Game of Inches: Colonial Cup closes season

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In a game known for distance, it comes down to inches. The Eclipse Award still hangs in the balance as entries close for this year’s Colonial Cup. The Grade 1 stakes, worth $100,000, attracted 12 entries for its 2 3/4 miles of pull-the-curtain finality Saturday at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.

Two of those 12, Spy In The Sky and Demonstrative, still hold championship aspirations after splitting stakes at Saratoga and posting other big efforts during a parody-filled year. Earnings leader and if-you-voted-today champion Pierrot Lunaire, has been turned out for the year. If Spy In The Sky or Demonstrative dominate the Colonial Cup, it’s a wait-for-the-Eclipse Awards dinner result.

That’s what happens when it comes down to inches.

If Spy In The Sky happens to be on a different stride, he wins a nose decision over Pierrot Lunaire in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park back in September and comes to the Colonial Cup as favorite for the honor. You can be sure, Pierrot Lunaire would be making the trip rather than playing it safe.

If the annual rain at Far Hills came Saturday night rather than Friday, trainer Jimmy Day runs Randleston Farm’s Spy In The Sky at Far Hills and the three-way meeting of the Eclipse candidates takes place on the track instead of on paper. With an inch or two less water on the Far Hills turf, it could all be different.

If Divine Fortune fell a different way in the New York Turf Writers Cup, Spy In The Sky gets a clear run and perhaps makes it closer on Demonstrative. Of course, the latter cut his hind ankle in the melee. Inches. Inches. Inches.

“He’s doing really, really well. He’s training super,” Day said of Spy In The Sky. “He’s ready to run. I’m very happy with where I’m at, he’s run well over that track every time. It would have made it better if Pierrot Lunaire ran, it would have given us a chance to step up on good ground and have a go at him. I was looking forward to running against him again.”

Day said bypassing Far Hills was frustrating to the humans around Spy In The Sky, but did little to the horse.

“It doesn’t bother him a bit, when you’re an 8-year-old, you just pick up and go on to the next one,” the trainer said. “He’s done a couple of brisk works at home and he’s in good shape. It’s wonderful to see him come back and enjoy it again.”

If Bruce Miller or Blythe Miller or whomever is calling the shots on Mary Ann Houghland’s Pierrot Lunaire gave an inch, running the only two-time Grade 1 winner in the Colonial Cup, settling the championship on the racetrack rather than the clubhouse, then the sport would have a definite answer. Instead, in a game known for distance, it comes down to inches. Pierrot Lunaire piled two big wins at the end of his season, but double-digit losses in the Iroquois and Zeke Ferguson plus a loss in the Temple Gwathmey don’t bolster his claims to the award. On the plus side, he beat Demonstrative in their two meetings and Spy In The Sky in the Lonesome Glory.

“He had two tough races, and we just wanted to stop with him,” said Bruce Miller. “He came out of Far Hills well and is feeling well. We went back and forth for a while, but he hasn’t got much more to prove. We didn’t want to get greedy.”

If Robbie Walsh lands an inch this way or an inch that way, perhaps he doesn’t break his hip falling from Dr. Wheat at Belmont or if Matt McCarron slides an inch quicker after falling with Fog Island, perhaps he doesn’t get knocked out in the same race. If for an inch, Demonstrative runs in the Lonesome Glory, on a track he relishes, on ground he cherishes and perhaps he comes to the Colonial Cup as the only two-time Grade 1 winner on the year, instead he scratched from the Lonesome Glory and audibled to Far Hills. Owned by Jacqueline Ohrstrom, Demonstrative enters off a gallant, albeit losing effort, in the Grand National.

“As everybody knows, I wanted to skip Far Hills and go to Belmont and Camden, he’s won at Camden as a 3-year-old and I think he’ll love the Colonial Cup. I don’t have an issue with the distance over good ground,” Valentine said. “The horse is well, we’re looking forward to him running. The purse of the Colonial Cup is different and it might not mean anything for an Eclipse Award, but it’s still a very historic race and means a lot on the calendar.”

Now, if any of the other 10 nominees wins the Colonial Cup, Pierrot Lunaire wins the award by a landslide, not an inchslide.

Remember, since its inception in 1970, the Colonial Cup represents a different test than any other race during the season. It’s not the Iroquois, 3 miles of spring stamina. It’s not the New York Turf Writers Cup, 2 3/8 miles of speed and step. It’s not the Lonesome Glory, a 2 1/2-mile intersection of horses still standing after Saratoga and who skipped Saratoga. And it’s certainly not the Grand National, 2 5/8 miles of slog and stealth. There are horses who wake up every year for the Colonial Cup and there are others who prove year after year that it’s not their thing. Even if the Grand National has a bigger purse, the Iroquois has the mystique of 3 miles, the Turf Writers is in front of the world and even without the traditional natural brush, it’s still the race of the year. There is only one finale.

Demonstrative and Spy In The Sky hold the best chances of earning a bronze horse for the mantle of their connections but there are others in the classic who sport solid chances.

Brianne Slater nominated four imports for leading owner Irv Naylor. The good soldier, Decoy Daddy, finished second in the Noel Laing, his first jump start of the fall. Charminster ran hard against Demonstrative at Saratoga and Pierrot Lunaire at Belmont but failed to land a blow in the Grand National. Jack Cool and You’re The Top flopped in their domestic debuts in the Grand National but could still threaten on their best days.  

Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away, champion in 2010, returned to the races in the Noel Laing, fading to fourth behind Rainiero, Decoy Daddy and Cornhusker. Did he need it? If he needed it and he is anything close to the same horse who toyed with eight rivals, winning the 2010 Colonial Cup by 26 lengths, then look out.

Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard nominated veteran Divine Fortune and recent novice graduate History Boy. The former put everyone on the run in the Grand National, skipping over the soft turf like he was wearing roller blades down Sunset Strip. Bill Pape’s seven-time winner owns just one win this year but when ridden forwardly, he’s a factor against anybody. Timber Bay’s History Boy found nothing in the deep ground at Far Hills and needs to recapture his summer form that netted an allowance race at Penn National and the Mickey Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga.

Leslie Young nominated Hickory Tree Stable’s Gustavian, runner-up to Fog Island in the novice stakes at Far Hills and a winner of the novice stakes at Belmont Park in his previous start. Bernie Dalton, regular rider for Pierrot Lunaire, picks up the ride.

Hall of Famer Janet Elliot nominated Greg Hawkins’ Alajmal and Gene Weymouth’s Wild For Gold. The former won an allowance race at Saratoga before a dull effort at Far Hills in soft ground. The duo ran 1-2 in the flat race at Charleston.

Two still dream about an Eclipse Award while 10 others simply dream of a Cup.


The Colonial Cup field in post position order with trainer, jockey:

1. Demonstrative. Richard Valentine, Matt McCarron

2. Charminster. Brianne Slater, Ross Geraghty

3. Gustavian. Leslie Young. Bernie Dalton

4. Decoy Daddy. Brianne Slater, Jeff Murphy

5. Slip Away. Tom Voss, Paddy Young

6. Divine Fortune. Jonathan Sheppard, Darren Nagle

7. You’re The Top. Brianne Slater, James Slater

8. Alajmal. Janet Elliot, Richard Boucher

9. Spy In The Sky. Jimmy Day, Danielle Hodsdon

10. History Boy. Jonathan Sheppard, Brian Crowley

11. Wild For Gold. Janet Elliot, Roddy Mackenzie

12. Jack Cool. Brianne Slater, Xavier Aizpuru

All carry 156 pounds, except 4-year-old Alajmal (146). 2 3/4 miles over National Fences. Fourth race of six on the card, which starts at 12:30 p.m.

For entries, see National Steeplechase Association.

For more about the race, how to attend and more, see Colonial Cup website.