Merry Maker pulls 16-1 stunner; Kingsley runs first, second, and third; Hendriks earns first Grade 1

Merry Maker and Parker Hendriks after the Lonesome Glory. © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

Thursday’s Grade 1 $150,000 Lonesome Glory stakes, which kicked off the Belmont at Aqueduct fall meet, was chock full enough story lines to fill any highlight reel.

With Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision coming off a five-month rest, punters bet down the multiple Grade 1 winner of more than $700,000 over hurdles, to 1-2, despite carrying 162 pounds and giving away 20 to 22 pounds to his less-accomplished rivals.

As is often his custom, Snap Decision, with regular rider Graham Watters aboard, went for the lead early, saved ground on the inside, and maintained the advantage for most of the 2 ½ miles of the race. He was pressed but never headed by USA Steeplechase’s 21-1 longshot Restitution, with Bernie Dalton aboard, who eventually faded and was eased.

Meanwhile, the rest of the field followed the leaders and there was little change in position throughout most of the going, with Hudson River Farms’ L’Imperator (Stephen Mulqueen) and Richard Colton and Stella Thayer’s Barbados (Gerard Galligan) in closest pursuit. Both are also trained by Kingsley. Heading around the course the second time, Snap Decision continued to look strong, jumping fluidly, and holding his six adversaries at bay.

As the Phipps-bred nine-year-old star, trained by Hall of Famer Jack Fisher, led into and around the far turn the final time, he still appeared in control, opening up by almost two lengths at one point. But that’s when the others began to make their move. Near the top of the stretch, L’Imperator was the first to strike, angling to Snap Decision’s outside and narrowing the gap. Snap’s Bruton Street stablemate Proven Innocent made a brief move under Tom Garner, but quickly gave way. The biggest threat, however, came from Hurricana Farm’s Merry Maker, a six-year-old Irish-bred son on Malinas, who unfurled his bid on the turn, swung seven wide into the stretch, and gobbled up ground quickest of all. Snap Decision hung in gallantly until mid stretch when L’Imperator, under brisk urging from Mulqueen, took command, but was unable to hold off the harder-charging Merry Maker. The margin of victory was a half length, with Barbados flying past a tiring Snap Decision to secure the show spot, 5 ½ lengths behind L’Imperator.

For Merry Maker, who began his racing career at Great Meadow less than two years ago, it was his first stakes win in seven starts. Though he wasn’t a factor in either of his first two stakes starts, in the Jonathan Kiser and G1 Jonathan Sheppard, both at Saratoga, he showed grit and gained experience against more seasoned foes.

For jockey Parker Hendriks, who won the National Steeplechase Association riding title last year, 2023 hasn’t been as kind. Besides having to recover from a severe concussion around three months ago, he hadn’t won a race since the Queen’s Cup on April 29. The Lonesome Glory was just his third victory of the season. But being the first Grade 1 of his young career, it was by far the most significant.

Afterwards, Hendriks was interviewed by the NYRA Press Office, and had this to say: “It’s been hard this summer and I’ve been really working with a lot of different people to get my confidence back. It was pretty shattered after that fall, but Arch just filled me with confidence on this guy and said, ‘He’s going to run a big one, I promise you.’ So I just rode him like he said and rode him like a good horse, and he was.”

If all goes well, Kingsley said, Merry Maker – along with his other Lonesome Glory runners plus Cibolian, who was a scratch – could make his next start in the American Grand National at Far Hills. It’s a race that’s likely to produce this year’s Eclipse Award winner since a different horse has captured each of the season’s four Grade 1s to date. 

About National Steeplechase Association