Lemony Bay, Drift Society, Two’s Company, The Nephew. They’re bay geldings with two-word names, imported from England, owned by the Bruton Street-US partnership, trained by Jack Fisher. Each won at least one timber race in 2016. One was timber champion. Another ran credibly in the Maryland Hunt Cup. Another won twice over varied cross-country courses. One more won the timber stakes at Nashville.
Can you tell them apart without going to Google? Or at least Equibase? Yeah, neither can we sometimes.
Lemony Bay and Drift Society showed up in the entries for the $30,000 My Lady’s Manor timber stakes at Monkton, Md. April 15 – staring down stakes winners Grand Manan, Le Chevalier and Foyle in a quality field of five. The 3-mile race annually lures a good group, headed to the Virginia Gold Cup three weeks hence or the Maryland Hunt Cup in two weeks. The Fisher runners are ready for either after running 1-2 in the Manor as English-bred Lemony Bay outran Irish-bred Drift Society over the final two fences to win by a length in a course record 5:51.80. Le Chevalier rallied for third with Grand Manan fourth and Foyle a distant fifth.
Jeff Murphy rode the winner, after having to get a leg up outside the paddock to help Lemony Bay stay calm.
“That was the only thing about him, but it worked out perfect,” said Murphy. “They didn’t bring him into the paddock because he can get a bit upset. I was able to get on him out there, go down in plenty of time ahead and just hack around like we were going for a rideout. When we lined up, he was very well-behaved.”
Lemony Bay, an English chase winner for Oliver Sherwood, let expected leader Grand Manan go early as that one built an easy lead. The pace was quick, but well within the capabilities of the accomplished group on a firm course. Grand Manan, twice a stakes winner last fall and 5-for-7 over timber for trainer Billy Meister stayed up top throughout until finally looking vulnerable in the stretch. Two fences from home, Murphy let Lemony Bay emerge from the second spot and take on the leader.
“Jumping the third-last, I felt like I had a lot of horse,” said Murphy, aboard for the first time. “I just hoped we didn’t get there too soon. I was taking my time, but I had to commit because I was going so well.”
Grand Manan tried to answer the challenge between the final two fences, but Drift Society (Hadden Frost) emerged as the real threat. He drew alongside coming to the last fence, but Lemony Bay responded again to pull clear by a length and win for the fourth time in six timber starts. Both defeats were seconds, less than a length behind the winner. Murphy could see why.
“I knew from watching the videos he finds plenty,” said the jockey. “In Georgia (last November) he was in front going to the last and found a load (to turn back Zanclus) and when the other horse came back to him today he found more. He’s a lovely ride.”
• Charlie Fenwick’s Doc Cebu stayed undefeated over fences by winning his timber debut for Fisher and Frost in the day’s second race. The 7-year-old Hard Spun gelding, whose flat career with trainer Kieron Magee ended in a $4,500 claimer, won two hurdle races last fall and added the Manor’s maiden timber. He’s earned $30,000 in three starts and may be just getting started.
Doc Cebu won four races and just shy of $100,000 on the flat, and looked like a suitable prospect to Fenwick and his brother Bruce, who knows Magee and takes layups and other horses for the Maryland-based flat trainer. Doc Cebu ran at Charles Town in late November 2015, was offered in the Go Jump Racing sale last spring (no bids) and made his hurdle debut at Virginia Fall in October. He won for a $15,000 claiming price and added a 115 handicap at Montpelier next out. Timber came next.
“Because of what he did on the flat, I just thought that if I could get him back to his best I might have a pretty nice horse,” said Fenwick, who did the early prep work before sending Doc Cebu to Fisher. “Buck Jakes (a two-time Maryland Hunt Cup winner) had a similar record on the flat (four races and about $65,000).”
Fenwick also remembered how well Buck Jakes responded to farm life, jumping and cross-country work rather than the racetrack training. Doc Cebu might not ever be Buck Jakes, but he’s doing OK so far.
“A horse like that allows you the luxury of having hopes and dreams,” Fenwick said. “And if you’ve got hopes and dreams, you can hang in there for a while.”
Second in the opener, Frost picked up his first timber win in wire-to-wire fashion though that was not the plan starting out. Doc Cebu broke sharply, made the running, and made it last – scoring by 4 1/2 lengths over Handsome Hoyt with Durer third.
“The first race was lightning, and the second was a bit of cat and mouse,” said Frost, a former English professional who retired two years ago to pursue show jumping and eventing and a busy saddlery business. “They told me he’d had a point-to-point run and was ready. He did everything we asked him to do and that makes it easy.”
Frost, whose father Jimmy won two Breeders’ Cup Steeplechases aboard Morley Street, used to ride for David Pipe in England and won 84 races there before retiring at 24. The Manor was his first racing action since riding at Exeter two years and a day earlier (making him eligible for amateur racing in the United States).
“I had a good career,” he said. “I wasn’t quite name in the stars, but I had a good career. I’ve been doing show jumpers and sport horses at home now and it just worked out that I was able to come over.”
Not to be outdone by his former employer Fisher, trainer Willie Dowling swept the day’s final two races to match his total from all of 2016 in one day. Northwood Stable’s Naturally Won (Frost) made off with the day’s second maiden timber race by a length over Spirit Of Shankly with Aquies a neck back in third.
Naturally Won sat second behind Gas Can Eddie most of the way and avoided disaster when the leader veered right and ultimately off course at the 13th fence. Gas Can Eddie wound up leaping the right wing and losing Bethany Baumgardner in a small wooded area adjacent to the course. Naturally Won cleared the errant leader’s hip, stayed on course but was – understandably – shuffled back to third behind Kings Apollo and Tango Rhythm. Kings Apollo led over the next two, but had company from Naturally Won who flew the second last, landed with a slight lead at the last and held off the late charge of Spirit Of Shankly.
Bred in New York, Naturally Won came into the Manor off a win at Old Dominion Point-to-Point (with Dowling aboard). The 5-year-old Afleet Alex gelding lost three flat starts for Bruce Brown in 2014 and won a hurdle race for Dowling last spring. Timber was always the goal.
“He’s lovely, everybody’s favorite,” said Dowling. “His biggest thing is the brain he has. He’s so easy to ride and so nice to be around. He does whatever you want.”
Dowling’s stable produced a second win with newcomer Class Indian in the finale, an allowance timber for amateurs. Brothers Jeremy and Justin Batoff bought the 10-year-old this winter from Tennessee-based trainer Ted Thompson. Class Indian seems to like his new home as he bounded to an immediate lead for Justin Batoff and made it last for 3 miles, winning by 5 1/4 lengths over On The Corner with Whatdidyousee third.
“It wasn’t how I planned it,” said Justin of the ride. “I was planning on sitting in the garden spot and getting a nice lead around there, but we ended up in front and I felt like we were traveling well so I was just going to go for it. I wanted to see if he could stay and he did. I saw this as a good race to get to know each other a bit.”
He paid full credit to Dowling, a coach as much as a trainer.
“Nobody works harder than Willie,” said Justin, who balances some race riding with his career as an attorney in Baltimore. “Not only does he have to train the horse, he has to train me. He’s a good amateur-jockey trainer. He pays attention not only to the horse, but also to the rider. He’s like a big brother.”