captured the race two years ago, then assumed command with George Daly aboard until Fat Chance Farm’s Flaming Sword and Zach Miller unleashed a huge rally to take over at the three-mile mark. But Renegade River was far from done, coming on again and drawing off after the final fence to score by 8 lengths for trainer Willie Dowling.
The day began with another victory for leading trainer Leslie Young, who is off to a sizzling 2023 start. Young saddled Tom Rice’s Booby Trap in the $10,000 Liam Magee handicap hurdle for apprentice jockeys at 2 1/4 miles. At the break, Mason Hardaway Lampton’s Three O One and Erin Swope darted off to a large lead and maintained their edge until giving way to Ashwell Stable’s Top Brass, also trained by Young and ridden by Virginia Korrell, near the fourth fence. The two contenders remained side by side, with Straylight Racing’s Frontline Citizen in pursuit for most of the going and the rest of the field far back. Nearing the stretch, the runners began to bunch up as Top Brass dug down and Booby Trap, with Conor Tierney, launching his bid. From there, it was a two-way battle to the finish with Booby Trail on top by 1 1/4 lengths.
In the second, Del Rio Racing’s Thomond Park, who spent five years running on the flat and occasionally trying jumps from time to time, earned his first steeplechase victory in The Folly, a $15,000 maiden claimer. With Virginia Korrell in the saddle for Ricky Hendriks, the seven-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway lagged near the back for the first 1 1/2 miles. He still trailed entering the stretch, then closed with a flourish on the far outside to win going away by 2 3/4 lengths. Hickory Made Stables and Celtic Venture Stable’s Eye of Gunfighter, with Mark Galligan, ran well to outduel pro-tem leader Greylover for the place spot.
Young and Tierney were back in the winner’s circle again in the third, the $20,000 Rose Tree Cup, a handicap hurdle for horses rated at 110 or less at 2 1/4 miles. Ashwell Stable’s Durragh, coming off a distant second in his NSA debut at Foxfield last month, rallied from well off the pace to join Kinross Corp.’s Junonia, then inherited the lead when the latter ducked out and lost rider Sarah Cundith. Maranto Manor’s Rhebus Road, with Freddie Tett, finished strongly for second, beaten three-quarters of a length by Durragh. Young’s two victories at Willowdale gives her 19 on the season, double that of Jack Fisher.
In the $15,000 Landhope Cup timber maiden, Irvin Crawford’s To Be Or Not To Be, who launched his jump racing career in April with a sharp second to recent Winterthur winner Fashion Line, went wire to wire under Eric Poretz for trainer Joe Davies. The seven-year-old son of Limehouse took the 14th fence badly, but Poretz skillfully was able to hold on, get his bearings and draw clear again, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Adlestrop Hill’s Paddy’s Crown. Paddy’s Crown and jockey Zach Miller encountered and overcame problems of their own including a slipped saddle and lost stirrup.
Apprentice riders had another opportunity to compete in the finale, the $10,000 Marshall W. Jenney Memorial Foxhunter’s Chase, a timber allowance for non-winners of a stakes race in 2022-23. EHB Racing’s Huyana, ridden by Virginia Korrell for Adair Stiffel, set the pace while bounding to a wide lead and retained the advantage until approaching the final fence. That’s when Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, entering the race riding a streak of five straight top-three finishes, got into gear under Conor Tierney, driving to the wire 3 1/2 lengths in front. Kathy Neilson trained the winner. The victory gave Tierney three on the day and six in just 14 mounts. That’s good enough for a third-place tie in the NSA standings with just one meet left on the spring calendar.