It’s come down to this. The 2014 National Steeplechase Association’s final race day heads to the post Saturday with the Colonial Cup Races at Springdale Racecourse in Camden, S.C. After Saturday, it’s rest, recover, regroup until March.
The day starts at 12:30 p.m. with the first of six races, but there’s no more important moment than the Grade 1 Colonial Cup, where Demonstrative stands to make a little history. With a win, worth $60,000, he can become just the second American steeplechaser to exceed $400,000 in single-season earnings.
Good Night Shirt did it with an unbeaten, for-the-ages, five-start campaign – and $485,520 earned – in 2008. Demonstrative (who’s 2014 bankroll stands at $352,500) has lost twice this year, but seeks his fourth consecutive Grade 1 while also looking to extend his domination of the division in 2014. Owned by Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trained by Richard Valentine, the 7-year-old Elusive Quality gelding has already beaten every starter in the field but one at least twice this year so he’d be odds-on in anybody’s pool of potential winners in the field of six.
But, as the gamblers say, there’s a reason they post the results after the race. Demonstrative, like every horse in every race, can be beaten Saturday.
Jockey Ross Geraghty has seen plenty of the favorite this year, including a second (beaten a length) and a third (beaten almost 6) aboard Parker’s Project in the Lonesome Glory and Grand National. The 8-year-old takes another swing for Hudson River Farm and trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
“He’s solid, he’s the best horse in the country,” said Geraghty. “I’ve always thought he was a really, really nice horse. If there was any horse that was to leave this country and take on the big guns in England it’s him. He’s that type of horse. After (the Grand National), I said I’m getting pretty sick and tired of looking at that big black ass.”
Geraghty hopes Demonstrative gets to see the back end of Parker’s Project Saturday, and hopes for anther step forward from the veteran who missed more than two years with an injury before returning in the Lonesome Glory. Getting 18 pounds from the winner, Parker’s Project rallied in the stretch but was repulsed in the final yards. At level weights in the Grand National, Parker’s Project settled for third behind Demonstrative and Divine Fortune. Geraghty liked both efforts, and expects improvement.
The trip, 2 3/4 miles, won’t be a problem. The flat, wide-open course won’t be either.
“My horse is going to improve again for Far Hills, racing will make him better,” said Geraghty. “It won’t surprise me if I can get by him and it won’t surprise me if I can’t get by him either. I wouldn’t swap him.”
For anybody but Demonstrative, that is.
“He’s a really, really good looking horse - big, strong, that dark color, he always shines, he always looks impeccable,” Geraghty said of the favorite. “He’s just got this presence. When you loom up beside him, his physique is very nice to watch, the way he works. He’s got a great action. When we were running into the dip at Far Hills, that’s where I saw him looking his best. He looked so strong that day.”
Demonstrative drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths, leaving Divine Fortune, Parker’s Project, Barnstorming and Bluegrass Summer behind. They all return for another go in the Cup, which Demonstrative won in 2012 with a late rush through the stretch.
Top Striker is the only unfamiliar foe and could be a pace factor, or at least a speed factor at some point in the race. Trained by Arch Kingsley for Sue Sensor, Top Striker won the Carolina Cup (going 2 1/8 miles) over the course in March and signaled his readiness for this with a romp in the AFLAC Supreme novice hurdle stakes at Callaway Gardens two weeks ago. Bernie Dalton takes the return riding assignment on the 6-year-old Maryland-bred, who makes his first start in open company.
“You would prefer to be getting some weight, but he’s fit, he’s well, he’s in good form,” said Dalton. “He’s a classy horse and I’d think he settles he’ll stay (the distance). The way he felt (at Callaway, going 2 1/4 miles) he would have gone round again.”
Dalton called that win as simple as “point and shoot.” Top Striker gets a tougher assignment Saturday, but will most likely be in front of Demonstrative early and could make things interesting over the last half-mile. Demonstrative has been sitting closer to the pace this year for jockey Robbie Walsh, but has been adept at coming from farther back in the field as well.
Divine Fortune beat Demonstrative in May, but struggled in his next two (a pull-up at Saratoga and a fall at Belmont) before finishing second in a solid effort in the Grand National. The 11-year-old, trained by Sheppard for Bill Pape, was second in the 2011 and 2012 Cups – and fourth last year. Darren Nagle rides again. Sheppard trainees Barnstorming and Bluegrass Summer complete the six-horse field.
Other Cup Action
The day starts with a $25,000 maiden hurdle where five of the 10 horses in the body of the race (there’s an 11th on the also-eligible list) finished second or third in their last starts. Yellow Mountain, Tahoe Lake, Overwhelming and Murphys Covert look like the main players.
Perfect Union looks to win his second 3-year-old stakes in as many tries for Peggy Steinman and trainer Doug Fout in the $25,000 Raymond Woolfe Memorial.
The timber race drew stakes horses Straight To It, Dakota Slew and Brother Sy in a field of seven.
The starter allowance hurdle features solid veterans Northern Bay, Mr. Universo, Sir Dynamite, Wantan and En Fuego.
The allowance hurdle gives novice Choral Society another spot along with recent winner Long House Saint.
The day wraps up with a training flat race for amateur jockeys.
The NSA and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association host the annual awards dinner Saturday night at the National Steeplechase Museum. End-of-season prizes for divisional champions will be handed out with most already decided (for a change). Willie McCarthy (jockey), Jack Fisher (trainer), Irv Naylor (owner) and Demonstrative (leading horse) get the major prizes with the official steeplechase champion coming with the Eclipse Award votes in January.
For more, see the Colonial Cup website.