Sorry fans. Been throwing baseballs, doing yardwork, cleaning out the shed, barbecuing, playing with the dog. Nice Memorial Day Weekend. It started with the Fair Hill Races Saturday with what officially constituted work but was more like a half-day.
Predictably, the nine-race card included plenty. Flat races, hurdle races, a timber race; an upset or two; doubles by two jockeys. Oh and funnel cake and beer and bluegrass music. Michael Dickinson was there. So was Rick Mettee and what seemed like half of Cecil County, Maryland.
Dale Thiel’s Call Me Sonny won the featured Valentine Memorial hurdle stakes. The $40,000 race changed its spots to a starter handicap – from a filly/mare stakes – this year. The six veterans who showed up put on a show with 7-year-old Call Me Sonny and jockey Paddy Young using a good trip to outrun Brave Prospect and Complete Zen late and win by 8 ¼ lengths as the 4-1 third choice. Trained by Ricky Hendriks, the winner prevailed for the third time over jumps, though he’s twice been disqualified from victories (once for a medication positive and once for carrying an improper weight). Call Me Sonny has also been claimed twice since joining the jump ranks from a four-win flat career two years ago. The son of Posse and the Cozzene mare Chocolate Mauk joined Hendriks’ barn via a $15,000 claim last September at Shawan Downs. He’s won twice since and nearly doubled his career steeplechase bankroll with Saturday’s $24,000 payday.
The win was one of two on the day for Young, who also guided Kingdom home first in a $20,000 maiden hurdle. Owned by Betty and Laddie Merck’s The Fields Stable, the 4-year-old broke through the maiden barrier in his sixth try. He placed in two stakes as a 3-year-old last season and came to Fair Hill off three maiden defeats this year – a fourth at Camden, a second at Middleburg and a well-beaten sixth at Great Meadow. Trained by Tom Voss, the Maryland-bred son of Louis Quatorze and the Eastern Echo mare Distant Drumroll reeled in early leader Puller and rolled home by 19 lengths. Kingdom spoke up for pedigree as his dam won over jumps and also produced steeplechase winners Guelph (a novice and filly/mare champion), Hold Your Fire and Wanganui.
Not to be outdone by Young, Ross Geraghty also booted home two winners on the day – taking a filly/mare maiden with Zafeen’s Pearl and a maiden claimer with Prime Prospector. The former, racing for Naylor and Slater, was bred in England but raced on the flat in California, where she placed in the Grade 1 Vanity and won an optional claimer on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park last year. Over jumps, she’s been on either side of a photo finish – placing second by a head at Camden and winning by a head Saturday. The 6-year-old mare held off a final lunge from Take Her To the Top. Hunter Forward was third.
Riverdee Stable’s Prime Prospector, a 5-year-old son of Seeking The Gold, streaked home in the maiden claimer for Geraghty and trainer Todd Wyatt. The Kentucky-bred raced wide throughout and still kicked away from everyone to win by 8 ¼ lengths over Pie Town with Classy Dylan third. Trained by Christophe Clement and Mike Stidham on the flat, the winner made his jump debut with a third at Middleburg last month.
Grade 1 hurdle winner Tax Ruling became a timber winner with an easy score in the day’s finale, a $15,000 novice timber, for Naylor, Slater and jockey James Slater. The trainer’s husband put the 10-year-old son of Dynaformer just off the pace set by Saluda Sam, then kicked away from everyone over the final half-mile to win by 4 lengths over Peace Fire and Grand Pride.
In his third try, The Elkstone Group’s Albany Road (Robbie Walsh) graduated the maiden ranks for trainer Richard Valentine. The 6-year-old son of Mr. Greeley pulled away from Jamarjo late to win by 3 ¾ lengths with Cognashene third. The winner scored four times on the flat and spent much of last year at Presque Isle Downs with trainer Ron Potts. Albany Road took part in the Pennsylvania track’s marathon series, placing third at 1 5/8 and 1 3/4 miles, finishing second at 2 and 2 1/8 miles, and winning the finale at 2 1/4 miles – all on the synthetic.
Veteran Easy Reach won for the second straight time when he dragged Xavier Aizpuru around the Fair Hill track in the conditioned claimer, leading throughout and scoring by 4 ¾ lengths over Class Launch, who edged El Season for the place. Trained by Jack Fisher, the 7-year-old son of Arch lost his first seven jump starts before winning at the Queen’s Cup in April and now Fair Hill.
The opener, a 7-furlong training flat, went to Merriefield Farm’s Irish import Royal Bench. The 6-year-old made more than $1 million on the flat in Europe and is now part of the Tom Voss barn. The son of Whipper scored easily Saturday for jockey Willie McCarthy. Shanghai Daddy finished second with Navy Brass third.
In the second, Debra Kachel’s Wide Receive hung on – barely – to win a 1 ¼-mile training flat for Hendriks and his son McLane. The 5-year-old son of Hennessy held off Verne by a neck with Canaveral third.
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