After the Colonial Cup, what do we know? Well, besides Jonathan Sheppard might deserve a second Hall of Fame induction . . .
1. Mixed Up is the fastest horse in steeplechasing. In terms of sheer speed, the 10-year-old can still get it. Jump racing has no speed figures, but Saturday’s would have reached triple digits on anyone’s scale. Mixed Up sat just off a quick enough pace, jumped fluidly and ran past three horses in the final half-furlong. Breathtaking. He won by a neck, but never looked to be in danger of losing.
2. Champions usually earn it. Before the Colonial Cup, five horses won the year’s five open Grade I stakes. They all went to Camden for the Cup. Two, Mixed Up and Red Letter Day, touched down over the last with a chance. Either would have clinched the Eclipse Award with a win and either wound have been a deserving champion. It’s a shame one of them had to lose. Voters, Mixed Up is your champion with four wins from eight starts and $184,495 in earnings.
3. Pace makes the race. At Belmont in the Lonesome Glory, Red Letter Day loped on a slow pace and couldn’t be caught. Mixed Up sat close, used his speed to get in front, but then watched his rival fight back for the win. At Far Hills for the Grand National, Red Letter Day again set the pace but was harassed throughout and couldn’t maintain the tempo in the soft turf while settling for fourth. Saturday in the Colonial Cup, Red Letter Day did his best Victorian Hill impression – running quickly but within himself – and hung around until the final strides. Mixed Up found a spot just off that pace, saved his speed until the stretch and outsprinted everyone to win for the 12th time in a 29-start jump career.
4. Danielle Hodsdon is pretty cool under pressure. The jockey found a comfort zone with Mixed Up, got him jumping and kept him on hold until the final two fences. She never turned over her whip until after the last, while the other jockeys went to work far earlier, looked for a seam between Red Letter Day and Tax Ruling, watched that close, sent Mixed Up back to the inside and got up in the final yards. Superb work.
5. Management matters. Sheppard stopped with Mixed Up at Saratoga 2008 when the horse came up with a leg problem. The winless campaign meant his horse came into 2009 with conditions and the trainer took full advantage. Racing without Lasix all year, Mixed Up won a restricted stakes at Aiken and dispatched an overmatched allowance field at Block House (how many champions run at Block House?). This fall, Sheppard skipped the Grand National when Far Hills came up soft and brought a fresh horse (despite an eight-start campaign) to the Colonial Cup.
6. Red Letter Day is for real. Game and gutsy, he took them a long way and was the most consistent stakes horse this fall with a win at Belmont in September, a solid fourth at Far Hills in October and then the narrow defeat at Camden in November. Here’s hoping we see him next year.
7. Tax Ruling is for real. A novice stakes winner at Radnor in May, he made his first open stakes start in the Grand National and finished third. Many credited soft turf and the stamina-favoring Far Hills course with the strong effort. Flat and fast as ever, Camden was not Tax Ruling’s undoing. He tracked Red Letter Day throughout and hung around until the end – missing a Grade I win by 1 1/2 lengths.
8. What’s next for Mixed Up? Some suggested retirement might be the most logical progression after the biggest win of his career. There’s no denying it would be a great finish, but he’ll be back as long as he’s healthy. Sheppard even mentioned Japan’s Nakayama Grand Jump as a potential option. The horse does not need Lasix and would not be undone by the quick pace and fast turf.
9. Your Sum Man and Pierrot Lunaire are still question marks. The European invaders each won his American debut (Grand National and Iroquois, respectively) but struggled in subsequent tries. Soft ground, first-time Lasix, nobody knows why they hit so hard in their first runs. They get second chances in 2010.
10. Spy In The Sky wants more pace in front of him. The Turf Writers winner battled hard in his first try over the Colonial Cup fences, and made some progress in the stretch before checking in eighth. He probably got a little tired, made one jumping mistake but had some year with a jump win at Saratoga and a flat win at Aqueduct.
11. Zozimus made a fun late run – catching Best Attack for fourth and a $10,000 payday for locals Dale Thiel and Britt Graham.
12. The maiden hurdle may someday be a “Remember that?” race. They ran every step, set a strong pace and flew down the backside the last time. Here Comes Art led the whole way and turned aside Ballet Boy, Jimtown and Virginia Minstrel in the stretch. Fifty Five, Steppenwolfer and Boojwhacked also turned in quality efforts. Remember all of those names. The winner showcased his guts by turning aside multiple challenges – much like he did when second by a nose on the flat at Saratoga Sept. 4 (off a nearly two-year layoff).
13. Arch Kingsley enjoys autumn at Springdale Race Course. The trainer got married (to Wendy) in the paddock nine years ago, won the Colonial Cup twice and turned in a hat trick Saturday with victories by Here Comes Art in the maiden, Jogja in the 3-year-old stakes and Sunshine Numbers in the Hobkirk Hill starter allowance. Nice day.
14. Every race counts. After all of the road trips, all of the race meets, all of the racetrack visits, all of the ups and downs (literally), trainers Jack Fisher and Tom Voss are one win apart in the title hunt. Fisher shows the way while bidding for his third consecutive championship. Voss looks for his first title since 2002 (when he capped a three-peat). Palm Beach will decide it. Give Voss the edge on stable quality, but he’s running out of races.