By Tod Marks
Though most key championships were already decided, the second to last meet of the 2023 National Steeplechase Association season still packed plenty of drama, deciding the title of leading three-year-old and likely settling the jockey championship as well.
In the featured $35,000 Alston Cup, one of only two stakes restricted to sophomores on the calendar, KMSN Stable’s Lightning Ridge put on a tour de force under Graham Watters, running away from his three competitors by 21 widening lengths.
The Alston Cup was a showdown with Armata Stable’s pro-tem division leader Kyogo, narrow winner of the recent $50,000 Gladstone stakes at Far Hills, a race in which the lightly raced Lightning Ridge led before tiring. The Gladstone was just the second NSA start for Lightning Ridge, who was exiting a maiden score at Shawan Downs, and facing a much more seasoned opponent in New Jersey. This time, however, the son of Peace and Justice trained by Keri Brion was up to the challenge, grabbing the lead at the start and crushing the field while never being seriously challenged. However, the title of leading three-year-old is based on cumulative earnings, and Lightning Ridge fell $500 short of Kyogo, who finished third in the Alston Cup.
For Watters, his two victories on the day all but cemented his second leading jockey crown in three years. Harry Beswick, with one winner at Charleston, trails Watters – who already clinched the title by earnings – by three, with five races to go at Aiken next Saturday.
In other action, Winflower’s Prophets Voice was victorious in his NSA debut in the $20,000 Post and Courier maiden claiming hurdle by 6 lengths under Harry Beswick for trainer Ricky Hendriks. A veteran of six starts on the flat in the Mid-Atlantic and a dozen more in his Irish homeland, the four-year-old tuned up for his debut with a strong effort on the turf at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races on Nov. 6. Prophets Voice chased Atlantic Friends Racing’s Carloun (Mell Boucher) for the first half mile, outdueled that rival and repelled a challenge by Tom Rice’s Secret Soulmate (Jamie Bargary), who finished second.
Kinross Farm’s Outperform gave jockey Gerard Galligan and trainer Richard Valentine a narrow win in the $30,000 Editor’s Cup maiden special weights hurdle over Kincraig Stables’ In Effect (Graham Watters). Making just his second start after competing on the NYRA circuit and at Gulfstream Park, the son of champion Gun Runner showed the way through the opening mile. At that point he was hooked by In Effect, and the duo raced together the rest of the way, with Outperform edging clear by a half length. Joseph Fowler and Riverdee Stable’s Snow Geese ran well to be a close third.
Graham Watters’ victory aboard William Russell’s Seismic Wave in the $20,000 Lexus Cup 110 ratings handicap was the rider’s 20th of the year. But it didn’t come easy. Racing off the pace, the seven-year-old son of Tapit trained by Neil Morris, made his move to challenge Tom Rice’s Oscar Winner (Conor Tierney) with about three-eighths of a mile remaining. The pair battled to the wire, with Seismic Wave prevailing by a neck. Ashwell Stable’s Durragh was third.
In the finale on the flat, Hurricana Farm’s Fingal, an NSA newcomer, gave the father-daughter, trainer-rider team of Arch and Taylor Kingsley a 1 ¾-length win over over Karl McMillan’s Lord Donegal (Harry Bewsick). The five-year-old son of Noble Mission is coming off a lengthy 21-race career, mostly on the NYRA circuit, but made one (off-the-board) start in a maiden claiming hurdle at the Virginia Gold Cup Races in May.