Jack Doyle pulled off Sue Sensor’s green and yellow silks and smiled, a contented, job-done smile from a jockey who just earned $2,400 and got a jump start on the season, guiding two winners at the Aiken Steeplechase March 24, the traditional season opener.
Two found winners as Doyle guided Bite The Bit for Jonathan Sheppard and Street Passage for Fenneka Bentley. Doyle’s main supplier, Elizabeth Voss, had yet to run a jumper and Doyle was at the top of the leaderboard. Last season, he won his second race of the season at Queen’s Cup in late April.
“Hit the ground running,” Doyle said. “I was a bit slow getting going last year. The first was a catch ride, I’ve only ridden a couple of rides for Sheppard and I always try to ride for Fenneka and Dave (Bentley), they’ve only got a couple of horses but they seem do very well with what they’ve got.”
While most jockeys would be a little rusty at Aiken, Doyle was in tune after a winter at home in Ireland.
“I rode three or four races but I was fairly busy riding out with my dad,” Doyle said. “He’s got 40 in, they’re all youngsters, so we did a lot of schooling, soft ground, so you’re riding them around there, you’re fitter doing that than riding 10 a day here.”
Home from Thanksgiving to mid-February, Doyle returned and immediately took six horses to Camden for Voss, who sent out three flat horses at Aiken and entered two jumpers and a flat horse at Camden.
“Trying to get the hunt meet horses ready earlier,” Doyle said.
Bite The Bit and Street Passage were ready at Aiken.
Bite The Bit made his hurdle debut at the Aiken fall meet for owner/trainer Sheppard, finishing second in a maiden claimer. Purchased by Riverdee Stable in the off-season, the son of Henrythenavigator found a comfortable spot in the six-horse field, stalked Go Get The Basil around the final turn, flew the last and eased away to win by 2 1/2 lengths.
“Very straightforward, jumped, traveled, quickened up nicely down to the last,” Doyle said. “Not as straightforward as the last fellow.”
On auto pilot, Street Passage faced five rivals in the Ford D. Conger, the second division of the maiden claimer. The quintet quickly became a trio after Change Maker (Mikey Mitchell) and Gotta Get Away (Ross Geraghty) came down at the first, and sauntered home by nearly 20 eased-down lengths. The 6-year-old son of Bernardini had turned Doyle into a liar since they met at Fair Hill in 2016.
“Every time I got off him, I’d say, ‘We’ll win with him next time.’ At least we followed through,” Doyle said. “It’s taken a long time, I’ve been second and third on him three or four times.”
Actually, second twice and third three times.
“It was good to finally get him there,” Doyle said.
Doyle simplified the process, avoiding the melee at the first and never looking back.
“Mikey was in front of me, I jumped by him when he was still up in the air, I didn’t see Rosco, I didn’t realize he had gone until the last time around when I heard someone coming, I look behind me and it was the loose horse, I couldn’t see anyone else, so it was a just a matter of staying on our feet from there home,” Doyle said. “I ride the exact way I always ride, there’s no point in trying to bring him back and you do something silly, he’s got loads of experience so I left him alone all the way.”
Fenneka Bentley wasn’t as composed as Doyle.
“Scary, because he’s always second,” Bentley said. “I left it all to Jack to decide what to do, I was hoping he would keep him in behind and then pick them off toward the end, he started a bit earlier than we expected. He’s been training well, he seems to love the game. It’s been a little frustrating, because he did the same thing on the flat, he got his flat race last year and now he has his jump race this year. He’s a character.”
Street Passage, one of 12 horses trained by Bentley and her husband, former champion jockey, Dave, spent the winter in Fair Hill.
“It’s been tough up there, we’ve been doing our usual stuff, jogging the roads, around the field, we did some snow training on Thursday before we came here, you battle it out in the winter,” Bentley said. “He had his winter break, you hope that he’s fit enough. Dave is a taskmaster, it’ll be snowing and Dave will say, ‘We’ve got to get him out.’ On Wednesday, it’s pouring down with snow and I’m riding this filly, she’s looking at me like ‘Are you crazy?’ and Passage is out there galloping around.”
The G.H. Bostwick maiden hurdle, won by Bite The Bit, wound up the feature, by purse, after the original Budweiser Imperial Cup failed to attract enough entries. The name transferred to a ratings hurdle, won easily by Able Archer. Owned by KMSN Stable and trained by Sheppard, Able Archer carried top weight of 158 and made that look lenient with a 10 1/2-length romp over Indigo Heart and Borderlinedecision. Kieran Norris guided the 6-year-old son of Eskendereya, who improved his hurdle record to 2-for-8.
Change Of View took the Charles S. Bird, the first division of the maiden claimer for Irv Naylor, Kathy Neilson and Gerard Galligan. The 4-year-old son of Bullet Train improved from two disappointing runs last fall when finishing fifth against 3-year-olds at Shawan Downs and pulling up against open maidens at Aiken. Rested and regrouped, the likeable gelding drew off to win comfortably by 2 3/4 lengths.
Apprentice Keri Brion won both training flat races, steering Kilronan to win the W.C. Jackson and Inverness to win the James W. Maloney.
Kilronan, a 3-year-old son of Point Of Entry, turned back Causei’mwonderful by a neck for the Saratoga boys, J. David Richardson, Richard Knapp and Bob Agnello and trainer Arch Kingsley in the 7-furlong opener.
“We bought him as a yearling, we looked at a lot of horses,” Richardson said. “Hopefully we can go to Keeneland.”
Inverness dominated the second, an open flat going 1 1/4 miles. Owned by KMSN Stable and trained by Sheppard, the 4-year-old filly accelerated with ease to score by 1 3/4 lengths over Carolina Cup winner Show Court and Sail Ahoy, a half-brother to Point Of Entry.
A daughter of Giant’s Causeway, Inverness produced 1-for-5 record on the flat last season for Sheppard, taking a Pennsylvania-bred maiden at Penn National in June.
“I can’t believe she ran like that,” Brion said. “She’ll be tough in the maiden filly at Atlanta.”