Mystic Strike turns back the clock and Andi’amu; Welshman gets back on track; and Todd McKenna has a weekend for the ages
by Tod Marks
For the first time in a while, weather wasn’t front and center for the weekend’s races, and beautiful conditions provided the perfect backdrop for a Saturday’s Virginia Gold Cup card in The Plains and Sunday’s Winterthur Point to Point outside of Wilmington, Del.
The $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup, at 4 miles over Great Meadow Race Course, was the marquee event, and it lived up to its billing as the contest turned into a spirited duel between the reigning timber champion, Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, age 13, and Upland Partner’s Mystic Strike, now 14.
Sent off as the third choice at $2.80-1 in the field of four, Mystic Strike, under Gerard Galligan, sat in third through the first three miles, and was about six lengths behind the leader, The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory, while the $1.50-1 favorite Andi’amu and Jack Doyle stalked in second. Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow, the 2019 timber champion, was off slowly under Harry Beswick and quickly found himself behind by 15 lengths, but was able to narrow the gap until falling at the beginning of the second lap over the course. That changed the complexion of the Gold Cup, which became a match race when Cracker Factory and Jamie Bargary suddenly veered off course.
Mystic Strike, who came within a nose of defeating his longtime rival in the Middleburg Hunt Cup several weeks ago, remained slightly behind as the duo neared the final fence then took aim and passed his foe at the jump, drawing clear through the long stretch by 2 3/4 lengths.
Trainer Todd McKenna, who engineered another huge upset when he saddled 41-1 Noah and the Ark to take down Snap Decision in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct last season, was just as jubilant as he was at the Big A following Mystic Strike’s remarkable performance against Andi’amu, who came into the race riding a three-race win streak.
Both veteran warriors remain at the top of their game with 30 wins between them along with more than $900,000 in purse earnings.
In other action at Great Meadow:
Welshman prevails in $100,000 David Semmes Memorial (G2)
It was great to see the colors of Virginia horseman Sonny Via, who campaigned the magnificent Hall of Fame steeplechaser Good Night Shirt, back in the winner’s circle in open stakes competition, this time with Welshman, trained by another Hall of Famer, Jack Fisher.
With Graham Watters riding, the four-year-old son of Flintshire, coming off of a heartbreaking narrow loss to recent import Caramelised in the Carolina Cup, was always well placed and took command heading to the final fence in the 2 1/8 mile contest.
Riverdee Stable’s Gordon’s Jet put in a solid effort under Jamie Bargary, finishing just two lengths behind the winner in only his second NSA start. He won his first, a 120 handicap, at Tryon last month.
McTigue awarded victory in Smithwick
Making his NSA debut following a long career in Europe, Irv Naylor’s McTigue was placed first in the $50,000 Speedy Smithwick Memorial four-year-old stakes when the runaway winner was disqualified for going off course.
Talk about a tough beat. Michael Smith’s Hoffman, an up-and-comer from the powerful Leslie Young stable, ran a monster race, jumping fluidly and leading by as many as 60 lengths at one point, and coasting to the wire by 20. But upon a review of the videotapes, the stewards confirmed that Hoffman, under David England, had missed a beacon, and thus awarded the victory to McTigue and Jamie Bargary, who was riding for trainer Cyril Murphy. McTigue was clearly second best, finishing eight lengths ahead of the show horse, Metahorse Racing’s Praghas Ceart.
Storm Team storms to victory in $30,000 Steeplethon stakes
At age 9, Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team may have lost a step or two after a brilliant career boasting stakes scores over hurdles and timber. But the son of Candy Ride began a new chapter, romping in steeplethon competition that involves navigating additional obstacles including natural brush fences and water.
With Graham Watters aboard for Jack Fisher, Storm Team settled behind Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur and Turks Heard Turf’s Brooklyn Speights for much of the race, and responded when Watters asked him for run before the final turn. From there, Storm Team opened daylight through the stretch, extending his lead to 14 lengths at the wire. Brooklyn Speights and Jamie Bargary were second.
The win was Storm Team’s 10th in 40 lifetime starts, elevating his career bankroll to just under $300,000.
Rampoldi Plan takes $40,000 maiden in style
It looks as if the sire Hard Spun, sire of the illustrious Snap Decision, has produced another nice jumper. Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Rampoldi Plan, who just missed in his NSA debut last month at Middleburg, broke his maiden with authority, going almost wire to wire in a crowded field under Jack Doyle.
Doyle, a former NSA champion jockey who returned to his native Ireland several years ago, is back on the circuit riding for leading conditioner Leslie Young. Doyle gunned the four-year-old Florida-bred – who previously had raced in England – to the front early on, steered clear of traffic, and drew off by more than eight lengths through the stretch. Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Rocket One was second with Graham Watters in the saddle.
Merry Maker comes from off the pace to score in $45,000 allowance
Hurricana Farm’s Merry Maker, a lightly raced six-year-old Irish-bred, returned to the scene of his maiden victory last fall, and picked off horses through the stretch to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths in an allowance race for non winners of two.
With NSA newcomer Stephen Mulqueen riding for Arch Kingsley, Merry Maker sat unhurried near the rear of field of nine for the first mile and a half, moved up to fifth with three furlongs remaining, then drew even with the leaders near the final fence, and scooted clear by 2 1/2 lengths at the finish. Hudson River Farms’ Modus Operandi was a determined second, with favored Neotropic third.
Hail to the Chief scores in $25,000 maiden claimer
After two close seconds in the maiden claiming ranks, David Lee Hain’s Hail to the Chief broke through with a victory in the finale at Great Meadow, circling the field of 10 on the final turn and edging clear by 1 1/4 lengths under Gerard Galligan for trainer Kathy Neilson. Flying Elvis Stable’s Be Yourself, with Jamie Bargary up, had a narrow lead heading to the final fence, but was outfinished.
And at Winterthur
McKenna’s magical, “mystical” weekend continues
Fresh off of Mystic Strike’s upset of Andi’amu in the Virginia Gold Cup, trainer Todd McKenna’s hot hand carried over into Sunday’s Winterthur four-race timber card.
Mystic Strike’s little brother Rhythmia strikes first
In the first of two wins on the day for both trainer McKenna and jockey Harry Beswick, Upland Partners’ Rhythmia captured the $20,000 Isabella duPont Sharp Memorial maiden over timber, defeating Hyggelig Haven’s Druid’s Altar by a length and a half.
Sitting in mid pack for the first time around the course, Rhythmia launched his bid on the far turn of the second pass, taking charge on the dramatic downhill run leading to the long uphill stretch grind to the wire.
A seven-year-old Florida-bred, Rhythmia is by Majestic Warrior out of the dam Mystic Rhythms, and thus a half brother to his Upland Partners’ stablemate and star, Mystic Strike. Mystic Strike, whose sire is Smart Strike, captured the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup a day earlier, upsetting champion Andi’amu.
Rhythmia is a relative newcomer to jump racing, beginning his second career a year ago following 25 starts on the flat.
“Bob” raises the bar in Winterthur Bowl
McKenna and Beswick found the winner’s circle again in the $20,000 Winterthur Bowl, this time with Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Bob’s Bar.
A field of four went postward in the allowance for non-winners of two, but it turned into a match race once early leader Brave Deacon was eased and Shootin the Breeze tired. Bob’s Bar assumed the lead with about three-quarters of a mile to go, when Happenstance Stable and Achsah O’Donovan’s Hero’s Return, under Jamie Bargary, kicked into gear. Though he finished well, he couldn’t catch the winner, who was 1 1/4 lengths clear at the finish.
The win lifted Beswick to the top of the jockey standings with eight on the spring season.
Neilson, Tierney combine — again — for score in $20,000 Vicmead Plate
Picking up where they left off at the Maryland Hunt Cup, trainer Kathy Neilson and new NSA rider Conor Tierney partnered up with Armata Stable’s Fashion Line to capture the Vicmead Plate timber allowance for apprentice riders.
The victory was the second straight for the seven-year-old son of Morning Line out of the stakes-winning steeplechaser Well Fashioned. And it was particularly poignant because the race was run in honor of Louis “Paddy” Neilson III, the trainer’s late father.
Breaking quickly, Fashion Line maintained his advantage for the entire 3 1/4 miles of the contest, holding off The Filbert Family’s City of Grace, trained and ridden by Casey Pinkard, who battled the winner from the flag drop. The winning margin was 6 lengths.
Tierney was fresh off his win in the historic Maryland Hunt Cup, aboard Irv Naylor’s Withoutmoreado, trained by Neilson, which came in just his eighth National Steeplechase Association mount.
Top sophomore Realist returns to the races in training flat contest
More than a year and a half since his scintillating 28-length triumph in the Gladstone Stakes for three-year-olds at Far Hills, Armata Stable’s Realist returned the the races, running a sharp second to Maranto Manor’s Rhebus Road in the Middletown Cup, a prep race over the turf.
The five-year-old British-bred son of Camelot was sidelined following his score in the Gladstone, and showed plenty of spark on Sunday. Content to run at the rear of the field of eight for much of the 1 1/2 journey, the gelding picked off horses under Elizabeth Scully, finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind a determined Rhebus Road, trained by Willie Dowling and ridden by Conor Tierney. For Tierney, it was his second winner of the day.