Saratoga, Colonial Preview

Smithwick to kick off Spa steeplechase season, while maidens, handicappers duel at Colonial Downs

By Tod Marks

The first of seven Saratoga steeplechase races takes place on Wednesday, and the season begins with one of the Spa’s two premier events. A field of seven is expected to contest the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick at 2 1/16 miles, and after the finish, the sport will have its latest Grade 1 winner.

None of the seven has captured a top-class race, though the field includes a roster of accomplished winners primed for bigger success. 

The Leslie Young-trained Pistol Whipped, who has been assigned a field-high 158 pounds under the Smithwick’s handicap conditions, enters from a second to Snap Decision in the Iroquois where he raced on the lead, lost ground, and battled back to secure the place spot. Owned by Anthony and Mark Speelman, the son of Beneficial was a four-time winner in England prior to his American debut in the Iroquois.

Young also saddles Grade 2-winner Redicean, who is aiming for his second stakes win in a row. Sharon Sheppard’s hard-knocking star has finished second and third in Grade 1 races, and enters the Smithwick off of a victory in the Grade 2 $75,000 David Semmes Memorial hurdle stakes at Great Meadow in May. The victory was his first since taking the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes at Saratoga in 2019.

Trainer Keri Brion has three entries, and shoots for a second straight Smithwick following last year’s victory by Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Bucko. Brion, who took all three New York Grade 1s last season, saddles Hudson River Farm’s Iranistan, Irv Naylor’s French Light, and Atlantic Friends Racing’s Historic Heart.

In his brief U.S. career, Historic Heart has turned heads with a pair of scintillating performances, in the $50,000 Harry Harris four-year-old stakes at Far Hills last October and the $50,000 Carolina Cup novice stake this spring. Injuries have stalled Iranistan’s career, but the veteran pulled off his biggest victory by narrowly defeating Snap Decision in the G2 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg in April, when he was getting a big break in the weights from the favorite. Both Historic Heart and Iranistan had off days in their most recent starts, the G1 Iroquois in Nashville, which was dominated by Snap Decision. The other Brion charge, French Light, finished a gutsy second in last year’s Smithwick and broke through in the Queen’s Cup novice stakes in April, his first stakes triumph.

Trainer Cyril Murphy has Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice primed for the Smithwick. Before finishing second in a handicap at Willowdale in April, Chief Justice won the $50,000 Van Clief Memorial handicap at Foxfield.

Rounding out the field is Shadowfox Racing’s mare Down Royal. The eight-year-old nearly white New York-bred daughter of Alphabet Soup is affectionately called “Princess” by her breeders, jockey Bernie Dalton and his trainer-wife, Kate. The Daltons have watched the mare blossom into a star who has now won three straight distaff stakes: the Randolph Rouse at Colonial Downs, the Peapack at Far Hills and, most recently the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley In Nashville.

Click here for full entry information:

The race also has two interesting jockey assignments. Former National Steeplechase Association champion jockey Jack Doyle returns from Ireland to ride Iranistan, while European star Nico de Boinville, who boasts more Grade 1 winners than any other active British jockey, retains the mount on Pistol Whipped.

Post time for the Smithwick is 1:05 p.m. on Wednesday; it’s the first race of the day.

NYRA races are broadcast live on Fox2 TV, with replays available on NYRA website, You can also live stream via the NSA website,

And at Colonial Downs…

The New Kent, Va., course will host a pair of hurdle races on Monday, a $40,000 maiden special weights event at 2 miles for four-year-olds, and a $35,000 handicap for horses rated at 115 or less at 2 ¼ miles. The non-betting races have drawn full fields of 10 and nine, respectively. As is the norm at Colonial, the races will be the first two on the card, with post times of 12:15 p.m. and 12:50 p.m. 

Here’s the link to the Colonial entries: 

You can live stream all the action from Colonial for free via the NSA website,, at 12:15 p.m. and 12:50. 

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