Virginia, Delaware to host 11 races on Mother’s Day weekend
BY TOD MARKS
The steeplechase community has been lucky for most of the spring, with big crowds turning out for exciting racing and beautiful weather. But it looks as if Mother Nature may have other plans in store for Mother’s Day weekend. Rain and uncommonly chilly temperatures are expected for the Virginia Gold Cup Races in The Plains, Va., on Saturday, though the outlook is less dire for the Wintherthur Point to Point in Delaware on Sunday. In both locations, precipitation is expected leading up to the events.
Despite the gloomy prediction, the only hurdles the horses will encounter are those they’re planning to jump. The Virginia Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow Race Course features a blockbuster seven-race card worth $375,000, making it the richest event of the Spring National Steeplechase Association season.
Headlining the meet, which will offer pari-mutuel wagering, is the prestigious $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes, along with the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial G2 hurdle stakes; a $50,000 hurdle stake restricted to four year olds; a $50,000 turf stake on the flat; and the always-thrilling Steeplethon over mixed obstacles. This year’s Steeplethon will have special meaning, as it’s being dedicated to Daniel M. Smithwick, Jr., better known as “Speedy,” who passed away on April 23 in Middleburg, Va. The son of renowned trainers Dot and Mikey Smithwick, Speedy followed in his parents’ fabled footsteps, and would become one of the nation’s top amateur steeplechase jockeys with wins including the 1984 Virginia Gold Cup, the 1985 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, and the Iroquois Steeplechase (three times).
Seven familiar foes will line up for the Gold Cup, including 2021 timber champion, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow, who went wire to wire in his 2022 debut in last month’s $50,000 My Lady’s Manor stakes in Monkton, Md. At four miles, the Gold Cup is a mile longer than the My Lady’s Manor, and will be a stiffer test of Tomgarrow’s endurance. Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic, a multiple stakes winner over hurdles and timber, was a well-beaten third to Tomgarrow at the Manor, but is always a threat at Great Meadow where he captured last year’s Gold Cup and also won its fall counterpart in 2019, the International Gold Cup. Another looming presence is Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, who like Tomgarrow was victorious in his seasonal bow two weeks ago in the $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup. An easy nine-length winner at Middleburg, Storm Team also led from the outset, and he faces two opponents coming out of that race. Ballybristol Farm’s 2019 timber champion Andi’amu, another past Gold Cup victor, was clearly second best in his first start in 20 months, while Four Virginia Gents’ First Friday was third.
Fat Chance Farm’s two-time allowance winner Flaming Sword was third in last year’s Gold Cup and is looking for his first stakes score. Rounding out the field is Upland Partners’ Shootist, another runner who went wire to wire, in a timber allowance at the Grand National Races on April 23, a race in which he defeated Lucy Goelet’s Rocket Star Red, who finished second to Armata Stable’s magnificent Vintage Vinnie in the Maryland Hunt Cup last Saturday. Though he was a distant runner up, Rocket Star Red was 35 lengths ahead of the show horse in the Hunt Cup.
A field of four is expected for the Semmes, which will be contested at 2 ⅛ miles. The highweight, at 158 pounds, is Irv Naylor newcomer, Belfast Banter, trained by Cyril Murphy. Belfast Banter has some serious credentials. The seven-year-old Irish bred is a Grade 1 winner, a 2021 Cheltenham Festival winner, and was also victorious at Aintree a month later, when conditioned by Peter Fahey.
“Irv bought him in December and he came to me around the 15th of December,” Murphy said. “He hasn’t run before now because of the limited opportunities in the condition book. How he runs on Saturday will help create a plan going forward. He’s settled in fine and trains like the other horses. He doesn’t stand out from the crowd and does everything he’s been asked.”
Also in the Semmes is Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer, a two-time novice stakes winner last season for trainer Jack Fisher and jockey Graham Watters. Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean, trained by Leslie Young, has been competitive in Grade 1 competition and has racked up a quarter-million-dollars in career earnings. Stepping up in class is The International Venture, Blue Streak Racing, Metahorse Racing, and CFC Stables’ Going Country, who is two-for-two this season. Going Country, trained by Keri Brion, broke his maiden at Tryon and captured a non-winners of two allowance at Middleburg.
The star of the Steeplethon is Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well, also trained by Young, who captured a similar race at Great Meadow in the Fall, and is coming off of a 27-length score in the Alfred Hunt Steeplethon in Middleburg last month.
For complete Virginia Gold Cup entries, click HERE.
Note that the Virginia Gold Cup is sold out and tickets will not be available at the gate. First race post time is 1 p.m.
44th Winterthur Point-to-Point on tap for Sunday
The traditional four-race card, featuring the $25,000 Winterthur Bowl timber allowance, gets underway at 2 p.m., but there’s plenty of family fun before the flag drops.
Gates open at 10 a.m., and the Alison Hershbell pony races begin at noon, followed by a parade of the River Hills Foxhounds a half hour later. Next comes the picturesque parade of antique carriages, the tailgate picnic competition, and the stick pony races for the youngest fans.
Located on 1,000 acres of protected meadows, woodlands, ponds, and waterways just north of Wilmington, Winterthur was also the home of Henry Francis du Pont, and the 175-room mansion he once occupied is now a major museum of American decorative arts.
Click HERE for full entries.
All Winterthur ticket sales end today (Friday).
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, Charleston’s Post & Courier, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.