Highlights from Queen’s Cup, Foxfield, and the Maryland Hunt Cup
By Tod Marks and Betsy Burke Parker
Queen’s Cup recap: French Light shines in novice stake
Fresh off a multi-win day at Middleburg, jockey Parker Hendriks and trainer Keri Brion teamed up for a trio of victories on Saturday at the 25th anniversary running of the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in Mineral Springs, N.C.
To say it’s been a magical Spring for Keri Brion and her first-call rider Parker Hendriks would be quite the understatement. It wasn’t until last year that Brion, a former rider and longtime assistant to Hall of Fame legend Jonathan Sheppard, struck out on her own after The Master’s retirement, while Hendriks, 18, the son of accomplished horsemen Sanna Neilson and Ricky Hendriks, only began his National Steeplechase Association career in 2020. Brion already has reached the pinnacle of steeplechasing as the conditioner of 2021 Eclipse-Award winner The Mean Queen, while Hendriks earned the biggest ever score by upsetting the mighty Snap Decision with Hudson River Farm’s Iranistan in the Temple Gwathmey Stakes in Middleburg on April 23.
Now, two-thirds of the way through the NSA Spring season, both lead the sport in wins and earnings. Brion boasts 10 victories, one more than Leslie Young, and a quarter-million dollars in purses, about $70,000 more than Young. Meanwhile, Hendriks has 10 winners to date and $236,000 in earnings – double that in both categories of Graham Watters, last year’s champion jockey.
On Saturday, both continued their tear, with three more triumphs, highlighted by French Light’s performance in the $50,000 Queen’s Cup novice stakes, his first stakes score in 16 tries. Irv Naylor’s seven-year-old French-bred son of Muhtathir holds a special spot in Brion’s heart. He was her final mount as a jockey, the first winner to run in her name, and the first horse to give the Naylors a victory in Saratoga as well as their first victory in a Queen’s Cup stake.
French Light’s Queen’s Cup win was his first since back-to-back maiden and allowance victories at Colonial Downs and Saratoga in 2020. And he had to be at his best to outlast Holwood Stable and Port Lairge Stable’s Decisive Triumph and Jamie Bargary in a dramatic and prolonged stretch duel.
French Light and Hendriks were content to sit last in the four-horse field for the first mile and a half of the 2 3/8-mile contest. Decisive Triumph had the lead into the stretch and held his ground, relinquishing the lead only in the final strides. The margin of victory was three-quarters of a length.
In other action
Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Drewscourt, a lightly raced seven-year-old Irish-bred who broke his maiden at the Virginia Fall Races in October, got the day started in a $25,000 optional claiming handicap, prevailing by a neck in a spirited three-way stretch duel with Petticoats Loose Farm’s Gaye Breeze and Richard Colton’s High Mounte.
With Tom Garner riding for trainer Leslie Young, Drewscourt waited patiently for the first mile or so, as Irv Naylor’s Chetzeron scooted off to a 15-length lead, with Gaye Breeze leading the second flight of runners. Drewscourt got into gear with about six furlongs to go, and hooked up with Gaye Breeze for the long stretch drive — made even longer since the final fence was in a new location farther from the finish. High Mounte made his move with a quarter of a mile to go, and actually put his head in front briefly, but had to settle for third in a great finish.
Spring Heeled Jim breaks maiden in debut
CFC Stables’ Irish-bred 4-year-old, making his career debut, gave both Hendriks and Brion their first of three wins on the card, coming from last to win going away.
Spring Heeled Jim sat at the rear of the pack for the first mile, advanced to third in the field of five after 1 3/4 miles, behind Maranto Manor’s Beowulf and Runnymoore Racing’s Eternal Story, who had been locked in a fierce duel to the last jump. Still behind the leaders over the last, Spring Heeled Jim cut sharply to the inside and took off like a shot, surging past the two with about 100 yards to go to win going away. Both Beowulf and Eternal Story looked sharp in their first U.S. starts.
Late rush propels Freddy Flintshire to victory
After one second-place finish in seven U.S. starts at Fair Grounds, Keeneland, Ellis Park, and Kentucky Downs, Upland Flats Racing’s Freddy Flintshire made the move to jump racing, and has now hit the board in three straight efforts.
Making his debut in allowance company at Charleston last fall, the son of the great turf runner Flintshire finished third. He made his first start at four in Aiken in March, finishing third again, this time in a maiden special weights hurdle. In both races, the margin of defeat was only around three lengths.
On Saturday with a little more experience under his girth, Freddy Flintshire stalked Carrington Holdings’ Hurtgen Forest the first time around Brooklandwood Race Course, then exploded on the inside after the final fence with a burst of speed to break his maiden by 1 1/4 lengths. The win gave Hendriks and Brion their third winner of the day.
Bold Quest, veteran flat runner, scores in hurdle debut
Making his first start over jumps after 18 tries on the flat, Matthew Groff’s Bold Quest enjoyed a perfect trip from beginning to end to draw off convincingly in the Queen’s Cup finale, a maiden claimer, for jockey Jamie Bargary and trainer Jack Fisher.
Not only was the victory the first for Bold Quest, a five-year-old chestnut son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, it was the first on the National Steeplechase Association circuit for Groff, best known as a longtime owner of flat runners.
Bold Quest looked like a seasoned hurdler from the get go. As soon as starter Jeff Teter dropped the flag, Bold Quest settled comfortably in second in the five-horse field behind Taking The Lead Stable and Dark Horse Racing’s Seville Barber. Always close to the pacesetter, Bargary stepped on the gas with three-eighths of a mile to go on the turn for home and widened his lead through the stretch. At the wire, Bold Quest was 4 1/2 lengths clear of runner-up Cainudothetwist.
Full results can be found HERE.
Vintage Vinnie outdoes himself with second Hunt Cup win
It’s hard to imagine Armata Stable’s Vintage Vinnie topping his record-setting performance in last year’s Maryland Hunt Cup, but that’s exactly what the 13-year-old son of Vinnie Roe did on Saturday in capturing his second straight running of America’s most famous and demanding timber race.
With young Teddy Davies riding for his dad, trainer Joe Davies, Vintage Vinnie broke on top and never looked back. By the sixth of 22 fences, Vintage Vinnie already led the eight-horse field by a wide margin, and by the 16th, he was in command by more than 100 lengths. By the 19th fence, the teen rider already had Vintage Vinnie geared down, and he won the $100,000 race easily, by 62 lengths. That wasn’t quite up to the 96-length margin in 2021, but his final time of 8:15 for the four-mile test, was more than seven full seconds swifter than the record he set last year, 8:22 3/5. Lucy Goelet’s Rocket Star Red, who finished third to Vintage Vinnie last year, was second best under Brett Owings, another 62 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher Armata Stable’s Goodoldtimes, with Colin Smith aboard.
The victory also was the fourth in a row for Vintage Vinnie, dating back to his previous Hunt Cup score. Since coming over the the UK in 2018, Vintage Vinnie has run eight times in the U.S., with five wins, two seconds, and a third. For Teddy Davies, the Hunt Cup win was his first. For the record, his mom, Blythe Miller Davies, captured the race once while his dad is a three-time winning jockey.
Full results can be found HERE.
Foxfield recap: Chief Justice lays down the law in Van Clief Memorial
By Betsy Burke Parker
Trainer Cyril Murphy has found the sweet spot for Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice, he said, the right distance, the right date, the right company and the right weights. The formula landed the team an impressive score in the featured $50,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial hurdle stakes at the Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday.
The April 30 meet was run before an enthusiastic crowd estimated of 10,000, most of who were University of Virginia students clearly thrilled about the return of the popular spring event to the Barracks Road course.
Chief Justice, with Barry Foley up, was making his first start in a year. He won his last out – a 2 1/4 mile novice hurdle stake at Iroquois in May, and was the starting highweight at 158 pounds. The impost was no deterrent for the front-running victory for the English-born son of Acclamation.
Murphy was thrilled with the commanding win.
“You know, it makes everything we’ve been doing at home worth it,” Murphy said. “It’s hard with a horse like this. He’s very good, but not (open) stakes caliber. You have to time it just right, and catch the handicap just right.”
Foley characterized Chief Justice as “the best bet of the day,” having confidence in the horse’s jumping ability, fitness and caliber against his three rivals. He took the lead after the first, never relinquishing command, and was six lengths in front at the wire.
“It shows his class,” Murphy explained, saying Chief Justice was a four-time winner over hurdles in England and Ireland, including a handicap hurdle at Aintree on Grand National day when he was four. His American career has been about “finding just the right spot for him,” Murphy added.
In other action
In the opener, Layton Register’s Travertine Farm was represented by maiden claiming hurdle winner Seb’s Welcome with a brave, late-stretch grind to beat Ondalove (Harry Beswick) on the nod. Bernie Dalton had the call for trainer-wife, Kate Dalton.
In the ratings handicap, Clarke Ohrstrom’s Mr. Bridger (Barry Foley) was on or near the pace throughout, and scored by about three lengths over Criticize (Beswick.) Mr. Bridger, a son of champion sire English Channel, was making his first start in almost 12 months.
Making his first NSA hurdle start (with just one modest point-to-point hurdle effort a month ago), Harold Via Jr.’s Welshman put away six maiden rivals with a definitive move up the long hill into the homestretch last time around. Defending titleist Graham Watters had the call.
Watters got a second win with Rather Be Racing’s Our Legend in the maiden timber. Our Legend jumped the last giving a length to leader Western Crusader (Beswick) but closed the gap – and opened up by two at the wire. Western Crusader was second, Highway Prince (Skylar McKenna), third.
In the finale, amateur owner-rider Alex Leventhal made an exquisitely timed late move with veteran Sempre Medici, closing a 5-length gap from the last to collar leader Court Ruler (Freddie Procter) at the wire. Leventhal was thrilled with the win, calling Sempre Medici a horse of a lifetime, a real gentleman and a real class act.
“He’s such a good boy,” Leventhal remarked. “You’d think he was one of the outriders’ horses in the paddock and in the post parade. He’s a serious racehorse when we get to running. (Trainer) Mark Beecher has really made him shine.”
Full results can be found HERE.