Cheers and tears at Montpelier; Old warrior triumphs in Hunt Cup; Young and Hendriks wrap up trainer and jockey crowns
By Tod Marks
There were enough storylines in this weekend’s National Steeplechase Association 16-race tripleheader in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Georgia to fill a full chapter in the NSA’s 2022 yearbook.
At the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races in Unionville, veteran timber star Mystic Strike made magic one more time, capturing his third Hunt Cup and topping the $300,000 career earnings mark to cap an illustrious steeplechase career that began in 2016. Locally owned and trained by Upland Partners and Todd McKenna, Mystic Strike, now 13, engineered a come-from-behind victory in the three-horse field, reeling in Ballybristol Farm’s pro-tem leader Mercoeur and holding off Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse to score by two lengths in the testing four-mile fixture under jockey Gerard Galligan. After the race, Mystic Strike’s team said their star may not be ready to call it a career just yet.
At Montpelier in Virginia, Gillian Johnston’s Song for Someone, a German-bred seven-year-old who won eight races in Europe before coming to the U.S. this summer to try Grade 1 competition, pulled away late to score by about 10 lengths in the $60,000 Noel Laing stakes over Montpelier’s unique live brush fence course. The victory was the first in three mounts for new 23-year-old NSA rider Nathan Brennan, a veteran of 127 jump race starts in the UK.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck moments later as Song for Someone was returning to the winner’s circle when he collapsed and died after suffering a medical crisis. National Steeplechase Association safety committee chairman Reynolds Cowles, who was one of the attending veterinarians at the meet, reported that Song for Someone pulled up immediately and initially looked to be overheating.
“I was on him quickly and we started cooling him, but within 30 seconds it was apparent he was expiring and died very quickly. We will await the necropsy results from the Marion duPont Medical Center where he was sent. The most common cause of this incident is a ruptured aorta or other large vessel. I would not speculate and we will have to await the findings.”
On a happier note, Sandra Webb, the longtime assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher before venturing out on her own, earned her first victory as a conditioner when she saddled Riverdee Stable’s Seizing the Dream, ridden by Barry Foley, to a 14-length triumph in the finale at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., a $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle.
Also at Callaway, in the richest race of the afternoon, Sonny Via’s Welshman, under Graham Watters, unleashed a late rally to defeat Atlantic Friends Racing’s Theocrat by 2 ¼ lengths in the final novice hurdle stake of the season, the $75,000 Aflac Supreme.
Leslie Young secured the 2022 training title and, along with Keri Brion, continued their year-long dominance in the standings. Of the 16 races run this weekend, Young and Brion won nine. At Callaway, Young enjoyed three straight trips to the winner’s circle (all with Freddie Procter aboard), with Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Court Ruler in the $20,000 steeplethon; Tom Rice and Ashwell Stable’s Booby Trap in the $15,000 handicap for horses rated at 120 or less and ridden by amateur or apprentice riders; and Potter Group USA, Gaskells Waste Services, and Ashwell Stable’s Uco Valley, who captured the $30,000 maiden hurdle. She also took the $60,000 Noel Laing stakes with the ill-fated Song for Someone at Montpelier along with a $15,000 maiden claimer with Charlie Fenwick’s Arrowheart.
Brion countered with three victories at Montpelier and another in the training-flat contest at Unionville, which does not count in the standings. The Montpelier winners were Sanna Neilson and John Huganir’s He’ll Do in the $30,000 handicap for horses rated at 115 or less; Hudson River Farms’ Modus Operandi in the $30,000 maiden hurdle; and R and K Racing’s Molly Fantasy in the $50,000 Montpelier Cup filly and mare stakes. Jordan Wycoff’s Summer Anthem was victorious in the Athenian Idol flat race.
With only four opportunities remaining in the season, at Charleston on Sunday, Young holds an insurmountable 36 to 30 advantage. Jack Fisher is in third, with 21 wins. It is Young’s first title.
Similarly, teen riding sensation Parker Hendriks locked down his first championship in only his third year on the NSA circuit. As first-call rider for Keri Brion, Hendriks rode all three of Brion’s winners at Montpelier, giving him 24 (in 92 mounts) for the year, seven more than Freddie Procter, who had a remarkable year himself, earning those victories in only 48 mounts.
Full results can be found here: https://nationalsteeplechase.com/racing/