Virginia, Delaware to host 13 races on Kentucky Derby weekend

Welshman © Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

Saturday’s Virginia Gold Cup meet boasts the NSA’s newest Grade 1 stake, which has drawn a prospective field of 10. The Winterthur Point-to-Point on Sunday, outside of Wilmington, Del., will feature its traditional four-race card, three over timber.

Though the 2024 Maryland Hunt Cup is in the history books, another major timber stake will share center stage with the inaugural running of the Grade 1 Commonwealth Cup at the Virginia Gold Cup Races in The Plains, the National Steeplechase Association’s second richest meet of the spring.

The Gold Cup, first run in 1922, features nine races including three stakes. The Commonwealth Cup, which like all hurdle contests at Great Meadow Race Course will be contested at 2 ⅛ miles, carries a purse of $150,000. The eponymous Virginia Gold Cup, at 4 miles over timber, is worth $75,000, while the Speedy Smithwick for four-year-olds, is a $50,000 stake. Overall, the Gold Cup meet is worth $455,000, behind only the Iroquois Races in Nashville. As in past years, on-site pari mutuel wagering will be available; fans can also bet online via the Twin Spires app.

The rest of the lineup consists of a $40,000 maiden special weights contest; $45,000 allowance hurdle; and three $25,000 optional maiden starter/maiden claiming events. In addition, the $20,000 Steeplethon over mixed obstacles has been renamed in honor of the late Virginia horseman David Semmes.

Headlining the Commonwealth Cup, a handicap, are Upland Flats Racing’s West Newton, trained by Ricky Hendriks, who won the opening stake of the season, the Imperial Cup in Aiken, in March. Trainer-rider Sean McDermott is wheeling back on a week’s rest South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting following an impressive score in the $50,000 Good Night Shirt stakes at Foxfield on Saturday. Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Fisher sends out four runners. Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Awakened, the starting highweight at 158 pounds who captured the G1 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga last summer, returns following a third-place finish to powerhouses Snap Decision and Noah and the Ark in the G2 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg two weeks ago. Riverdee also has Cool Jet who fell in the Gwathmey and 120 handicap winner Gordon’s Jet, who makes his seasonal bow. Sonny Via’s Welshman, a two-time stakes winner, also makes his first start of the season for Fisher.

Trainer Arch Kingsley, who campaigned 2023 Eclipse Award winner Merry Maker, has his 2023 novice champion, Hudson River Farms’ L’Imperator, in the mix. Though he’s come close in a Grade 1, L’Imperator is still looking for his first stakes score over jumps following a successful career on the flat.

Go Poke the Bear, who runs for a syndicate of owners under the same name, ran second to stablemate Total Joy in the $75,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial at Foxfield last week after setting the pace and hanging in gamely. Maiden winner Rampoldi Plan, owned by Leipers Fork Steeplechasers, steps up in class after falling short by a neck in an allowance race at Middleburg to highly touted stablemate High Definition. Leslie Young trains both Go Poke the Bear and Rampoldi Plan.

Atlantic Friends Racing’s Irish-bred Historic Heart began his U.S. career with a bang in 2021, taking the Harry Harris stakes at Far Hills in his debut, finishing second in a subsequent novice stake, and kicking off 2022 with a victory in the Carolina Cup. He makes his first start since last July when finishing second to Irv Naylor’s Belfast Banter in the G1 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga for trainer Keri Brion.

The Virginia Gold Cup stakes has drawn a small but solid field of timber veterans led by last year’s champion, Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic.

Two weeks ago, the champ picked up where he left off, with an authoritative wire-to-wire victory in the $30,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup at 3 1/4 miles. For the winner, trained by Jack Fisher, it was his third straight stakes score, and continued a remarkable skein of nine consecutive top-three finishes dating back three years. Overall, it was his 16th career win and elevated his bankroll to $589,606.

Taking aim at Schoodic will be Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, trained by Kathy Neilson. After a series of strong performances in the maiden, allowance and stakes ranks, Awesome Adrian became a stakes winner, taking the 121th running of the Grand National, the second leg of the Maryland Timber Triple, two weeks ago. The win was the 11th straight top-three finish for Awesome Adrian, dating back more than two years.

Riverdee Stable’s Include It was riding a four-race win streak spread over three years in allowance competition coming into the My Lady’s Manor stakes, the first leg of the Timber Triple series, last month, and he finished just a neck behind the winner, Armata Stables’ Our Friend. Todd Wyatt is the trainer.

Upland Partners’ Rhythmia, trained by Todd McKenna, is another accomplished allowance runner, capturing three of his last four starts. This is his first stakes try over timber, but looms large following his most recent outing at the Manor Races, where he was a 10-length victor over Awesome Adrian and Vintage Vinnie, a two-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner.                                          

Daniel Colhoun, Achsah O’Donovan, and Harvey Goolsby’s Bogey’s Image has made just eight career starts at age seven, but has been in the money six times. Most recently, the Joe Davies-trainee crushed his foes by 35 lengths in an allowance race at the Grand National meet.

Gates open at 10 a.m. First race post time is 1 p.m., with about 40 minutes between each contest. If you can’t make it to the races, you can watch the action via live stream from the NSA’s web site,

For the complete entries, click here.

46th Winterthur Point-to-Point on tap for Sunday

The traditional four-race timber card, featuring the $25,000 Winterthur Bowl allowance event, gets underway at 2 p.m., but there’s plenty of family fun before the flag drops.

Gates open at 10:30 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.

Besides the Winterthur Bowl, the other two timber races, also at 3 ¼ miles, are the $20,000 Isabella du Pont Sharp Memorial maiden and $15,000 Vicmead Plate, restricted to apprentice riders. The finale is the Middletown Cup training flat race at 1 ½ miles for amateur or apprentice riders.

Post time is 2 p.m. For full entries, click here.  The Winterthur Races, too, will be streamed live from the NSA’s web site.

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