Middleburg, Grand National recap

Snap Decision, Andi’amu shine at Middleburg while Monbeg Stream scores in the Grand National 

Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision and Graham Watters were victorious in the 2023 Temple Gwathmey. ©Tod Marks

by Tod Marks

Trainer Leslie Young had another banner day while two of the NSA’s biggest names made their seasonal bows with an exclamation point.

The stars came out for last Saturday’s Middleburg and Grand National races and they didn’t disappoint. At Middleburg, Va., it rained, and it rained, then it rained some more. There was the wind, thunder, and lightning, too, which delayed the eight-race card. And then it all stopped. Just in time to watch two magnificent races and brilliant performances by  Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu and Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision, who put on a show with the help of a pair of veteran competitors who deserve honorable mention.

Rested and ready, Snap Decision dominates G2 $100,000 Temple Gwathmey

A finalist for the 2022 Eclipse Award, Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision has been a standout since his NSA debut in 2019.

Coming into the Gwathmey, his first start in six months following  an NSA career low sixth-place finish in the Grand National at Far Hills, it was only natural to wonder whether a layoff would allow the now nine-year-old to reclaim his aura of dominance.

Facing four accomplished veterans and up-and-coming foes, the Phipps-bred son of Hard Spun was once again asked to concede weight — from 12 to 18 pounds — under the Gwathmey’s handicap conditions.

But neither the layoff, age, nor 158-pound impost could hamper the Jack Fisher-trainee in his march toward a third straight victory in the spring’s biggest prize, the Grade 1 Iroquois in Nashville next month.

Showing early speed, Snap Decision and jockey Graham Watters assumed the lead from the flag drop, controlling the pace, running easily and jumping fluidly, and maintaining a slight advantage during the first two trips around Glenwood Park. On the last circuit, the pace quickened and stalkers Going Country and  Belfast Banter, who had been within striking range, faded as Watters asked his mount for run.

That left another stalker, Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean, a graded stakes winner of more than $350,000, as the lone threat. But when Watters began to hand ride his mount, Redicean couldn’t keep up, though he continued gamely, beaten only 3 3/4 lengths. The rest of the field was 20 or more lengths behind.

With the victory, Snap Decision brought his combined career earnings on the flat and over jumps to more than $900,000.

Two old warriors slug it out in $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup

Ballybristol Farm’s two-time timber champion Andi’amu, 13, and seven-time stakes winner Upland Partners’ Mystic Strike, 14, continued to show grit and competitive fire in top-class racing after a combined 95 career starts.

With all four starters carrying 170 pounds over 3 1/4 miles, Andi’amu, with Jack Doyle returning from Ireland for the ride for trainer Leslie Young, set the pace alongside Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, his longtime nemesis, ridden by Graham Watters.

The duo continued running in tandem for 2 3/4 miles, with Mystic Strike and Gerard Galligan in pursuit. Two fences out, Storm Team ran out of gas and Mystic Strike still had ground to make up but began to inch closer. Andi’amu had the lead at the last fence, but was soon joined by Mystic Strike and the pair dueled shoulder to shoulder for the long haul to the wire, with Andi’amu prevailing by a nose.

In other action…

The Hero Next Door remains undefeated with score in $35,000 Glenwood Park allowance hurdle

Michael Smith’s five-year-old Irish-bred son of Jet Away broke on top and was never headed in the 2 1/8-mile contest that featured a slew of up and comers, giving Leslie Young and David England their first winner of the day.

The Hero Next Door made his debut at the Carolina Cup Races earlier this month and romped by 19 lengths. On Saturday, his margin was just 1 1/2 lengths, but The Hero Next Door faced a slew of tough competitors including Bruton Street-US’ Neotropic, who closed strongly under Graham Watters.

“Mission” accomplished

Riverdee Stable’s Mission Brief blasted off quickly and withstood a half-mile duel with Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Rampoldi Plan before prevailing by a hard-fought neck in the $30,000 Paul Fout maiden hurdle.

With Graham Watters riding for former NSA champion jockey-turned-trainer Danielle Hodsdon, the five-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Noble Mission was pressed throughout the 2 1/8 mile race — never leading by more than a length — first by Bonnie Rye Stable’s Kari Cares, then Rampoldi Plan (ridden by Mikey Hamill), making his first NSA start after nine trips to the post mostly in England.

Right Tempo is right on in $30,000 Ptarmigan filly & mare hurdle (run in memory of Maggie Bryant)

Trainer Leslie Young rolled out another good one in Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo, a French-bred daughter of multimillionaire and Grade 1 winner Authorized.

After finishing a close third in her career debut at the Old Dominion Hounds races earlier this month, Young wheeled back the five-year-old on two-weeks rest with new NSA rider David England in the saddle. England, a winner on four of his first nine mounts, was content to let Right Tempo lag behind in fifth in the field of eight for the first mile and a half of the 2 1/8-mile race, narrowed the gap with two fences to go, and drew clear at the final fence. The winning margin was 1 3/4 lengths over Potter Group USA’s Fox in the Park, also trained by Young, and ridden by Mikey Hamill. Fox in the Park made her debut in the same maiden race at Old Dominion as Right Tempo, finishing sixth that day.

Mr. Connecticut states his case in $20,000 Wiley maiden starter hurdle

Making just his second NSA start after nine trips to the post mostly on the NYRA circuit, Upland Flats Racing’s Mr. Connecticut pressed the pace in second, snatched the lead from Bonnie Rye Stable’s Quid heading to the final fence, and was put to a drive to score by 1 3/4 lengths in the race for maidens who had previously started for a claiming tag of $25,000 or less on the flat or over jumps.

Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Rocket One, a four-year-old son of the prominent stallion Into Mischief making his first start after a career on the flat, closed strongly to finish second. Like most of the other hurdle races at Middleburg, the distance was 2 1/8 miles.

The winner was trained by Ricky Hendriks and gave jockey Harry Beswick his first of two winners on the card.

Fast Vision sees clear sailing in $20,000 Alfred Hunt Steeplethon

Who doesn’t love those steeplethons, which require horse and rider to navigate different obstacles including timber, water, and natural brush fences. And at Middleburg, the lush setting of Glenwood Park’s rolling hills make these adventures all the more exciting and picturesque.

Just three horses faced the starter, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision and Ballybristol Farm’s Cause for Pardon (both trained by Leslie Young), and Sherry Fenwick’s Anticipating (Neil Morris).

Breaking alertly, Cause for Pardon took the lead under Jack Doyle and held it for about a half mile. At that point, Anticipating, ridden by Barry Foley, took command and extended his advantage by as much as 14 lengths through the first 2 1/4 miles. With two fences to go, Fast Vision overtook Anticipating and drew clear by 3 1/2 lengths.

For Fast Vision, a French-bred five-year-old, it was his first try over a steeplethon course following seven races over hurdles on the NSA circuit, where he won a 115 handicap and finished third in last year’s Aflac Supreme novice hurdle stakes at Callaway Gardens.

Iranistan awarded victory in training flat opener

The day began with a training flat race at 1 1/2 miles, and the first horse to cross the wire was Kincraig Stables’ In Effect, with Sarah Cundith aboard for trainer Neil Morris. But the horse was disqualified for interference and the win was awarded to Hudson River Farms’s multiple stakes winner Iranistan, ridden by Tatiana Sushko for trainer Keri Brion. Iranistan, now age nine, was the winner of the 2022 Gwathmey Stakes.

Tuscany Racing’s Monbeg Stream and Freddie Procter won the Grand National timber stakes on Saturday. ©Douglas Lees

And at the Grand National Races

Monbeg Stream shows he’s the real deal in $30,000 Grand National

After a series of solid performances in the maiden and allowance ranks, Tuscany Racing’s Monbeg Stream became a stakes winner, taking the 120th running of the second leg of the Maryland Timber Triple in Butler.

With Freddie Procter in the saddle for trainer Leslie Young, the seven-year-old Irish-bred tracked the pacesetter, Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River, with George Daly up, for the first half of the race. After 2 1/2 miles Monbeg Stream took a three-length advantage, and drove to the wire 2 1/2 lengths clear of a gutsy Renegade River, who was 4 lengths ahead of Upland Partners’ Shootist.

Of the seven Grand National starters, only two have been nominated to the final leg of the series, the $100,000 Maryland Hunt Cup, at 4 miles, on April 29: Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado, who finished fourth, about 10 lengths behind the winner, and Shootist. Tomgarrow, who took the My Lady’s Manor stakes, the first leg, was not nominated to the Hunt Cup.

Monbeg Stream has been a horse to watch since he made his debut in the fall of 2021 at the Virginia Fall Races. He was barely beaten in his first try, then lost his rider in his next race. Since then, he’s captured three straight.

The Grand National was one of four timber races on the card. In the $12,500 maiden at 3 miles, Daniel Colhoun, Achsah O’Donovan, and Harvey Goolsby’s Bogey’s Image went wire to wire under Eric Poretz for trainer Joe Davies. The lightly raced six-year-old, in fact, set a new course record of 6:05 for the distance, fending off several challenges, including a steady rally from seventh to second by Greenlights’ The Butler Yates, ridden by Freddie Procter. The winning margin was 4 lengths.

Procter and Davies struck again in the next race, the $17,500 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial allowance contest at 3 1/4 miles, with Kinross Farm’s Great Road. In that race, Great Road, always well placed, had a three-length lead after 2 1/2 miles, extended it to 7 lengths with a quarter-mile to go, and held off a furious challenge by Kinross stablemate Blackhall, ridden by Theresa Dimpfel, to hold on by a half length. All four runners in the Murray Memorial have been nominated to next Saturday’s Maryland Hunt Cup.

In the finale, the $10,000 Western Run Plate, an allowance event at 3 miles restricted to apprentice riders, Armata Stable’s Chosen Mate won for the second straight time. With Virginia Korrell aboard, the 11-year-old, trained by Ricky Hendriks, was gunned to the front, controlled the tempo, and kicked clear under a steady drive to win by 2 lengths. Black and Blue Stable’s Fletched, ridden by Elizabeth Scully was second best. Heading into this weekend’s triple header – The Maryland Hunt Cup, Queen’s Cup in North Carolina, and Foxfield Races in Virginia – trainer Leslie Young has 12 wins on the season, seven more than Ricky Hendriks. Four riders were two-time winners on Saturday: Harry Beswick, Graham Watters, David England, and Eric Poretz. Beswick, with six victories, has one more than Watters.

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