Maryland Hunt Cup, Foxfield recap 

Who’s Counting © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

Blackhall, a maiden, takes Hunt Cup with the first Briton to capture America’s premiere timber race, while Total Joy, Who’s Counting earn first stakes wins at Foxfield. 

This year’s Maryland Hunt Cup was filled with enough storylines to fill a book. The finish was one of the closest in memory with four within a length and a half of one other. Twenty-six-year-old Charlie Marshall became the first Englishman to win timber racing’s most demanding and challenging event at 4 miles over 22 imposing fences. And he did it in just his third National Steeplechase Association mount. For Joe Davies, it was his seventh Hunt Cup training win to go along with three as a rider. And for Kinross Farm’s Blackhall, the winner himself, it was the 10-year-old’s first victory in 16 starts over a career in Europe and the U.S. that endured an interruption of nearly four years between 2018 and 2022. 

Marshall, who was introduced to Davies through a horse sale last year, told the trainer he’d love to ride in the Hunt Cup, and Davies granted his wish when Blackhall was pointed to the race in January. Marshall, a Dorset-based point to point rider, made the trip stateside 10 days before the race. That was enough time for him to get his feet wet with two timber mounts on April 20 at the Grand National Races in Butler, Md., which included a ride aboard Blackhall in an allowance contest. And the rest is history. 

Nine horses went postward in the $100,000 Hunt Cup, and Blackhall was content to patiently sit in fourth early behind pacesetter and two-time Hunt Cup champion, Armata Stables’ Vintage Vinnie, ridden by Teddy Davies. He gradually improved his position, moving up to third at the eighth fence, then passed Merriebelle Stable’s Wagner at the sixteenth. With about a half mile to go only five runners remained in the race, with Vintage Vinnie still on the lead. Blackhall began to take aim at the Vintage Vinnie after fence 19, drawing even with him at the last jump, and extending his advantage to about a length through the stretch.  

While Vintage Vinnie hung in gamely, Upland Partners’ Shootist, with Freddie Procter riding for Todd McKenna, continued his rally that began three fences from home, narrowing the gap and falling a neck short of Blackhall. Armata Stables’ Goodoldtimes, who had trailed for most of the race and had to overcome a bad jump at the 13th fence, also unfurled a belated rally under Dan Nevin to come within a half length of Shootist. Vintage Vinnie was another length behind in fourth. 

At Foxfield 

Saturday’s seven-race card, six over hurdles at 2 ⅛ miles, offered record purses of $260,000. Noble Stables’ Total captured the featured $75,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial Sport of Kings novice stakes, while South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting scored in the co-feature, the inaugural $50,000 Good Night Shirt handicap hurdle for horses rated at 130 or less. It was the first career stakes win for both. It was also a big day for new NSA riders Paddy O’Hanlon, who had two winners on the card and Brian Barry, who earned his first NSA victory. Jockey Harry Beswick doubled as well, as did leading trainer Leslie Young, whose two wins gave her 10 for the season, twice that of the next-leading conditioner, Hall of Famer Jack Fisher.  Here’s how the races played out: 

Total Joy powers to first stakes victory in Van Clief Memorial 

Since making his U.S. debut at Radnor last May, Noble Stables’ Total Joy has proven his mettle. After back-to-back maiden and allowance scores at Radnor and Shawan Downs, the Irish-bred son of Ribchester was a faller in the Harry Harris four-year-old stakes at Far Hills. But he rebounded quickly in his next outing in the Imperial Cup, also a four-year-old stake, at Aiken, just missing against Kiyomori. 

On Saturday, facing three foes in the Van Clief, Total Joy, with Paddy O’Hanlon in the irons, stalked pro-tem leader Go Poke the Bear (Jamie Bargary), steadily advancing before the final fence, and taking charge at the top of the stretch. The winning margin was 4 lengths. Go Poke the Bear was second best, with Greg Hawkins’ aforementioned Kiyomori third. Leslie Young trained the winner. 

For O’Hanlon, it was his second win on the day. He’s had quite a debut season. To date, he has a pair of victories in four starts, with two thirds. 

Who’s Counting captures inaugural Good Night Shirt stakes for trainer-rider McDermott 

Though the field was reduced to just three, the $50,000 Good Night Shirt stakes, named after Virginia horseman Sonny Via’s Hall of Fame jumper, drew three classy runners who put on an exciting show. 

With Irv Naylor’s stakes-winning mare Gold Charm showing the way under Harry Beswick, South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting was content to sit off the pace, though never too far behind, with Caramelised, the 2023 Carolina Cup winner, trailing. 

Jumping fluidly and easily, Gold Charm continued to set the pace, but began to tire at the eighth of 10 fences. That’s when Caramelised made his move, briefly taking the lead. Who’s Counting, a six-year old Maryland-bred, also began to advance, assuming command after the ninth fence. From there, the duo duked it out, with Caramelised on the far outside and Who’s Counting on the inside. At the wire it was Who’s Counting, under veteran trainer-rider Sean McDermott, rallying for 1 1/4-length score. 

For Who’s Counting, who has divided his time between flat racing and steeplechasing, it was his first stakes victory after three second-place stakes finishes in his 24-race career. The win raised his career earnings to nearly a quarter-million dollars. 

Auchincruive cruises in NSA debut in $20,000 maiden claimer 

After 22 starts on the flat on the Mid-Atlantic circuit, Norman Lewis’ Auchincruive tried his hand over jumps, and took to it like a fish to water. 

With Evan Dwan riding for trainer Keri Brion, the seven-year-old Pennsylvania-bred sat toward the rear of the six-horse field for most of the race as Hurricana Farm’s Fingal, Morningstar Farm’s I Am Fortunata and, later, James R. Stainbrook’s Mr. Jefferson battled for the lead. 

With two jumps to go, Dwan asked his mount for run, and Auchincrove took off on the outside, but Fingal, under Ryan Treacy, wasn’t ready to give up, and the two battled over the last fence and through the stretch. With about a sixteenth of a mile remaining, Auchincruive found another gear and spurted clear by about four lengths. 

The win was particularly sweet for owner Norman Lewis, who also bred the Lord Shanakill gelding, currently the lone horse in his stable.  

Baltimore Kid breaks through with first win in two years 

Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Kid, who hadn’t won a race since his career debut at the Virginia Gold Cup Races in 2022, put in a huge effort on Saturday, bursting clear by 6 lengths in the second race, a $30,000 handicap for horses rated at 110 or less. 

Moving easily in third, Baltimore Kid and jockey Paddy O’Hanlon had a birds-eye view of the leaders, Greg Hawkins’ Webb (Mell Boucher) and Paul Willis’ New Appointment (Evan Dwan). The top  two continued to maintain their advantage on the second circuit, still holding a commanding position approaching the second-to-last fence. 

That’s when Baltimore Kid asserted himself, grabbing the lead and suddenly facing a new threat from Del Rio Racing’s Recent Revelations (Harry Beswick). The pair dueled over the last but it didn’t take long until Baltimore Kid took off and drew clear. Todd Wyatt trained the winner. 

Hidden Path prevails in spirited duel with Ireland’s Call 

In a thrilling battle to the wire, Upland Flats Racing’s Hidden Path, a recent convert to jump racing, barely got the better of Gill Johnston’s Ireland’s Call in a $30,000 maiden special weights contest. 

With Harry Beswick riding for trainer Ricky Hendriks, the four-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Hard Spun rated in fourth behind the leaders for the first half of the race, began to gain ground at the eighth of 10 fences, then hooked Ireland’s Call and jockey Jamie Bargary for the long stretch run. At the wire it was Hidden Path by a neck. It was more than 16 lengths back to the show horse, Irv Naylor’s Travesuras. 

The race was the second over hurdles for Hidden Path following eight starts on the flat, winning twice at Churchill Downs for Starlight Racing and Todd Pletcher. 

Animal Kingston breaks maiden over timber 

A winner over hurdles and stakes placed in novice competition, Will Russell’s Animal Kingston made the successful transition to timber with a hard-fought last-to-first victory in a $20,000 maiden contest at 3 miles. 

With Harry Beswick aboard for trainer Neil Morris, the nine-year-old son of Animal Kingdom, winner of both the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, raced last for the first 12 fences, launched his bid heading to the 13th, drawing even with the leaders, Hard Game LLC’s Hard Game (Gerard Galligan) and Kinross Farm’s Junonia (Bernie Dalton), at the final jump.  

Digging down, Animal Kingston outfinished Hard Game by 2 1/4 lengths, with Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Uco Valley (Jamie Bargary) rallying for the show spot. 

Oscar Winner closes card with handicap score, giving Brian Barry his first sanctioned win and Leslie Young a training double 

Leslie Young, the leading NSA conditioner for the past two seasons, continued her winning ways in the finale at Foxfield as Tom Rice and Ashwell Stable’s Oscar Winner dug down for a determined neck tally over Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Artistic Choice in a $35,000 handicap for horses rated at 115 or less. The win gave Young 10 on the year, five ahead of Hall of Famer Jack Fisher. 

The victory also was the first in five NSA sanctioned mounts for young  Irishman Brian Barry, who prevailed in a see-saw duel with his Leslie Young-stablemate Artistic Choice and Jamie Bargary that began before the final fence and continued to the wire. 

For Oscar Winner, a six-year-old Pennsylvania-bred who made 15 starts at Penn National before switching to jumps last spring, it was his second win at the 115 level in three outings. 

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