Middleburg/Grand National preview:
Top hurdlers return to action in Virginia, while timber veterans square off in Maryland.
BY TOD MARKS
It has been 20 months since steeplechase fans watched Bruton Street-US’ mighty gray Moscato in action. Following 2020 victories in the G2 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg and the G1 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga, the 9-year-old British-bred son of Hernando was third in the G1 New York Turf Writers Cup at the Spa. But his two masterful performances were enough to earn Moscato the Eclipse Award in the pandemic-shortened season.
A tendon injury forced Moscato, now 11, to the sidelines for lengthy rest and rehab, and Middleburg will mark his official return, once again in the $75,000 Gwathmey, at 2 ½ miles. Jamie Bargary has the mount for trainer Jack Fisher. If there’s an optimal meet for Moscato to get back into the swing of things, Middleburg is it. Moscato has taken the Gwathmey twice, having defeated along the way Grade 1 winners Rashaan, Surprising Soul, Zanjabeel, Scorpiancer, and All the Way Jose in the historic contest.
But he’ll have to be at his best to do so, as he lines up against his brilliant stablemate, Snap Decision, also trained by Fisher. Snap Decision made history last season when he tied Thrice Worthy’s long-standing record of nine straight hurdle victories, in the Grade 1 Iroquois, a streak that came to an end in September against rival and 2021 Eclipse Award champion The Mean Queen in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park.
Both Snap Decision, who will be ridden by regular rider Graham Watters in the Gwathmey, and Moscato stretched their legs on the flat in preparation for their 2022 debuts at the Green Spring Valley Point to Point in Cockeysville, Md., on April 3. Snap Decision won pretty much as he pleased.
Also in the field is Irv Naylor’s Amschel, who chased The Mean Queen and Snap Decision in major races last year, and completed the season with a close second to Hudson River Farm’s Iranistan in the Noel Laing Stakes at Montpelier. Barry Foley rides.
Iranistan returns in the Gwathmey as well, as does another horse he defeated in the Laing, Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean, trained by Leslie Young. Iranistan, trained by Keri Brion, turned heads with three straight wins in his first three tries over hurdles, including a blowout score in the Marcellus Frost novice stakes in Nashville. He finished second and third in his initial efforts against open stakes competition, in the Smithwick and Turf Writers Cup, both G1s at Saratoga. After taking two handicaps at Saratoga in 2020, he was off for more than a year, and his win at Montpelier came in his second race back.
Redicean has been a tough competitor since coming to the U.S. from England in 2019. He won his American debut in the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes at the Spa, the scene of one of his best races, a second in the 2020 Turf Writers Cup. Last year, he was second in the G2 Zeke Ferguson at Great Meadow and third in the G1 Lonesome Glory. Tom Garner has the mount.
There are a total of eight races in the Middleburg Spring lineup, with $215,000 in purses. First race post time is 1 p.m.
The co-feature is the $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes, at 3 ¼ miles, with a field of five expected. The field includes 2019 timber champion, Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, a previous winner of this race along with the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup stakes over the same Glenwood Park course. The Hunt Cup is Andi’amu’s first race back since June 2020. Tom Garner rides for trainer Leslie Young. Also in the field are Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, one of the top timber horses of 2021 and a stakes winner of more than a quarter-million dollars; Four Virginia Gents’ First Friday, who broke his maiden over the course last year; Buttonwood Farm’s The Silent Trainer and Crooked Run Racings Love of the Bay, both maidens.
The day’s other races include a $30,000 allowance hurdle; a $20,000 filly & mare hurdle; $25,000 maiden hurdle; a $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle; the $20,000 Alfred Hunt steeplethon over mixed obstacles; and a training flat race.
Six entered in Grand National
The second leg of the Maryland Timber Triple, the 119th Grand National in Butler, has drawn a field of six going 3 ¼ miles over 18 fences for a purse of $30,000. The race is restricted to amateur riders.
One of four races on the card, the Grand National was founded in 1898 by several young men who wanted to compete in the Maryland Hunt Cup, but were too young to enter. The race is often compared to the Hunt Cup, and they share many similarities. While the Hunt Cup is the most demanding, at 4 miles, the shorter distance of the Grand National typically means faster racing. Since the race moved to the current course in 1946, there have been sixteen horses to win both. Last Saturday, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow captured the first leg, the My Lady’s Manor Stakes in Monkton. The Maryland Hunt Cup takes place on April 30.
Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse, trained by Sanna Neilson and ridden by Skylar McKenna, won two allowance races last season, then stepped up to stakes competition in the Grand National, finishing second, behind Michael Smith’s Le Chevalier, who has won or placed in nine timber stakes in his lengthy career.
Kinross Farm’s lightly raced 10-year-old Pocket Talk makes his seasonal bow for trainer Joe Davies and son, Teddy, who has the mount. Making only his eighth start since 2018, Pocket Talk broke his maiden at the 2020 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races and ran twice last year, both times finishing second in allowance competition. At last November’s Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races, he was a neck short of Holwood Stable’s Road to Oz in one of those races. The latter, a Quality Road gelding, tuned up for the Grand National at the Cheshire Races in Unionville, Pa., in March, beaten a length. This will be Road to Oz’ second start in a stake; he finished sixth in last year’s Virginia Gold Cup. Brett Owings rides for trainer Mark Beecher.
Armata Stable’s Goodoldtimes enters the Grand National off of a determined two-length tally over timber star Mystic Strike in the 2021 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. The eight-year-old, trained by Alicia Murphy and piloted by Colin Smith, was third in the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup Stakes before that. In his five other career starts, Goodoldtimes has four thirds and a win in allowance company.
Frank Bonsal’s Stand Down, trained by Casey Pinkard Savin and ridden by Elizabeth Scully, finished fourth in last year’s Grand National. His career best was a victory in the 2018 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Rounding out the field is Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, trained by Kathy Neilson and ridden by Eric Poretz, best known for guiding Senior Senator to three Maryland Hunt Cup victories. A solid allowance runner, Awesome Adrian finished third in last year’s Willowdale Steeplechase Stakes.
The remainder of the card consists of a $10,000 maiden at 3 miles for amateur riders; a $15,000 allowance at 3 ¼ miles for amateur riders; and a $10,000 allowance at 3 miles for apprentice riders. First-race post time is 3 p.m.
Complete entries for both race meets can be found at https://nationalsteeplechase.com/racing/.
If you are not attending the races in person, be sure to sign up to watch the live stream via the NSA’s website. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation, Charleston’s Post & Courier, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.