The middle of April – when allergies, baseball, lawns, Easter bunnies and jump racing kick into gear. The latter starts the first of six consecutive weekends with multiple race meets Saturday with the My Lady’s Manor in Maryland and Tryon Block House in North Carolina. The former is 107 years old, and as much part of local tradition as old bay seasoning. The latter technically hosts its 71st running, but unveils a new course at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, N.C. Both offer some pretty cool Thoroughbred competition on Easter Weekend.
The two-meet lineup might also allow the TIHR handicappers to find some winners (for a change). It’s early, and Sean’s at 41 percent, but it could be better. Sean picked one winner at Charleston last week, Longing To Travel in the conditioned claimer, while Joe and Tom were blanked. The season record is 7-4-4 after 17 races.
My Lady’s Manor. The four-race, all-timber card starts at 1:30 p.m. and kicks off with the featured $30,000 Manor. The race is annually a tuneup for the Virginia Gold Cup or Maryland Hunt Cup and this year will be no exception as a quality field of five faces the starter. This will be race chairman Turney McKnight’s last year at the helm, so stop by and tell him thank you. Also, he was a guest on our podcast this week. Click here to have a listen. For more, see My Lady's Manor website.
First race. $30,000 My Lady’s Manor timber stakes going 3 miles. There are only five runners, but they’re all pretty capable. Foyle is a former timber champion, but hasn’t won since 2013. Irish-bred Drift Society won over the course last year and placed in three stakes. Le Chevalier won a maiden race here last year and took the New Jersey Hunt Cup last fall. Grand Manan is just good. Realy good. He’s won three in a row and four of his last five and five of his last se ven. He’ll be in front and will be difficult to catch on the winding course. English-bred Lemony Bay won three times last year and was second over the course. As for any action this year, Grand Manan won at Brandywine Point-to-Point April 2 while Foyle was second at Piedmont March 25. For pedigree fans, Grand Manan is by Giant's Causeway out of the Seeking The Gold mare Manoa, meaning the Janney/Phipps-bred is a full-brother to graded stakes winner Carriage Trail. English jockey Hadden Frost, whose father Jimmy rode Morley Street to major American wins in the 1990s, comes over to ride Drift Society and some others on the card for trainer Jack Fisher.
Joe: Grand Manan, Drift Society, Le Chevalier.
Sean: Grand Manan, Drift Society, Lemony Bay.
Tom: Lemony Bay, Grand Manan, Drift Society.
Second race. $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. A field of eight including hurdle convert Doc Cebu. The son of Hard Spun won both hurdle starts last fall, but switched disciplines for Charlie Fenwick Jr. and trainer Jack Fisher. The timber form is a little thin. Durer leads the way with three seconds, one at the Manor in 2014.
Joe: Doc Cebu, Durer, Touchdowntony.
Sean: Doc Cebu, Touchdowntony, Ride Away.
Tom: Doc Cebu, Durer, Ride Away.
Third race. $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Seven go here and the group includes English-bred Kings Apollo from Stewart Strawbridge, Sanna Neilson and Jody Petty. He won five times over fences in England and converts to timber off a point-to-point win at Brandywine. Look out.
Joe: Kings Apollo, Spirit Of Shankly, Our Town.
Sean: Kings Apollo, Spirit Of Shankly, Naturally Won.
Tom: Aquies, Spirit Of Shankly, Naturally Won.
Fourth race. $15,000 amateur/apprentice jockey allowance timber going 3 miles. Seven line up for this and it’s a good group. On The Corner has back class, for Alicia Murphy. Class Indian won at the Queen’s Cup last year. Prime Prospector is stakes-placed. Schoolhouse Woods can be tough. Terko Service won at Willowdale last year.
Joe: Schoolhouse Woods, On The Corner, Terko Service.
Sean: Prime Prospector, On The Corner, Schoolhouse Woods.
Tom: Schoolhouse Woods, Terko Service, Prime Prospector.
• • •
Tryon Block House Races. What a way to make an entrance. Six races worth $175,000 baptize the new course at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, home to horse shows, three-day events, dressage and everything else horse related. Post time is 1 p.m. For more, see the TIEC website.
First race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Seven entered for a $25,000 tag enter the opener. Perkup makes his 10th start, all over jumps, while taking on first-timers For The Gold, Sackett and Appoggiatura. Balistest was second in his only hurdle start last year and looks tough for Neil Morris and 2016 champion jockey Kieran Norris.
Joe: Balistes, Sackett, Appoggiatura.
Sean: Balistes, Life Said, Sackett.
Tom: Life Said, Balistes, Sackett.
Second race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Seven race the starter including flat stakes winner My Afleet in his hurdle debut, Aflutter from Jonathan Sheppard, Elizabeth Voss’ Irish-bred newcomer Barnacle Bill, Leslie Young’s Irish-bred Khafayya (you try to say it) and Jazz Napravnik’s Jesse O. Solid early maiden race.
Joe: Aflutter, Khafayya, My Afleet.
Sean: Cuba Libre, My Afleet, Barnacle Bill.
Tom: Barnacle Bill, My Afleet, Aflutter.
Third race. $35,000 allowance hurdle (NW2) going 2 1/8 miles. Six square off in a non-winners of two. Trainer Janet Elliot and client Greg Hawkins bought Maximum Horsepower out of a maiden win at Camden. Leslie Young brings in the experienced French-bred Mercoeur (16 hurdle starts) off a win last fall. Duke Of Medina must be better than last summer’s Saratoga run. Personal Start can’t be as bad as his last two. Surprising Soul dominated maidens at Aiken. As You Like It didn’t do much wrong last year with an early win and a late second to Formidable Heart.
Joe: Mercoeur, As You Like It, Surprising Soul.
Sean: As You Like It, Mercoeur, Duke Of Medina.
Tom: Duke Of Medina, Mercoeur, Surprising Soul.
Fourth race. $40,000 Block House Handicap (NW of an open stakes in 2016-17) going 2 1/8 miles. Seven go in the feature, headed by 2016 novice champion Special Skills, 2016 stakes winners Hardrock Eleven and Balance The Budget, Grade 1-placed Andi’amu, Grade 1 winner Choral Society, $896,000 earner Simenon and 2014 novice champion All The Way Jose. Nobody has run over jumps this year. Be brave, pick one.
Joe: Special Skills, Andi’amu, Simenon.
Sean: Special Skills, Andi’amu, Simenon.
Tom: Special Skills, Andi’amu, Choral Society.
Fifth race. $25,000 open flat going 1 1/2 miles. This race (and the next) would look pretty good at Laurel Park or Keeneland. Eight go in this one. Mutasaaqy got beat 2 lengths in the Grade 3 Valedictory at Woodbine last year. Set To Music was fourth in a stakes at Delaware last summer. Any Given Royal exits a maiden hurdle win, but won six races on the flat while earning more than $350,000.
Joe: Mutasaawy, Any Given Royal, Motivational.
Sean: Motivational, Mutasaawy, Set To Music.
Tom: Motivational, Mutasaawy, Jump Ship.
Sixth race. $25,000 open flat going 1 1/2 miles. Round two. This one drew Grade 1 jump winner Top Striker, Grade 1 jump placed Jamarjo, talented (if enigmatic) Unsinkable, Quiet Prediction (second going 6 1/2 furlongs at Presque Isle Downs last year) from trainer Rae Fernandez, recent maiden hurdle winner Indy’s Legacy and dual flat winner Gotta Get Away.
Joe: Unsinkable, Jamarjo, Top Striker.
Sean: Unsinkable, Top Striker, Gotta Get Away.
Tom: Top Striker, Unsinkable, Jamarjo.