Carolina Cup Picks & Preview

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Who’s Counting runs in the featured Carolina Cup for trainer/jockey Sean McDermott. Tod Marks photo

Round Two. The steeplechase season rolls on to Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. for Saturday’s Carolina Cup. The race has been around since 1930, and run in pretty much every configuration you can think of – timber, brush, National Fences, open stakes, Grade 1, novice.

The novices give it a go Saturday as part of a six-race card. Fields are light, but competitive.

Last week at Aiken and Cheshire, the TIHR handicappers were predictably unpredictable. Sean is off to a fast start with five winners (Cainudothetwist, Cross Border, The Insider, Court Ruler, Master Seville), while Tom countered with four (Cross Border, High Mounte, The Insider, Chosen Mate). Joe stumbled out of the gate with three (Cross Border, High Mounte, Master Seville). Graded turf stakes winner Cross Border was the news of the week with a maiden hurdle win.

Post time Saturday is 1:30 p.m. You can watch on the NSA website or find out more via the Carolina Cup website. If you’re there, check out the National Steeplechase Museum.

First race. $25,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Seven line up while risked for the $30,000 tag. All but Mr. Connecticut (Acacia Clement’s favorite racehorse) have experience. Thomond Park gets right back to work after finishing fourth at Aiken. He placed twice over hurdles last year. Webb was third against tougher twice last fall. Real Factor might be hard to catch. Lumberjack was third on the flat at the Warrenton Point-to-Point.

  • Joe: Webb, Thomond Park, Lumberjack.
  • Sean: Webb, Thomond Park, Lumberjack.
  • Tom: Thomond Park, Mr. Connecticut, Undercover Rowdy.

Second race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Six tackle the first of two maiden special weights. Stand With Mo makes his debut, as does Irish import The Hero Next Door and turf stakes winner L’Imperator. The latter won three times in his native France before adding four more, topped by the Grade 2 Fort Marcy last spring, for trainer Chad Brown in the United States. Arch Kingsley trains the $75,000 Hudson River Farm purchase. The Hero Next Door won an Irish point-to-point last fall and won on the flat at Warrenton Point-to-Point. Sa’ad, Good Boy and Zarkallani complete a strong group.

  • Joe: The Hero Next Door, L’Imperator, Zarkallani.
  • Sean: L’Imperator, The Hero Next Door, Sa’ad.
  • Tom: L’Imperator, Stand With Mo, Sa’ad.

Third race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Five contest this version. Is Tapwood slowing figuring this out? His dam Better Lucky won two Grade 1 stakes and made $1.2 million for Godolphin. Imonlysaying finished second (by a head) in an Irish point-to-point last March, then won a bumper at Kilbeggan in May and won over hurdles at the Warrenton Point-to-Point. He’s a player. Memento has run in two English bumpers, one in February. Five-year-old mare Met In Miami finished fourth twice over jumps last year. Press Pause was third behind Imonlysaying at Warrenton.

  • Joe: Imonlysaying, Press Pause, Tapwood.
  • Sean: Tapwood, Met In Miami, Imonlysaying.
  • Tom: Imonlysaying, Tapwood, Met in Miami.
Three-time winner Fightinirishtabit looks tough in the handicap hurdle. Tod Marks photo

Fourth race. $25,000 Handicap hurdle (115 rating and below) going 2 1/8 miles. Five made the program, four with solo maiden wins on their records and one three-time winner – Fightinirishtabit. The 8-year-old Tiznow gelding, a full-brother to Travers winner Colonel John and Grade 1 hurdle winner Mr. Hot Stuff – won back-to-back starts last year – a handicap at Colonial and an optional claimer at Shawan. He will be tough again, especially if he’s as ready as stablemate West Newton was last week at Aiken. Bee Major gets back to work off an eight-month break. Connagh’s Quay has looked good enough to compete at this level. He just has to prove it. The mare New Appointment won her American debut last summer and closed 2022 with a decent second at Montpelier. Ping Pong Champ graduated the maiden ranks at Great Meadow in October.

  • Joe: Fightinirishtabit, Connagh’s Quay, Bee Major.
  • Sean: Fightinirishtabit, Ping Pong Champ, Bee Major.
  • Tom: New Appointment, Ping Pong Champ, Bee Major.

Fifth race. $50,000 Carolina Cup novice hurdle stakes going (wait for it…) 2 1/8 miles. Just four give the feature a go, which means the fields ought to be overflowing in a few weeks. Step To The Bar is 2-for-2 at Shawan Downs, 0-for 11 everywhere else. Who’s Counting comes off some 2022 season – three wins, three seconds, a third and $93,040 earned on the flat and over jumps. Welshman won his debut at Foxfield last spring, lost his next four by a combined 94.5 lengths, but closed like Blake from downtown (for Glengarry Glen Ross fans) with wins in his final two starts of the year – a handicap at Virginia Fall and a novice stakes at Callaway Gardens. New name Caramelised makes his U.S. debut for Leslie Young. Rated 128 in England, the 5-year-old won three of eight over hurdles for Alan King. The Dansili gelding adds Lasix and prepped with a second on the flat at Warrenton Point-to-Point.

  • Joe: Caramelised, Welshman, Who’s Counting.
  • Sean: Welshman, Caramelised, Who’s Counting.
  • Tom: Who’s Counting, Welshman, Step To The Bar.

Sixth race. Training flat going 1 1/2 miles. Four gets tune-ups for future jump races, most likely. New York-bred Kiyomori was seventh twice for David Donk on the flat last year, and fourth in the maiden at Montpelier. The 4-year-old is a half-brother to Webb (who runs in the first) plus hurdle winner Saigon. Cibolian, another Hudson River-Kingsley runner, khas solid flat form. Did It Big and Hold Hard (fourth on the flat at Warrenton) are just getting started.

  • Joe: Cibolian, Hold Hard, Kiyomori.
  • Sean: Cibolian, Hold Hard, Kiyomori. 
  • Tom: Cibolian, Kiyomori, Hold Hard.