Hard to believe, the second Saturday in April hosts just one NSA meet. Oh, our kingdom for a long-term plan. No hurdle racing, just timber racing at My Lady's Manor, the traditional opener to the Maryland timber circuit. Quantity certainly not on offer but quality abounds as the brave and best begin their quests to the Maryland Hunt Cup and Virginia Gold Cup later in the season.
Here is a closer look at the $30,000 feature.
1. Yin Yang. Owned by NoGo Stable and trained by Billy Meister, 12-year-old son of the great Not For Love owns two career wins, representing the polar opposites of horse racing. Chestnut gelding won a maiden at Colonial Downs in 2005 and a maiden at the Manor in 2011. From a Maryland Hunt Cup producing barn, the Maryland-bred has yet to try the big fences in Glyndon. Cross-entered in the final.
2. Grinding Speed. Hard to fault over-achieving 8-year-old who has proudly represented Michael Wharton and Alicia Murphy in a stellar timber career, missing a check once in nine tries. Owns a win in the International Gold Cup and Virginia Gold Cup, going well when falling in same race last year. Tie on for what looks like another strong timber season for Maryland-bred/based stalwart.
3. Straight To It. Jack Fisher has made a living by transitioning decent hurdle horses to timber horses and here is another shining example. Son of the great Giant's Causeway has yet to miss a check in eight timber tries while competing against the best in the division. Owned by Andre Brewster and Sheila Williams, Kentucky-bred 8-year-old finished second to Moonsox in last year's edition.
4. J. Alfred Prufrock. Gallant veteran took a three-year hiatus from May 2010 to October 2013. Now 14, time is certainly not on his side but has represented owner/trainer Conrad Somers in gallant fashion over the years. Chestnut gelding actually finished third behind the indomitable Incomplete in the Manor back in 2009. Cool horse. Big task.
5. Moonsox. Welcome back to the saddle, Fritz Boniface. Nelson & Traveller Stable's 8-year-old Maryland-bred upset this race last year but failed to win in five subsequent starts. Certainly capable on his best day, needs to keep jockey aboard which failed to happen in two most recent starts last fall. Trainers/parents Kevin and Chris Boniface have pulled if off before.
6. Old Timer. Kinross-owned and Neil Morris-trained 8-year-old has yet to upend the best of the division but has produced decent efforts over his six-race timber career and would not shock anybody if he rises to the occasion here. Lost jockey twice last fall and finished behind Straight To It, Worried Man and Tax Ruling in 2013. Won at the Manor in 2013.
7. Worried Man. Fisher tabs 4-time champ Paddy Young to pilot son of Dynaformer who picked up two wins last year. Fifth behind Old Timer over the course in his debut last spring, the 7-year-old upset the Houghland over Tax Ruling last spring. Can't beat rider and trainer. More acid in an acid test.
8. Tax Ruling. Wow, what a career. Now 11, Phipps-bred veteran owns eight wins - including the Colonial Cup and Iroquois over hurdles in 2011 -from 32 starts. Transfer from hurdle to timber has gone smoothly with two wins, a second and a third in four tries. Billy Meister and Irv Naylor tab James Slater.
9. Nat Grew. Owned by Caves Farm and trained by Eddie Graham, here's your Bud Longshot. Ten-year-old took nearly four years off from 2009 to 2013 but came back sharp with a second to Cornhusker and a 16-length jaunt at Pennsylvania Hunt Cup to finish last season. Won at Green Spring as a prep. Trainer always dangerous.
10. Snow Secret Gin. Trainer Franck Mourier emerged on the scene last fall and has quickly produced quality timber horses. Owned by Walden 4, this Maryland-bred won his timber debut at Pennsylvania Hunt Cup last fall and gets services of top jockey Willie McCarthy here. Three-time winner on the flat and undefeated over timber, albeit in one start.
As for ST Handicappers, Sean awoke from a two-week slumber to pick six winners last weekend, tabbing Ez Mac, For Non Stop and Great Siege at Stoneybrook and Hear The Word, Schoodic and Class Bopper at Dogwood. Tom countered with four (Ez Mac, Great Siege, Annual Update and Schoodic). Joe picked three (West Is Best, Annual Update, Schoodic). Sean and Tom are tied at 7 with defending champ Joe in third, two wins back. If you're bored, please check our math and get back to us as Tom credited Sean with seven wins last week...
First Race. My Lady's Manor. 3 miles. $30,000.
- Joe: Grinding Speed, Nat Grew, Straight To It.
- Sean: Grinding Speed, Straight To It, Worried Man.
- Tom: Straight To It, Tax Ruling, Worried Man.
Second Race. Maiden Timber. 3 miles. $15,000.
Strong field of maidens led by Raven's Choice who finished second in same race last year. Organisateur, second in the 2011 Grand National at Far Hills, tries to reclaim career for Ivan Dowling. Cubfanbudman ran well at Camden in his timber debut. Billy Meister sends out Gas Can Eddie, Spectacular Squall and Sieze Power.
- Joe: Raven's Choice, Organisateur, Class Brahms.
- Sean: Raven's Choice, Cubfanbudman, Organisateur.
- Tom: Here Comes Badness, Raven's Choice, Organisateur.
Third Race. Maiden Timber. 3 miles. $15,000.
Second division of the timber shows a healthy roster of timber horses (if there were just the same health in the hurdle division...). Former jockey Willie Dowling looks like he has two-time hurdle winner Durer poised for his maiden win over timber. Jack Fisher unveils Irish-bred, British-raced City Press for Burton Street-US and jockey Conor Hankin, the 8-year-old won chases at Huntingdon and Stratford.
- Joe: Durer, City Press, Brother Sy.
- Sean: Durer, City Press, Brother Sy.
- Tom: City Press, Brother Sy, Be Great.
Fourth Race. Amateur/Apprentice Timber. 3 miles. $10,000.
Here's your chance kids and vets. Annie Yeager gets an opportunity for Blythe Miller-Davies aboard veteran Fort Henry. Conrad Somers unveils Illustration. Gallant veteran Battle Op tries again for Fisher and Northwood Stable. Ann Stewart returns Terko Service for owner Frank Bonsal and jockey Nick Carter. Sand Box Rules, second in the Maryland Hunt Cup last year, begins another quest.
- Joe: Terko Service, Battle Op, Sand Box Rules.
- Sean: Terko Service, Sand Box Rules, Fort Henry.
- Tom: Battle Op, Sand Box Rules, Fort Henry.
And, no, Sean's plan is not to simply pick who Joe picks so he beats his older brother by one win at the end of the season, but it's not a bad idea...