Far Hills: Le Chevalier dominates New Jersey Hunt Cup

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Paddock judges check equipment for every horse, every race at the major tracks. It’s a simple process, checking off blinkers, tongue tie, etc. It takes seconds.

In steeplechasing, it’s not part of the protocol. Good thing or the paddock judge at Far Hills might still be taking notes for Le Chevalier.

“There’s nothing else we can put on,” trainer Julie Gomena said, after the New Jersey Hunt Cup.

Figure-eight noseband. Regular noseband. Tongue tie. Cheek pieces. Standing martingale. Inside bit burr. Front woof boots. Hind timber bandages.

Somehow the combination worked, giving jockey Mark Beecher enough control to keep the 7-year-old off the pace for most of the timber stakes. When Beecher finally relented and let the son of Broken Vow gallop forward, it was over quickly as Le Chevalier put away long-time leader Puller and drew off to win by 11 lengths.

Owned by Otter Racing, the Kentucky-bred gelding notched his second timber score this season. In a star-crossed eight-start steeplechase career, Le Chevalier fell over hurdles twice for Bill Wofford. Over timber, he’s speckled his career with comments ranging from stumbled to ducked out to hit fence to lost rider. All those blips were stymied at Far Hills as Beecher kept the lid on the pot long enough to dominate five rivals.

Beecher is happy to have the equipment.

“Julie Gomena was a good enough event rider, she knows what she’s doing,” Beecher said. “I schooled him this year in Aiken, I went about 2 miles around the old racecourse and came to the second to last, I said, ‘Now, I can relax,’ leaned a little bit forward, he smacked me, boom, clean in the head, nearly knocked me off. I was like, ‘Julie, I’ve got to do something about his head.’ “

Beecher parked Le Chevalier fourth on the inside as the field went under the wire for the first time. By the second time, he had pulled his way to second, head rocking side to side, up and down as Beecher adjusted his hands like he was juggling squirrels. By the third time under the wire, Le Chevalier had begun to win the battle, inching closer in second.

“I was thinking why is it four circuits around here?” Beecher said. “He’s just not a one-hold horse, you’re chopping and changing, if you tried to do it all in one, you’d be done.”

Beecher was nearly done at the fourth-to-last as Le Chevalier lurked to the outside of Puller but hit the five-rail obstacle with his front knees. Undaunted, Le Chevalier flew the third-to-last and stormed past Puller on the outside. Despite lugging in on the turn, Le Chevalier was in control, flying the second-to-last and popping the last.

“He’s tough. He’s just tough. He has more jump than anything I’ve ridden, but when he sees it, it’s like he wants to eat the bloody thing, you’re like, ‘No, come here.’ He had one iffy one down the back and I was nearly gone off him,” Beecher said. “He’s relentless. I feel like a monkey on his back, if anyone was watching this and you said this fellow is a rider, or a jockey, they’d laugh at you, all you’re doing is wrestling with him.”

A two-time winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup, Beecher can usually finesse horses. There is no finesse with Le Chevalier.

“It’s like he wants to fight, he nearly wants to question your bottle all the time, I’m not sure I can ride him in a couple of years time,” Beecher said. “I’ll tell you where he won it, the second to last, flew that. I made him back up and pop the last, I didn’t want to go down and deck him. To stay pulling up this hill…I could barely pull him up. He’s a terrific horse, if we can tune it a little bit more, I think we’ve got a hell of a horse.”