Middleburg, Grand National preview

Enriched Gwathmey headlines action-packed Saturday in Virginia, Maryland 

Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision and Graham Watters after the 2022 Temple Gwathmey. ©Tod Marks

by Tod Marks

Snap Decision, Andi’amu return to action at the Middleburg Spring Races, while Maryland hosts the second leg of the Timber Triple in Butler.

Glenwood Park hosts stars and stakes action at the Middleburg Spring Races on Saturday with an eight-race card, anchored by the $100,000 Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey stakes and $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes.

In all, $255,000 in purses are up for grabs, the third richest meet on the National Steeplechase Association spring calendar, behind only the Iroquois and Virginia Gold Cup races. Post time is 1 p.m. The Gwathmey, which annually draws top talent, has gotten a purse bump of $25,000.

Virginia’s oldest steeplechase, which dates back to 1911, the Middleburg Spring Races drew a record crowd on a beautiful day last year. The forecast is less optimistic for this year’s running, but while the weather may not be perfect, the competition couldn’t be better.

A brilliant performer since he made his NSA debut in 2019, Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision, now 9, comes into the 2 1/2-mile Gwathmey well rested after an arduous campaign in which he conceded a lot of weight to his rivals under handicap conditions. When he finished second in last year’s Gwathmey, also a handicap, Snap Decision carried 14 more pounds than the winner, Iranistan. The two-time 2022 Grade 1 winner (Iroquois and Jonathan Sheppard) will again be toting highweight, of 158 pounds, on Saturday, 12 to 18 more than his four foes. Should the son of Hard Spun be victorious, he will pass the $900,000 mark in career earnings. Jack Fisher trains and regular rider Graham Watters has the mount.

Lining up against the 2022 Eclipse Award finalist will be Del Rio Racing, USA Steeplechase, and Upland Flats Racing’s Ask Paddington, trained by Keri Brion and ridden by last season’s top jockey, Parker Hendriks. A nine-time winner in the UK, the Irish-bred finished third in his NSA debut in the G1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct last fall, just three-quarters of a length behind Snap Decision, who gave way to the 41-1 winner Noah and the Ark. Ask Paddington finished a distant third to eventual Eclipse Award winner Hewick in the Grand National at Far Hills, the only jump race in which Snap Decision has ever finished off the board.

Madaket Stables and The International Ventures’ Going Country is another Irish-bred trained by Brion. Though he’s never won a stake, he has been in the thick of things in several outings, including two seconds, to Snap Decision in the Sheppard at Saratoga and champion mare Down Royal in the G2 Zeke Ferguson at Great Meadow in the fall.

A 10-time winner of nearly $350,000, Sharon Sheppard’s Recidean, trained by 2022 leading trainer Leslie Young, who is off to a fast start this season, was a two-time stakes victor last year, taking the G2 Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow, then closed out his campaign with a convincing tally in the Appleton hurdle stakes at Far Hills.

Completing the field is Irv Naylor’s Belfast Banter, an accomplished hurdler in Europe still looking for his first U.S. win. In four NSA starts in 2022 (three in G1 competition), the seven-year-old Irish-bred’s best finish was a second to Redicean in the Semmes. Cyril Murphy is the trainer.

The supporting card

Timber racing has been front and center early this spring, and the $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup at 3 1/4 miles has drawn the reigning champion, Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, who won the race in 2019, and finished second last spring following nearly two years on the sidelines. Trained by Leslie Young, Andi’amu, a winner of more than $500,000, also captured the timber crown in 2019, and enters the Hunt Cup riding a two-race winning streak. Overall, the champ captured four stakes in 2022.

A group of familiar adversaries will take on the 14-year-old juggernaut, including Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, who upset Andi’amu in last year’s Hunt Cup and again in the Brown Advisory timber stakes at Shawan Downs. The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory, trained by Mark Beecher, boasted back-to-back scores last season, breaking his maiden at Shawan Downs, then two weeks later taking the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup at Glenwood Park, defeating Storm Team, among others.

Upland Partners’ Mystic Strike is as accomplished as any runner, having won seven stakes in his venerable career, including the 2021 Middleburg Hunt Cup. At 14, he’s already made a pair of starts for trainer Todd McKenna, finishing a distant third to Tomgarrow in last week’s My Lady’s Manor Stakes, and a far-back second in his bow at Cheshire.

Stepping up in class, Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams’  Notjudginjustsayin, who like stablemate Storm Team is trained by Jack Fisher. The Kentucky-bred broke his maiden over timber at Genesee Valley in the fall then promptly captured an allowance contest at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races.

The rest of the card consists of four hurdle races at 2 1/8 miles, including a $35,000 allowance; $30,000 maiden special weights contest; $25,000 maiden for fillies and mares; and a $20,000 maiden for horses who have started for a claiming tag of $25,000 or less over jumps or on the flat. There’s also a $20,000 steeplethon over mixed obstacles at 2 5/8 miles and a 1 1/2-mile training flat event.

You can download the full entries here.

The Hunt Cup is the third race (2:10 p.m post time) while the Gwathmey is the fourth (scheduled to go off at 2:45 p.m). While all of the NSA meets will be streamed live, without commentary, on www.nationalsteeplechase.com, the Middleburg Races will also be streamed via America’s Best Racing, hosted by Dan Tordjman, the NSA’s Megan Connolly, and Bri Mott of StableDuel, starting at approximately 1 p.m. Eastern Time. The ABR show, presented by Brown Advisory, will offer on-site analysis of several major races and an inside look into the world of jump racing. Featured races on the April 22 Middleburg card include the Gwathmey, Middleburg Hunt Cup, Alfred Hunt steeplethon, and Glenwood allowance hurdle.

Additionally, the Middleburg Races will kick off the NSA’s partnership with StableDuel, where fans can have fun handicapping the races and compete for $2,000 in prize money. To learn how to play Saturday’s free contest, click here.

The 2021 Grand National Steeplechase. ©Tod Marks

And at the Grand National…

Seven to contest second leg of Maryland Timber Triple

Timber racing returns to Maryland hunt country for the second Saturday in a row as seven runners are expected to go to the post in the 120th running of the historic contest in Butler.

This year’s Grand National, at a distance of 3 1/4 miles over 18 fences, carries a purse of $30,000. The event is restricted to amateur riders. Gates open at noon, and the four-race card gets underway at 2:30 p.m. The Grand National is the first race on the card.

Only four of the runners entered in the Grand National are among those nominated to the longest and most demanding race of the series, the 126th Maryland Hunt Cup, which will be run at 4 miles on April 29. Vintage Vinnie, winner of the previous two Hunt Cups in record-setting performances, finished second in the first leg of the series last week, the My Lady’s Manor stakes, and is sitting out the Grand National. Tomgarrow, who won the My Lady’s Manor, is not running in either of the other legs.

This year’s Grand National field includes a mixed batch of runners at various stages of their respective careers.

South Branch Equine’s Master Seville, trained by Mark Beecher, is a perfect two for two this season in the allowance ranks. He handily defeated Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse, who is also in the field, last week at The Manor Races. Royal Ruse, trained by Sanna Neilson, hasn’t won in more than two years, but finished second in the Grand National in 2021.

Lightly raced Monbeg Stream, who runs in the colors of Tuscany Racing for trainer Leslie Young, also enters the Grand National off of two straight 2021 timber victories, a maiden followed by the Mason Houghland allowance at the Iroquois Races.

Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado, trained by Kathy Neilson, was third in a timber allowance at last year’s Grand National meet, then followed it up with a victory in similar company at Winterthur. In his two stakes tries, Withoutmoreado finished a distant second to Andi’amu at Willowdale and fourth to that same rival at the International Gold Cup in 2022.

Since coming over from Ireland in 2022, Armata Stable’s Our Friend has two wins – a maiden and allowance score – in three outings for trainer Joe Davies.

A one-time claimer on the flat, Upland Partners’ Shootist has carved out a nice career for himself over timber. Trained by Todd McKenna, the nine-year-old son of Smart Strike has six top-three finishes in eight starts. And in his last stakes outlining in 2022, he finished second – albeit far back – to champion Andi’amu.

The lone stakes winner in the field (the 2021 Willowdale Steeplechase), Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River hasn’t won in seven tries since then. But the 10-year-old son of Bellamy Road gave dual Maryland Hunt Cup winner Vintage Vinnie all he could handle in his most recent start, just missing by a half length in an allowance race at the 2022 My Lady’s Manor races.

Rounding out the rest of the all-timber card is a $12,500 maiden at 3 miles; the $17,500 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial allowance at 3 1/4 miles; and $10,000 Western Run Plate at 3 miles for apprentice riders.

You can download the full entries here.

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