By Tod Marks
On a day that felt more like August at Colonial Downs in nearby New Kent, Va., rather than The Plains in late October, Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision captured the G2 $75,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson hurdle stakes while Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic scored in the $75,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes.
The day was nothing short of a tour de force for Hall Of Fame trainer Jack Fisher and jockey Graham Watters, who not only combined for victory in the two stakes, but captured two other races on the eight-race card. Watters additionally finished second three times and third once, propelling him to a tie in the NSA standings for leading rider with Harry Beswick, who had one winner on Saturday. Both are knotted at 16 victories.
Snap, crackle, and plenty of pop
Flashing the form that made him an electrifying force in the steeplechase world starting in 2019, the nine-year-old Phipps-bred dueled Upland Flats Racing and John Lewis’ West Newton throughout the 2 1/8 Ferguson. The two raced as a pair for most of the going, separated from the rest of the field. Snap Decision finally putting away his gutsy challenger after the final fence. The margin of victory for Snap Decision, who carried 20 pounds more than West Newton under the race’s handicap conditions, was 3 lengths. Riverdee Stables and Ten Strike Racing’s Awakened, a Grade 1 winner at Saratoga last summer, was third. Snap Decision’s victory came a week after he was pulled up in the Grand National at Far Hills over a soft course that wasn’t to his liking.
The victory — his 15th — was also a milestone in Snap Decision’s magnificent 42-race career, which began on the flat under the tutelage of Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey in 2016. It put the grand gelding over the $1 million-mark in total earnings.
Watters’ other triumphs came aboard Bruton Street’s Neotropic, also trained by Fisher, and Maranto Manor’s Auction Kingdom, for trainer Neil Morris. Fisher’s other score came with Northwoods Stable’s Look North.
Ageless Schoodic adds to his incredible resume
At age 13, Schoodic has racked up a list of career accomplishments that would be the envy of just about any race horse.
After three innocuous starts on the flat as a 2-year-old in 2012, and a couple more in his 3-year-old season, the son of Tiznow switched to jumps and became a phenom from his first outing, in the prestigious Gladstone stakes at Far Hills.
Since then he has made 46 trips to the post, winning 14 more times, and finishing second or third in 17 others. His victory in the $75,000 International Gold Cup at 3 1/2 miles on Saturday was his 10th stakes score over both timber and hurdles. His earnings to date: $571,606.
Only four went postward in the Gold Cup: The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory, a stakes winner himself; Boudinot Farms’ Elusive Exclusive, who was caught near the wire by Cracker Factory in the Brown Advisory timber stakes at Shawan; and Irv Naylor’s Stooshie, a maiden and allowance winner looking for his first stakes score.
Elusive Exclusive took the lead under Freddie Procter and held it under a leisurely pace for three miles, until Schoodic, the odds-on favorite, took command on the final turn and extended his advantage to 6 1/4 lengths as Watters celebrated nearing the wire.
Cracker Factory put in a late charge under Jamie Bargary to be clearly second best, nine lengths ahead of Elusive Exclusive.
Bred and originally owned by Edie Dixon, and trained by Michael Matz on the flat, Jack Fisher took over conditioning duties at the start of his NSA career. When Schoodic ended his long hurdle career and switched to timber, Dolly Fisher became the owner.
Imperial Assassin is top gun in $30,000 maiden opener
Armata Stable’s Imperial Assassin, who began his career this year and had three thirds in his first four starts, found the winner’s circle in the first division of the Virginia Equine Alliance maiden special weights hurdle.
Settling in mid-pack in the field of seven for most of the 2 1/8 miles, the five-year-old Irish-bred, ridden by Parker Hendriks and trained by Kathy Neilson, took aim at the leader, Teresa Haupt and Carl Doran’s Boffo Kid (with Bernie Dalton) on the final turn, and led a charge over the final fence in a thrilling race to the wire.
Bruton Street-US’ Quick Master (Graham Watters), a four-year-old son of Hard Spun making his second start over jumps, also launched his bid on the final turn, dueling Imperial Assassin and R. Larry Johnson’s Mr Jefferson over the last hurdle and hanging in gamely to the finish. The margin of victory was three-quarters of a length. Alexander Fulton’s Reassured (Jamie Bargary), who was shuffled back on the far turn, reasserted himself to finish third, four lengths behind Quick Master.
Look North looks great in $30,000 maiden score
The second division of the Virginia Equine Alliance maiden special weights hurdle was almost a carbon copy of the first.
Northwood Stable’s Look North began his career in the spring and had made four starts coming into Saturday’s International Gold Cup Races. And just like Imperial Assassin in the opener, Look North was an impressive first-time winner.
With Jamie Bargary riding for Jack Fisher, the four-year-old Maryland-bred son of Lookin At Lucky led from the start, was never headed, and drew off through the stretch to score by 5 lengths over Hard Game’s High Deff (Gerard Galligan). Kincraig Stables’ In Effect, making his second NSA start, was third.
Seven years later, veteran Mercoeur repeats in $30,000 Steeplethon Stakes
Making his seventh start at Great Meadow since 2016, Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur captured his second Steeplethon, blowing by pacesetter Salamanca School coming out of Swan Lake and never looking back.
The Steeplethon is a unique race in which competitors navigate mixed obstacles — including hurdles, natural brush fences, and water. Contested at 3 miles, Fat Chance Farm’s Salamanca School and Freddie Procter seized the lead at the start and held it for the first mile and a half or so, with the 12-year-old gray French-bred his constant shadow. As the field of six headed to the water, Salamanca School continued to show the way with Mercouer and Harry Beswick to his outside, and Sheila Fisher and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team sitting in third.
Mercoeur maintained his advantage and was never seriously threatened. Storm Team, who made a strong bid two fences out, overtook Salamanca School on the final turn, but was outkicked in the stretch.
The victory was the seventh in Mercoeur’s long career, which began in Europe in 2014. He’s finished in the money 33 times in his 48-race career. He also boasts a stakes win over hurdles, taking the Noel Laing at Montpelier in 2017. He captured the Steeplethon at Great Meadow in 2016.
Neotropic flashes winning form, romps in allowance
Snap Decision wasn’t the only star of the day for Bruton Street-US. Neotropic, who garnered attention since his NSA debut a year ago, found the winner’s circle for the first time since breaking his maiden at Charleston last November, with a powerful 6 3/4-length score in a $35,000 non-winners of two allowance hurdle.
With Graham Watters riding for Jack Fisher, the five-year-old son of Tapit snatched the lead after the second fence, had a clear lead after the final hurdle, and extended his advantage through the stretch. Gill Johnston’s Pure Courage, with Elizabeth Scully, put in a spirited rally in the stretch to finish second. Greg Hawkins’ Kiyomori, stepping up after a maiden victory at Virginia Fall two weeks ago, gained steadily for third.
Following Neotropic’s win at Charleston, he was a close second to highly regarded The Hero Next Door in allowance company at the Middleburg Spring Races last May, in which he finished ahead of subsequent Grade 1 winner Awakened. In his next start, he was uncharacteristically dull when finishing off the board at Shawan Downs in September.
He’ll Do does it again
Sanna Neilson and John Huganir’s He’ll Do won for the third time in his last four outings, getting up in the final strides to edge Gill Johnston’s Ping Pong Champ by a length in a $30,000 115 ratings handicap.
With Parker Hendriks in the saddle, the seven-year-old Florida-bred, who is also trained by the jockey, passed the $100,000 career earnings mark.
Content to sit fourth in the field of five for the first mile and a half, Hendriks roused his mount heading toward the last fence. Going over the last, He’ll Do was still in second to favored Ping Pong Champ (Graham Watters), as the duo dug in for the stretch run. But He’ll Do had the momentum to win going away. Bruton Street-US’ South Mountain was far back in third.
After capturing a 110 handicap at Foxfield last fall, He’ll Do scored in a 115 handicap a few weeks later at Montpelier. He was uncharacteristically dull in a 120 handicap at Foxfield earlier this month, a race in which he never got untracked.
Auction Kingdom takes $20,000 maiden claiming finale, ends Watters’ day with an exclamation mark
Making his fourth start over jumps, and his first outside of the maiden special weights ranks, Maranto Manor’s Auction Kingdom completed Graham Watters’ riding grand slam.
Advancing steadily from ninth to first, Auction Kingdom, benefitted from a less-than-perfect jump at the final fence by Louisa Stevenson and Achsah O’Donovan’s pacesetter Greylover and jockey Jamie Bargary. Though the pair locked horns through the stretch, Auction Kingdom outfinished his foe by three-quarters of a length. Sawbuck Racing’s Bellamine Hall was third.
The four-year-old son of Animal Kingdom, trained by Neil Morris, began his second career over the summer at Colonial Downs, following a 16-race campaign on the flat, mostly at Laurel. He has two seconds in his brief NSA tenure to go along with his victory on Saturday.