Champions 2011: Bon Caddo tough at timber

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"boncaddo11"Bruce Fenwick likes to tell people he traded a new mower for Bon Caddo. Jonathan Sheppard recalls a used manure spreader. Under pressure, they both admit to being guilty of spinning tales. But neither is that far off.

Maryland-based horseman Fenwick, who deals in farm equipment and Thoroughbreds, went to Sheppard’s Pennsylvania farm with a new field mower back in 2007. A Woods, a New Holland, a Case International-Harvester, something. It was big, beautiful, shiny, powerful, able to cut acres and acres of Ashwell Stable turf gallops.

Sheppard’s farm manager John Hughes liked what he saw, but told Fenwick “the boss said something about a used mower.”

Ever the salesman, Fenwick countered.

“You’ve got to buy a new mower,” he said.

“Well, then you’ve got to buy a new horse,” Hughes responded. “This horse.”

Hughes led Bon Caddo, then a winless 6-year-old hurdler, out of a stall. Fenwick took a look, thought about the past and agreed to take on the project. Two days later, Bon Caddo was at a horse show – causing havoc, running amuck and starting on the long road to the 2011 NSA timber championship.

“John Hughes and I have been friends because of the farm equipment deals and he’s the one who started it,” Fenwick said. “But years ago, Sheppard gave me a horse, Day Is Right, and he turned out to be a fun point-to-point horse. I got Bequeathed from Sheppard, and he won a ton of point-to-points. This one looked like he’d do something for somebody.”

For Sheppard, the trade – er, sale – made sense. On the flat, Bon Caddo couldn’t win for breeder Marablue Farm. Sheppard became owner and trainer, and the son of Bon Point won a cheap maiden claimer at Colonial Downs (5 1/2 furlongs, believe it or not) in 2006. Over hurdles, Bon Caddo lost five times.

“I bought him from Marablue, not sure how it happened,” Sheppard said. “He won a flat race, got close over hurdles. I wasn’t quite sure he was the type for (timber) and I sold him to Bruce because he wasn’t a homebred, he wasn’t one we would keep. It turned out great. He’s a really fun horse for them, a nice old horse. You can tell they love him.”

Despite failing miserably at that first horse show, Bon Caddo progressed into a decent show horse and a decent foxhunter. Fenwick rode him. Trainer Dawn Williams rode him. Williams’ niece Nikki rode him. Veterinarian Dr. Debbie Kelly rode him. Fenwick got the horse ready, worked on his feet, thought about selling him. The list of would-be buyers included plenty of steeplechase people and some show people. The pricetag would have been $7,500 or so (about double what Fenwick paid).

“He went to a clinic at St. Tim’s School where (Olympic showjumping gold medalist) Joe Fargis watched him go and liked him,” Fenwick said. “Joe said he wished he was 6 inches longer, that maybe he wouldn’t have the scope he’d need to jump 5 feet in the show ring.”

Veterinary inspections quashed other potential purchases. Like plenty of other steeplechasers, Bon Caddo came with mileage and the usual wear and tear. His feet and legs needed attention, which Fenwick, Williams and the team at Belmont Farm provided. Patience was the key.

“We tried to see what he wanted to do,” Fenwick said. “Is he fun to ride? Will he show? Will he foxhunt? He wasn’t a bad show horse, wasn’t a bad foxhunter.”

Wasn’t a bad timber horse either. In Fenwick’s silks, Bon Caddo made his timber debut at Howard County point-to-point in 2009. Two starts later, he won the highweight amateur timber at the Grand National. That fall, he won a stakes at Shawan Downs. Bon Caddo’s 2010 featured six starts, and six losses. He earned $32,300 in his five NSA tries, placing in the Grand National, Virginia Gold Cup, International Gold Cup and Pennsylvania Hunt Cup – the latter two after being sold to Charlie Noell’s Merriefield Farm.

With 2011 came expectations, and Bon Caddo opened with a point-to-point win at Piedmont for new jockey Blair Wyatt. The Canadian-bred captured the My Lady’s Manor timber stakes in April and added the Virginia Gold Cup in May.

With Wyatt watching from the sidelines for the autumn, Bon Caddo went to the International Gold Cup in October as the favorite, and lost jockey Jody Petty. They made up for it with a second in the season’s final timber stakes, the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, in November. The latter performance, and its $6,300, was enough to win the championship by $8,200 over Maryland Hunt Cup winner Private Attack.

“Timber is a three-year deal to do it right,” said Fenwick of the progression. “There’s no way to expedite that deal. We took our time and a lot of people did a lot of hard work with him. Dawn, (rider) Cyril Murphy, (groom) Phil Briones, Steve Bright the blacksmith, Dr. Kelly the vet, everybody who rode him in a race, a whole lot of people.”

Like all good timber horses, Bon Caddo excels at the added distance.

“He isn’t very fast,” said Fenwick. “He stays brilliantly, he’s got excellent wind and he had that from the start. He’s running the last half of the fourth mile as fast as he can run. He’s not a Dosdi, a Ben Nevis, a Saluter, but he’s pretty good. He’s a very good jumper, he’s rateable and he has tactical speed. He doesn’t carry it real far, but for three-eighths of a mile he can really run.”

And you should see him cut grass.

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Timber champion Bon Caddo
B. g. 10, Bon Point-Tactical Info, Tactical Advantage.
Bred by Marablue Farm in Canada. Owner: Merriefield Farm. Trainer: Dawn Williams. Jockeys: Blair Wyatt and Jody Petty.

Won My Lady’s Manor and Virginia Gold Cup in spring. Secured championship with second in Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Former Jonathan Sheppard runner on the flat and over hurdles. Keeps fit for racing by foxhunting and competing in horse shows.