Major hurdle, timber stakes highlight eight-race Great Meadow card

Down Royal winning the David L.“Zeke” Ferguson Stakes last year. © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

For the third time this fall, the jumpers return to Virginia on Saturday, where they’ll compete for $325,000 in purses at the International Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, the second richest program on the National Steeplechase Association autumn calendar.

The card consists of eight races – over timber, hurdles, and a mixed bag of obstacles – as well as events for runners at all levels of competition from maiden claiming to stakes. In all, 57 horses have been entered.

Six of Saturday’s races will be run over hurdles, all at 2 ⅛ miles, the headliner being the Grade 2 $75,000 David L.“Zeke” Ferguson Stakes. The $30,000 maiden hurdle, the first race of the day, drew enough entries to be split into two divisions. Besides the stake and maiden special weights contests, other hurdle events include a $35,000 allowance event for non-winners of two; a $30,000 handicap for horses rated at 115 or less; and a $20,000 maiden claimer.

The eponymous International Gold Cup timber stakes, contested at 3 ½ miles for a purse of $75,000, has drawn a field of four, two of whom are stakes winners: The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory captured the Brown Advisory at Shawan Downs in September and was a close second to Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic in the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup at Virginia Fall two weeks ago. Schoodic, 13, is a past winner of both the International Gold Cup and its spring counterpart the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow, and hasn’t been off the board in eight starts since May 2021. An allowance winner over timber, Boudinot Farm’s Elusive Exclusive finished a gutsy second to Cracker Factory in the Brown Advisory where he was caught at the wire. Irv Naylor’s Stooshie, an allowance winner at the Old Dominion Hounds meet in the spring, was a distant third in the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup.

Six were entered in the $30,000 Steeplethon stakes over hurdles, natural brush, and water, including Sheila Fisher and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, a multiple stakes winner over timber and hurdles, who triumphed by 14 lengths in the steeplethon at Great Meadow in May. Fat Chance Farm’s Salamanca School is riding a two-race winning streak. After breaking his maiden at Shawan Downs by nine lengths, he came back two weeks later to score a 22-length allowance blowout at Genesee Valley in upstate New York. The field also includes two other entrants who finished behind Salamanca School at Genesee: Armata Stable’s Our Friend was second while Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur was fourth. Mercoeur, 12, has plenty of experience at Great Meadow having made six previous starts, and won a steeplethon over the course in 2020. Rounding out the field are Armata Stable’s Fashion Line, who scored his third victory of the season at Virginia Fall, taking the steeplethon at Virginia Fall where he defeated Storm Team. Elizabeth Korrell’s Don’t Shout was second to Salamanca School at Shawan Downs, beaten nine lengths, in his first start in 14 months.

In the Ferguson, six horses will face starter Stirling Young, led by Bruton Street-US’ mighty Snap Decision, who was pulled up after failing to mount a threat over the soft going in the Grade 1 Grand National at Far Hills last Saturday. The three-time Grade 1 winner, whose lone 2023 victory came in the G2 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg Spring, will again be giving away a lot of weight under the race’s handicap conditions, from 12 to 20 pounds. His stiffest challenge could come from fellow G1 winner Riverdee Stable’s Awakened (150 pounds), who captured the Jonathan Sheppard stakes over the summer in Saratoga. Sonny Via’s Welshman (146 pounds) has three wins in his last five outings, including the G2 David Semmes Memorial at the same distance over the same course in May. Upland Flats Racing and John Lewis’ West Newton (142 pounds), a two-time winner this year, won the Daniel Van Clief Memorial at Foxfield in the spring, defeating Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge, a stakes winner himself, who finished fourth in last week’s Grand National.  In his first NSA start after a career in Europe, Sharon Sheppard and Gill Johnston’s Caramelised (140 pounds) was an impressive come-from-behind winner over Welshman in the Carolina Cup novice stakes. And after finishing third in the Queen’s Cup, also a novice stake, he wasn’t a factor in either the Jonathan Kiser or Jonathan Sheppard (G1) stakes.

For the complete entries, click here

Post time for the races is 12:00 noon., and you can watch via live stream from the NSA website. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory.


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