Champion Timber Horse: Patriot’s Path

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ST profiled the steeplechase champions in its December edition and will re-run those articles here.

Get up, horse. Get up, horse. Get up, get up, get up. Please, get up.You can’t win the NSA timber championship lying on the ground. You haveto get up. Get up, horse. Get up, horse. Get up, get up, get up.

In April, Patriot’s Path won two races in a week. In May, he ran away with the $75,000 Mason Houghland Memorial at the Iroquois. In November, he scared everyone at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup with a cartwheeling fall at the last fence. Patriot’s Path left the ground a half-stride behind Erin Go Bragh, got in too tight, blasted the fence with his hind legs and landed on his face, neck, shoulder. He flipped, he slid, he looked hurt. His trainer arrived. Then the ambulance. Then the vet. Then the screens. Some people ran to help. Others walked away quietly. Some stared. Some couldn’t look.

And then he got up.

Patriot’s Path clambered to his feet and walked through the stretch with trainer Desmond Fogarty to stunned applause.

“Thank God he got up,” said Fogarty, who trained the 9-year-old for Irv Naylor. “I didn’t know if he would, but it was a good feeling to see him do it.”

Patriot’s Path started the year as a maiden and ended it by walking away from a scary fall as the year’s timber champion. He won half his six starts and earned $73,500.

Despite the maiden conditions, the 9-year-old came into 2009 with seasoning thanks to four seconds – behind division warriors Bubble Economy, Move West, Western Fling and He’s A Conniver.

“He had run in as tough of company as there is out there and hit the board so he was in a good spot when the year started,” said Fogarty. “The maiden at the Manor was the perfect spot for him to start and he won easily. Then I looked at the condition book. The only shot he had of picking up another win outside of a stakes was the race the next week at the Grand National.”

He won there, too, pocketing $18,000 and covering 6 1/4 miles in a week. The victories gave light to a career that included one win (in a rained-out hurdle turned flat race at Colonial Downs) in 39 lifetime starts.

The long, fruitless road began with three starts (for owner/breeder/trainer Jeremy Gillam) as a 2-year-old in 2002, moved on to three dull hurdle runs as a 3-year-old in 2003, and included a 15-start marathon campaign in 2006. Three races into that season, trainer Bruce Haynes bought Patriot’s Path as an amateur hurdle horse for sons Russell and Will. The horse lost six lopsided hurdle decisions before winning (at 19-1) that flat race at Colonial Downs.

By October, Patriot’s Path was a timber horse and by November he was owned by Naylor – who’s never met a timber horse he didn’t like. Patriot’s Path finished third in the 2007 Grand National and third again at Morven Park that fall. When Bruce Haynes died in early 2008, Patriot’s Path moved to Fogarty’s care and continued the upward trend.

After starting 2009 with maiden and allowance wins, Patriot’s Path headed for stakes competition. Fogarty passed on the Maryland Hunt Cup and Virginia Gold Cup and eyed Nashville’s rich Houghland. The $75,000 race often suits a horse on the rise and this year was no different as just four horses started in the 3-miler. Soft ground helped take some of the speed out of He’s A Conniver, G’Day G’Day and Askim and Patriot’s Path galloped off with the $45,000 payday.

“He wouldn’t be ideally suited to that course, but the ground came up the way he wants it; otherwise it would probably be too fast for him,” said Fogarty. “He likes to jump, he likes to gallop.”

Fogarty brought Patriot’s Path gradually back for a fall campaign, leaving Shawan Downs to stablemate Hot Springs (third) and the International Gold Cup to Salmo (sixth). The champion got started at Virginia Fall, and finished a late-running third to Erin Go Bragh and Seeyouattheevent in the $35,000 National Sporting Library/Chronicle Cup. The Pennsylvania Hunt Cup came next and Patriot’s Path took a short lead when Irish Prince fell at the second-last. Former stakes hurdler Erin Go Bragh pounced shortly thereafter and sped to a narrow advantage just before the last, where a tired Patriot’s Path fell.

But got up.

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At least some of Patriot’s Path’s timber ability comes from his breeding. Gillam has been a longtime player in jump racing and mated his Salutely mare Rode To Nowhere with former Maryland stallion Carnivalay to get Patriot’s Path. Salutely sired timber star Saluter among others while developing a reputation for providing stamina and late maturity to his progeny.

“Billy Christmas (who managed Salutely) once asked (flat trainer) King Leatherbury if he would send some mares to Salutely, and Leatherbury said he’d rather wait until the Salutelys were 5 and claim them,” Gillam said with a laugh. “We didn’t breed Patriot’s Path to be a timber horse but it makes sense. I knew 3 miles or more would be his thing and with us it always seemed like next year was going to be better and now it is. I’m very happy for the horse and they’ve done a real good job with him.”

Rode To Nowhere’s first foal, Swoop And Soar, won five jump races and earned $100,000. Gillam sold the mare, in foal to Eastern Echo, several years ago but still owns two daughters.

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