Eighteen and a half couple, voices in full cry. Foxhunter math for 37 hounds galloping in pursuit of their fox.
Behind the pack, Harrods Creek exchanges each stride for four hoof-sized divots in the buff sod of a Virginia cow pasture. The remnants of an early winter snow linger in a few shady spots.
Five years earlier on a spring morning in 2015, jump trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. loaded the Kentucky-bred son of Langfuhr onto a van at his Camden, S.C., farm for the 450-mile trip up I-95 to Middleburg, Va.
The black-type winner didn’t have anything left to prove on the track.
In 33 starts, Harrods Creek captured the 1 5/8-mile John’s Call Stakes at Saratoga Race Course and was third in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita Park for trainer Bill Mott in 2012. He broke his maiden over hurdles for Kingsley a year later.
Owner David Richardson sent his homebred to Kingsley in late 2013. A friend from Kingsley’s days working for Mott, Richardson fulfilled a promise he’d made years before to support Kingsley with a jumper.
“Harrods Creek was a rare bird – he was a three-turn grass horse, and at the age of 6, he was running out of conditions – so there wasn’t much left for him to do on the flat,” Kingsley said. “He wasn’t quite making the cut in the graded stakes races, so [Richardson] called me and we decided to try him as a jumper.”
After a successful season as a hurdler that included a win in a maiden at Parx Racing and a respectable second in a $65,000 allowance hurdle at Saratoga, Kingsley and Richardson made the call to retire the then 7-year-old due to a minor injury. Harrods Creek retired with $319,971 in earnings.
Like half a dozen of Kingsley’s horses before him, Harrods Creek traded racing plates for steel shoes and road studs when he entered longtime Middleburg Hunt whipper-in Carey Shefte’s stable.
“I’ve been able to count on Carey to give a good home to some of my dearest friends,” Kingsley said. “I live comfortably knowing that horses that were really good to me have been well looked after by Carey, and Harrods Creek was certainly deserving of one of those precious spots in her barn.”
For the past two decades, Shefte has been mounted on a well turned out Thoroughbred every Monday, Thursday and Saturday from September to March. Whipping-in – a passion for Shefte –has been described as “being in the right place at the right time, and knowing what to do when you get there.”
It’s a tall order for any horse and rider. Especially when the right place is a craggy precipice along Goose Creek where a fox has gone to ground. Or the four-lane stretch of Route 50, just in time to intercept the pack and turn them away from traffic. And the right time was five minutes ago (for me), but Shefte’s always there.
A bold, unquestioning horse is a prerequisite for the job. A good jumper comes in handy, too, when faced with a nine-board coop, sizable stone wall, or 4 1/2-foot gate (if you’re Shefte – the rest of us might choose to open it).
Harrods Creek stacks up.
“He’s just an honest, trustworthy, straightforward boy,” Shefte says with a grin.
She pulls up at the end of the day’s final hunt. Lather streams down a copper canvas stretched taught over a frame of muscle. The smell of earth, salt (and wet hound) permeate as we hack the 18 1/2 couple back to the meet.
It’s a long way from Saratoga to Virginia hunt country, but Harrods Creek strides behind the Middleburg Hunt’s pack of American Foxhounds as naturally as he did down the stretch of the Mellon Turf Course. Ears forward, eyes alert, nostrils flared – his attention always on the hounds.
“He’s a horse that makes you feel like a warrior when you’re sitting on him,” Kingsley said.
Shefte couldn’t agree more.