You want to cheer for the 13-year-old Irish-bred with three wins in the race? Or a rare son of Danzig still racing? Or maybe the 11-year-old who won an Eclipse Award three years ago? Or the former Kentucky Derby starter? Saturday’s Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap includes all that and more as part of the Middleburg Spring Races at Glenwood Park in Middleburg, Va.
Eight hurdlers tackle the historic stakes, which dates to 1924 and includes some of the sport’s greatest names among its past winners. The 2015 renewal is a fitting follower, with the eight entrants bringing 40 wins and nearly $1.9 million in combined steeplechase earnings.
Nobody packs a bigger punch than Decoy Daddy. Irv Naylor’s chestnut dynamo won the Gwathmey in 2011, missed it in 2012 and repeated in 2013 and 2014. The 13-year-old thrives over the rolling Glenwood course, and will take plenty of beating again this year despite carrying high weight of 156 pounds against a tough group. Carol Ann Sloan, who has won seven of the last 10 times she’s ridden Decoy Daddy, gets aboard again for trainer Cyril Murphy.
Maryland-based Murphy calls Decoy Daddy the easiest horse in the barn.
“He doesn’t take any looking after,” the trainer said this winter with a laugh. There’s more to it than that, but Decoy Daddy has been a marvel of consistency since coming to the United States in 2010. He’s won 11 times and found a niche just under the Grade 1 level – scooping up races like the Gwathmey (three times), National Hunt Cup at Radnor (twice) and Noel Laing at Montpeler (four times). For more, see this TIHR story from last fall.
Saturday will be a test as he gives away at least eight pounds to a good group. His past Gwathmey wins came with 146, 150 and 146 pounds, respectively. The National Steeplechase Association had to amend a rule just to allow the son of Lord Of Appeal to race. The old rule said horses couldn’t race over hurdles beyond age 12. Now they’re permitted, but must pass a pre-season veterinary exam. Decoy Daddy probably got an A.
Grade 1 winner Mr. Hot Stuff makes his first start since August 2013 and has proven plenty good enough with two wins in 2011, his first season over jumps, and two more in 2013. At Saratoga that summer, the son of Tiznow and half-brother to sire Colonel John won the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial and finished fourth in the New York Turf Writers Cup for owner Gill Johnston. He’s missed plenty time, but nearly made it back last fall before going to the shelf with a nagging check-ligament problem. Trainer Jack Fisher got a point-to-point flat start into the 9-year-old, who carries 146 pounds including jockey Paddy Young. For more, see this TIHR story from 2013 or another one from a litlte bit earlier with input from breeder and former owner Bill Casner of WinStar Farm.
Fisher runs four in the Gwathmey, including 10-year-old All Together, most likely the last son of great stallion Danzig still on the racetrack. Bred by Jayeff B Stable, All Together races on the flat for trainer Alan Goldberg but – like Decoy Daddy – has made his career over hurdles with five wins, 10 seconds and five thirds. All Together placed in two Grade 1 stakes in 2013, the same year he raced for a $30,000 claiming price, and won a stakes over the Glenwood course last fall. Sean McDermott rides at 144 for owners Andre Brewster and Sheila Williams.
A Grade 1 winner in 2009, Mary Ann Houghland’s veteran Pierrot Lunaire revived his career with two Grade 1 scores in the fall of 2012 to claim the Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser. The 11-year-old War Chant gelding lost his only two starts in 2013 and finished fourth in the Grade 1 Iroquois, his only start of 2014. Trained by Bruce Miller, the race’s second highweight carries 148 pounds including Kiaran Norris.
The rest of the field (with jockey and weight): the stakes-placed Bob Le Beau (Gus Dahl, 140), novice stakes winner Staying On (Jeff Murphy, 140), champion filly/mare hurdler Kisser N Run (Robbie Walsh, 136) and novice stakes winner and graded-stakes placed flat winner Dahoud (Darren Nagle, 138).
The eight-race Middleburg card starts at 1 p.m. with a training flat race featuring champion steeplechaser Demonstrative in his final tuneup for the Grade I Iroquois next month. Timber stakes horses battle in the $30,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup, headed by 2014 timber champion Hot Rize and 2014 race winner Cornhusker.
NOTES: The Gwathmey takes its name from two men with long pasts in American racing. James Temple Gwathmey Sr. was an owner and amateur jockey in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He raced in a partnership called Mr. Cotton, named for the president of the New York Cotton Exchange’s business interests. The race was created as a memorial to him, but took on special meaning eight years later. Gwathmey’s son James Temple Jr. also became a jockey and died in a fall at the 1932 Monmouth County Hunt Races in New Jersey. He was just 23 . . . Past Gwathmey winners include Flatterer, Zaccio, Warm Spell, Lonesome Glory, Rowdy Irishman and others on its honor roll. Further back in history, Fairmount, Neji, Benguala, Bon Nouvel and Amber Diver appear on the trophy . . . Naylor has won the last four runnings (three with Decoy Daddy and one with Via Galilei . . . Trainer Jerry Holldendorfer runs Shared Belief in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic Saturday, while just up the road his former pupil Dahoud (who finished second in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey and Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap in 2011) runs over jumps in the Gwathmey.