Middleburg/Grand National preview:

Noah And The Ark © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

Snap Decision, Noah and the Ark, and timber champion Schoodic return to action at the Middleburg Spring Races, while Maryland hosts the second leg of the Timber Triple in Butler featuring reigning Maryland Hunt Cup champion Withoutmoreado.

Glenwood Park hosts stars and stakes action at the Middleburg Spring Races on Saturday with a nine-race, $285,000 card, anchored by the $75,000 Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey stakes and $30,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup stakes over timber.

The third richest meet of the National Steeplechase Association spring season, Middleburg ranks behind only the Iroquois and Virginia Gold Cup races in purses. Post time is 1 p.m. The Gwathmey, which annually draws top talent, has attracted a particularly full and deep field this year, and is shaping up as a championship-caliber contest.

Led by multiple Grade 1 winners Noah and the Ark (Keystone Thoroughbreds), who captured last year’s Grand National at Far Hills, and perennial powerhouse Snap Decision (Bruton Street-US), who is approaching the million-dollar mark in career steeplechase earnings, the 2 ½-mile handicap hurdle is also being targeted by another six accomplished warriors from both sides of the Atlantic: Riverdee Stable’s Awakened, 2023 winner of the G1 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga, and stablemates Cool Jet, a two-time novice stakes winner last year, and Zabeel Champion, who begins 2024 coming off of two straight stakes scores in the Fall; Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge, a novice stakes winner in 2022, who also owns a third in Grade 1 competition; and Michael Smith’s up-and-comer The Hero Next Door, who has three straight runner-up finishes in novice stakes.

Also nominated is a hard-knocking European newcomer. C and C Boultbee Brooks’ Sebastopol, age 10, is a seven-time winner in steeplechase and hurdle events in the UK, where he earned $240,000.

Because of his many accomplishments dating back to 2019, which includes 11 stakes victories, Snap Decision will again tote high weight. In the Gwathmey, he carries 162 pounds, conceding 10 to 20 pounds to his rivals.

The supporting card

Timber racing has been front and center early this spring, and the Middleburg Hunt Cup at 3 ¼ miles has drawn the reigning champion, Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic, a 15-time winner of $571,000 and remarkable model of consistency who hasn’t been off the board in nine straight starts over three years. Trained by Hall of Famer Jack Fisher, Schoodic has captured his past two starts, including the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup stakes at Glenwood Park last fall.

A group of familiar adversaries will take on the 14-year-old juggernaut, including The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory, a multiple stakes winner trained by Mark Beecher who finished second to Schoodic in his past two outings. Irv Naylor’s Family Tree, trained by Neil Morris, is a maiden and allowance winner over timber, and takes a big jump in class. So does Stewart Strawbridge’s Lap of the Gods, who broke his maiden over the course in the fall and defeated Family Tree handily at the Old Dominion Hounds point to point several weeks ago. The Parker Hendriks-trainee makes his first stakes appearance in the Middleburg Hunt Cup.

The rest of the card consists of five hurdle races at 2 ⅛ miles, including a rich $50,000 allowance for non-winners of two races; a trio of $30,000 maiden special weights contests, one restricted to fillies and mares; and a maiden starter for horses who have started for a claiming tag of $20,000 or less. There’s also a $20,000 steeplethon over mixed obstacles at 2 ⅝ miles and a 1 ½-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). You can watch the races via live stream at www.nationalsteeplechase.com.

And at the Grand National…

Six to contest second leg of Maryland Timber Triple

Timber racing returns to Maryland hunt country for the second Saturday in a row as six runners are expected to go to the post in the 121th running of the historic contest in Butler.

This year’s Grand National, at a distance of 3 ¼ miles over 18 fences, carries a purse of $35,000. The event is restricted to amateur riders. Gates open at noon, and the four-race, $85,000 card gets underway at 2:30 p.m. The Grand National is the first race.

Four of the runners entered in the race are among those nominated to the longest and most demanding leg of the series, the 127th Maryland Hunt Cup, which will be run at 4 miles on April 28. Armata Stables’ Our Friend, winner of the first leg last Saturday, the My Lady’s Manor, is nominated to the Hunt Cup but sitting out the Grand National.

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