Carolina Cup 2019 packs a big punch

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Saturday’s Carolina Cup ought to come with a high-haired promoter, oversized posters, a slogan such as “The Clash in Camden” or “The Skirmish at Springdale, maybe a weigh-in ceremony where the horses offer boasts and predictions.

  • Show Court could brag about his Grade 1 and home-course advantage.
  • Hinterland could tell everyone his time has finally come.
  • Personal Start could simply say, “I won it last year.”
  • Boss Man could start issuing orders.
  • Special Skills could tell everyone what he did on vacation.
  • Surprising Soul could brag about being fresh, sharp, honed.
  • Oskar Denarius could just say “Fourteen pounds,” and drop the mic.
  • Invocation really wouldn’t need to say much more than, “I’ve won four in a row, and I’m good to go.”
  • Ice It’s speech would cover pedigree, “Tapit is my sire, and I’m on fire.”

Bad boxing references aside, the $50,000 handicap hurdle – with a 130 top rating – looks like a slugfest. Five of the nine runners – Show Court, Hinterland, Surprising Soul, Invocation and Ice It – are rated 130 with Special Skills a 129. Personal Start (125) won the race in 2018 when it was a novice stakes, and the 116-rated Oskar Denarius (who won five in England) can be dangerous as the low weight.

“It’s going to be a real stomper of a race,” said Billy Santoro, who trains Invocation.

The Cup headlines a six-race card, including a salty maiden hurdle and a strong allowance for non-winners of two, at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. Post time for the day is 1:30 p.m. and you can watch live via the NSA live stream show.

The feature could go any direction, but start with Surprising Soul. Wendy Hendriks’ 7-year-old ran three times last year – winning two stakes and finishing second to runaway victor Belisarius in the Foxbrook at Far Hills. Last summer, after a win at Saratoga, trainer Ricky Hendriks said spacing the horse’s races was a key and the strategy has more than paid off. The son of Perfect Soul, bred in Canada by Chuck Fipke, won his first three starts of 2017, then fizzled with four poor finishes before thriving on the lighter schedule last year.

“The problem with him is he gives everything in a race and he takes so much out of himself and you don’t realize it,” said jockey Ross Geraghty. “You pull him out the following day and he wants to run again, but he can’t. He wants to run and he wants to win and he’ll try as hard as he can every time. That’s him. Ricky’s figured that out and it works.”

SurprisingSoulGeraghty has won five hurdle races on Surprising Soul (at left winning at Radnor last spring), which puts the horse on the verge of a milestone.

“I won six on one of my dad’s, that’s the most,” said the jockey. “He’ll join an elite little group if I could win another on him.”

Out of novice conditions, Surprising Soul will earn his way into some major stakes tries if he can win Saturday. Zanjabeel, trained by Hendriks and ridden by Geraghty, finished second in the 2018 Carolina Cup to start what turned out to be a championship season.

“He could do it,” said Geraghty. “I got off him when he broke his maiden and said to Ricky ‘This is a stakes horse.’ He’s very versatile. I can be in front, I can be second or third. He’s won all sorts of ways. There are no instructions with him. Let him go out and do his thing.”

Like Surprising Soul, Invocation has won five races over hurdles. Straylight Racing’s 6-year-old came to the United States as a 3-year-old in 2016 after placing in four English hurdle starts for trainer Alan King. While spending time with three trainers, Invocation has made seven U.S. starts – five wins, a second and a third – rising up the handicap ranks and weathering an extended layoff for an injury between 2017 and 2018.

“He came back from Saratoga (in 2017) with a suspensory and I had him laid up for 14 months,” said Santoro. “He won at Far Hills in October and then did it again at Charleston (in November) and here we are. He fought his way up to this level.”

And now he gets the toughest assignment of his life. Santoro knows the French-bred will try, but – like most trainers not based in the Carolinas – worries about his winter preparations. Invocation won a flat tune-up at Warrenton Point-to-Point March 16, but there are always questions.

“After the winter we’ve had here who can tell exactly how prepared you are?” said the Maryland-based trainer. “He’s grown up some, filled out. I know on any given day he’s going to give you the full measure of what he’s got on that day. He thinks he’s pretty much a hot shot.”

Sean McDermott, 3-for-3 on Invocation, takes the return call.

Trainer Arch Kingsley’s horses regularly run well at his hometown track and he brings two to the Cup. Mark Buyck’s Show Court won the A.P. Smithwick Memorial at Saratoga last year, and labored in stakes company the rest of the season before blazing to a flat win at Callaway Gardens in November. The 10-year-old Vinnie Roe gelding dips into the handicap ranks for the first time since 2016 with jockey Bernie Dalton named to ride. Kingsley also has novice stakes winner Boss Man in the race for owner Carrington Holdings. The 9-year-old English Channel gelding won at Saratoga and Belmont last year and should be a pace presence for jockey Tom Garner at 155 pounds.

Leading trainer Jack Fisher bypassed Aiken last week, but brings a vanload to Camden. Sonny Via’s Hinterland, whose eight American starts (over four years) have included three Grade 1 placings, seeks his first win since 2013 at Sandown when part of the Paul Nicholls barn. Mikey Mitchell rides the French-bred. Special Skills looked like a rising star in the Fisher barn in 2016, when he won three times over hurdles for Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable. The Bernstein gelding made just three starts in 2017 (two seconds) and missed last year entirely. He seeks a comeback at 9 with Willie McCarthy aboard at 157 pounds. Fisher’s third Cup runner, Ice It, makes his third consecutive start in the race. Sixth in 2017 and 2018, the 7-year-old capped 2018 with a novice stakes score at Callaway Gardens. Jack Doyle has the ride.

Maggie Bryant’s Personal Start won the 2018 Cup, when it was a novice stakes, and aired in the David Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow last May. His next three starts ended in double-digit losses, however. Barry Foley has the ride at 153 for trainer Richard Valentine. The barn also entered Apple Equipment’s Oskar Denarius. The Irish-bred finished third twice over American hurdles last year, and won three in England for trainer Ben Pauling. Shane Crimin rides the 8-year-old at 144 pounds.


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Hey Ross Geraghty, what’s your ideal trip on Surprising Soul in the Carolina Cup?
“Past the post, I’m first.”

Hey Billy Santoro, what’s Invocation like to ride in the morning?
“He’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys to sit on. He’s like a little hobby horse. (Jockey) Sean McDermott got on him one day a few weeks ago and he goes out as if he wishes he’d stayed in bed and Sean looked at me wondering if everything was OK. By the time we were coming home, everything was OK.”