About an Upset: How Your Sum Man won the Grand National

- -

FAR HILLS, N.J. – Tom Voss took three horses to Morven Park Oct. 12.Motel Affair fit in the claimer. Flat horse Always First needed a tuneup for Keeneland’s Sycamore. Your Sum Man came along for the ride.

The Irish-bred steeplechaser made his first American start in a 11/2-mile training flat race. He faced Always First, a graded stakeswinner on the flat, turf stakes winner Wheels Up At Noon and classyjumpers Divine Fortune and Triple Dip.

“We ran him – just to get a line on him,” said the trainer. “We had noidea what to expect. He ran great. Always First won the race, Wheels UpAt Noon finished second and this horse was going to beat them both. Hewas bottled up and just ran at them when he got loose. In anotherhundred yards, he was going by both of them. It made you think.”

Big. Three days later, Voss supplemented the 7-year-old to the $250,000Grand National hurdle stakes at Far Hills. Your Sum Man did the rest,thriving in the rain-soaked turf and taking home the biggest prize inAmerican jump racing for Betty and Laddie Merck’s The Fields Stable.The Irish-bred (Ross Geraghty) rated outside and in mid-pack,challenged the leaders on the final turn and drew off late to win by 33/4 lengths over General Ledger (Jason McKeown) with Tax Ruling (WillieDowling) third.

Showcase of the inaugural U.S. Steeplechase Championships, the Grade IGrand National attracted a dozen runners (after two late scratches dueto the turf) with various agendas. Iroquois winner Pierrot Lunaire andLonesome Glory victor Red Letter Day aimed to prove themselves.Veterans Sweet Shani, Three Carat, Swagger Stick and Best Attack lookedto end long dry spells. Tax Ruling, Arcadius and Sermon Of Love triedto ramp up solid 2009 form. Triple Dip made his first start in almost ayear. General Ledger arrived by way of Norway (yes, Norway). Your SumMan simply took a shot.

“This is an experiment, see what happens,” Voss told Geraghtybeforehand. “He’ll win by half the track or lose by half the track.”

Red Letter Day bounded to an immediate lead and found a rhythm despitepressure from General Ledger. Tax Ruling set up in third as the racebecame a galloping test. Sweet Shani and Your Sum Man found spots justoff the leaders, in fourth and fifth, while Pierrot Lunaire droppedback to last early.

As usual, the race changed on the final run down the backstretch.General Ledger pounced on Red Letter Day, who responded with the lastof his reserves. Sweet Shani, making her first jump start in 17 months,wilted. Tax Ruling kept pace.

Your Sum Man, with Geraghty perched like a Saratoga exercise rider,swooped toward the front. Reins loose, hands not moving, the jockeyaimed his horse toward the lead – now occupied by General Ledger – onthe final turn.

“I was confident the whole way, everything suited him,” Geraghty said. “He loved the trip, he loved the ground.”

Your Sum Man motored up the inside to match strides with a game GeneralLedger before the last and prevailed despite an untidy final fence.General Ledger stayed for second with Tax Ruling 9 lengths back inthird. Red Letter Day hung on for fourth with Pierrot Lunaire awell-beaten fifth. Three Carat, Sermon Of Love, Triple Dip and Arcadiuswere pulled up.

Voss marveled at the result while walking down the hill toward the trophy presentation.

“Can you believe that?” he said, shaking his head. “He was always going to win the race, he was always cruising along.”

Betty Merck laughed at her trainer’s pre-race assessment: “That was some experiment, Tom, some experiment.”

Soaked by days of rain, Far Hills came up soft – but not as soft assome years. Every winner on the day thrived in the going, while some ofthe losers surely did not.

“They either like it or they don’t – no two ways about it,” Voss said.“A good horse will try in it, but he might not be at his best. Horseslike this have run in it and know a little bit more about it which hasto help, but he might have run just as well on firmer ground.”

From a horse he didn’t know existed four months earlier, Voss concocteda Grade I victory. Your Sum Man came into the race with one win (almosttwo years earlier) in nine lifetime jump starts – five over hurdles andfour over chase fences. He knocked on the door of quality with lossesto Jered (Ireland’s top novice hurdler of 2008), Cooldine (championnovice chaser of 2008-09) and Forpadydeplasterer (a Cheltenham Festivalwinner in 2009). The lone victory came in a classy novice hurdle inheavy going at Punchestown in 2007.

“His hurdle form is good and his first run over fences was good; hemixed it with a good horse (Forpadydeplasterer) and then he just wentto pot,” said Geraghty. “He fell on his last day, he was a beaten horsethat day, but I wouldn’t have minded it.”

Scouting for prospects in Ireland on a trip organized by futureson-in-law Garrett Murray, Voss looked at Your Sum Man in June. Trainedby Tony Mullins, the plain bay gelding closed his racing campaign byfinishing eighth (beaten 45 lengths), 12th (beaten 68) and falling inhis final three starts. Out of training and relaxing in a field, YourSum Man caught his future trainer’s eye.

“I loved the horse, just looking at him,” Voss said. “He’s not a realpretty horse but a nice tough-looking kind, beautiful eye on him. Idon’t know, no real reason. I just liked him. I certainly didn’t buyhim off his form or anything – it was just a feeling, just looking athim, just thinking about it.”

Along for the Irish scouting trip, Betty Merck liked what she saw tooand spent $75,000 on the prospect. Purchased too late for Saratoga,Your Sum Man shipped to Voss’ farm and took the slow path to his firstAmerican start. He trained lightly, learned about American fences andre-built his confidence.

“We rode him, hacked him around; he’d been turned out for a couplemonths so we started doing things with him just like we’d take a horseout of the field here,” said Voss. “He never did anything wrong so wekept going.”

Fit enough this fall, Your Sum Man needed a race. The Appleton at FarHills? An allowance at Aiken? Maybe the Noel Laing at Montpelier? Vosswanted the Morven Park flat run, just to see.

“The horse sort of said ‘hello’ with that race,” said the trainer. “Inever thought he’d run as well as he did and I wasn’t sure what he’d do(at Far Hills) either. Running in the Grand National really was just ashot.”

Voss took eight horses to Far Hills, so had every other race covered.He won the Appleton with Dictina’s Boy, the Foxbrook Novice with LeftUnsaid and completed the natural triple with the Grand National. Vossenjoyed getting a big one for Merck, on her home course. She lives innearby Bedminster, is master of the local Essex Fox Hounds and has beena fixture at the races for decades.

“It’s wonderful,” Voss said. “There’s no better owner, no better sport.She’s the perfect owner, she doesn’t tell you to run them, she says‘run when you’re ready’ and she shows up every time they run. Shedeserves to win races like this.”

With the $150,000 first-place check, Your Sum Man vaulted over Merck’sLeft  Unsaid to the top of a rollicking seasonal earnings battle thathas seen five horses win the five open Grade I stakes. The sixth comesNov. 21 with the Colonial Cup.

– Additional reporting by Sean Clancy.