All The Way Jose makes it back to top

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Almost four years ago, jump jockey Darren Nagle realized the biggest win of his career when Divine Fortune ran away with the Grand National on the way to an Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser of 2013. One race later, Nagle rode 3-year-old first-timer All The Way Jose. “I got on him and gave him absolutely no ride whatsoever,” Nagle recalled Thursday. “The next season he was novice champion and I never rode him again.”

The long road of racing circled back to Nagle and All The Way Jose this summer at Saratoga. The jockey and the 7-year-old gelding, a winner of one race in his last 10 starts, finished third together in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup Aug. 24. Nagle called it a learning experience.

“He’s not a horse you can really rush,” said the jockey. “You’ve got to kind of leave him alone and once you find his stride, don’t break his momentum. Once he hits top gear he can just gallop real smoothly and efficiently and he uses his momentum to go forward. If you check him, you’re working against him a little bit.”

Thursday at Belmont Park, in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory hurdle stakes, Nagle and All The Way Jose put together a masterpiece – rating behind Charminster early and kicking away on the final turn before holding back favorite Modem by 1 1/4 lengths in the 2 1/2-mile stakes. Swansea Mile rallied for third, a neck behind the runner-up after 4:33.37. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard for Rod and Alice Moorhead’s Buttonwood Farm, All The Way Jose won his second race of 2017 and tossed his blinkers into the discussion for the 2017 steeplechase championship. He joined Scorpiancer, Swansea Mile and Diplomat on the list of Grade 1 winners this year with the $400,000 Grand National on the horizon at Far Hills Oct. 21.

For now, All The Way Jose and his people will enjoy the Lonesome Glory.

“The horse was an absolute superstar,” said Nagle. “He held off everybody, he was there to be shot at, and he could have very easily said no but he was brave as a lion and ran really well. He did it nicely. I was proud of him. You’ve got to appreciate that. At the end of the day, if you’re not on a good horse you’re nobody.”

Bred by Sheppard, All The Way Jose lost twice on the flat at Delaware Park as a 3-year-old before switching to jumps – closing with a second at the Colonial Cup meet. In 2014, he won three times including the Foxbrook at Far Hills, and took the novice crown with $149,700 in earnings as a 4-year-old while ridden by Willie McCarthy. As good as that year was, the next two were disasters. The son of Senor Swinger lost all three starts in 2015, and had surgery that fall to correct a breathing issue. The operation didn’t make much difference as All The Way Jose lost all four starts in 2016. In November, New Bolton Center surgeon Dr. David Levine performed a second surgery and the old All The Way Jose gradually returned.

Able to drop into handicaps because of all those losses and a lower rating on the National Steeplechase Association scale, All The Way Jose finished third at Tryon, was second going 3 miles at the Iroquois and then won by 15 lengths at Fair Hill while wearing blinkers for the first time. Stakes company beckoned, but All The Way Jose and jockey Keri Brion parted company with a mistake midway through the A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga. Four weeks later, with Nagle on board, All The Way Jose finished third behind Diplomat and Modem. Though passed by two horses after the last fence, All The Way Jose’s effort was there and he showed up again four weeks later at Belmont.

“We’ve finally gotten that last year out of our system,” said Sheppard, after his first Grade 1 win since 2014. “It took him a few races to get his confidence back after the surgery I think. I’ve heard people say that about horses who’ve had surgery like that.”

AllTheWayJose2With Diplomat and spring star Scopriancer on the sidelines, Modem again carried high weight in the handicap. The 156 pounds did little to dissuade the bettors, who sent the Irish import off at less than 2-1 in a field of eight. Hinterland (nearly 3-1) was the second choice, followed by All The Way Jose at almost 7-2. Nagle let his horse break aggressively from the inside and they led over the first fence. Charminster moved to the front by the first turn and All The Way Jose backed off. Casino Markets moved into second, followed by the winner (inside and behind the leader), then Swansea Mile, Mr. Hot Stuff, Modem three wide, Hinterland and Simenon. They stayed like that, mostly, up the backside though Swansea Mile dropped back after a sloppy leap at the second.

With a lap to go, Charminster held a clear lead on All The Way Jose. Casino Markets was 2 lengths back in third, followed by Modem. The favorite ate into the margin coming to the fence past the wire, but chipped in a lost a little momentum.

As the field straightened up for the long backstretch and final three fences, Nagle threw a log on the fire and All The Way Jose jumped the eighth alongside Charminster and led into the ninth. Behind him, Casino Markets came under pressure but stayed on as Modem got caught up in a little traffic. All The Way Jose jumped the last in front by 2, followed by Casino Markets, a tiring but trying Charminster and a rallying Modem.

Past the final cone on the turn, Nagle angled his horse to the rail and put a little more ground between himself and the others as Modem ranged alongside Casino Markets and Swansea Mile rallied wide. The closers never really made up any ground on the leader, who hugged the rail and saw out the win as Modem settled for a third runner-up finish in three American tries this year – all Grade 1 stakes.

“Today it couldn’t have gone any better, the way it set up for him,” said Nagle. “I won’t say I was confident of winning but I was confident in the way I wanted to ride him. If it worked, it was going to work. If it didn’t, it wasn’t going to be because he didn’t run as well as he could.”

Upstairs in the box seats, the Moorheads cheered home their horse – whose dam Maternity Leave won twice over jumps and once on the flat for Sheppard. The daughter of Northern Baby’s foals include jump winners Confined, Desert Vigil and Time Off.

“It’s been a good ride with him so far except for those two years with the breathing problems,” said Rod. “He’s a fun horse to watch and you feel good for him when he can go out and do that. We watch him train and he’s been training really well, but you never know after those surgeries and things. Jonathan thinks a lot of him and everyone at the farm just loves him. It’s nice to have him back.”

NOTES: Nagle got the Turf Writers mount because of a new rule prohibiting apprentice jump jockeys at Saratoga. The change forced Brion, Sheppard’s chief assistant, to the ground but she was still proud of her charge – a horse she has ridden since he was a yearling. “It hurts but he deserves it,” she said Friday. “And there’s something special about a homebred beating an import. It’s cool. I’m very proud of him.” All The Way Jose won for the fifth time in 20 hurdle starts and increased his hurdle earnings to $295,500 . . . The win sets up a showdown of sorts in the Grand National, though much will be determined by the foreign entries who come over (Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and others have expressed interest) for the final American Grade 1 of the season. All The Way Jose or Swansea Mile could post an Eclipse Award claim with a win . . . Bruton Street-US runner Moscato staked his claim to the novcie championship with a powerhouse win in the $75,000 William Entenmann Memorial to start Thursday’s jump doubleheader at Belmont. Trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by Sean McDermott, the big gray won for the fourth time (to go with two seconds) in six starts this year. He won a maiden hurdle at the Queen’s Cup in April, an allowance hurdle at the Iroquois in May and now back-to-back novcie stakes. New Member, also trained by Fisher, finished second with Mutasaawy third in the $75,000 races. Novices can run for $125,000 at Far Hills though Moscato will pick up another three pounds for the win and carry 159.