From Tennessee to Pennsylvania, the volume ramps up as the jumpers go on the road to the Iroquois Steeplechase and the Willowdale Steeplechase this weekend. Southwest Airlines will be busy, shuttling owners, trainers, jockeys and fans from Nashville to Unionville.
There are races for every class this weekend. The Iroquois, the sport’s most iconic, historical and competitive spring stop on the tour, has been circled for months – years – for most of the runners while Willowdale offers a chance for hurdle and timber horses to earn an hourly rate before their summer break.
As for last week, the intrepid ST Handicappers each picked four winners. Joe tabbed Andi’amu, Renown, Eyrx and Canaveral to continue his pace-setting chores (call him Promises Fulfilled) with 20 winners. Sean picked Andi’amu, Renown, Sixty Five, Rudyard K to stay in second with 18 winners and Tom, well, at least he’s reached double digits, selecting Andi’amu, Warp Factor, Rudyard K (two scratched into) and Canaveral, but he still lags with 10 winners.
The Iroquois Steeplechase. Nashville, Tenn. First race, 1:00 central time.
Race 1. The Green Pastures. Allowance Hurdle. $50,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Six line up for the opener and it’s a stellar six. Spring winners Sail Ahoy, Last Shani and Ocean Ready meet fall winners Down Royal and Whitman’s Poetry and they all have to meet Lord Justice, two-time winner in England who just missed in his 2018 debut and is receives a weight break from less experienced rivals.
- Joe: Lord Justice, Last Shani, Sail Ahoy.
- Sean: Lord Justice, Last Shani, Whitman’s Poetry.
- Tom: Lord Justice, Sail Ahoy, Down Royal.
Race 2. Bright Hour. Ratings Hurdle. $35,000. 3 miles.
The Iroquois’ little brother, the 3-mile affair attracts a solid group of 10 veterans who range from the top, Schoodic, at 128, and the bottom, Indy’s Legacy, at 105. Like a Chipotle burrito, there’s everything in between.
- Joe: Able Archer, Classical Art, Schoodic.
- Sean: Schoodic, Laser Light, Three Kingdoms.
- Tom: Able Archer, Wild Dynaformer, Schoodic.
Race 3. Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle. Novice Stakes. $100,000. 2 ¼ miles.
So, we meet again. Ice It, Lachares and New Member clashed in the Carolina Cup and the Queen’s Cup two weeks ago. Barnacle Bill went the easy route and nabbed a purse in Georgia. Gibralfaro captured a feature at Tryon. Iranistan, well, Iranistan is a freak. Wow, another puzzler.
- Joe: Barnacle Bill, Gibralfaro, Iranistan.
- Sean: Iranistan, Gibralfaro, New Member.
- Tom: New Member, Osmoz, Gibralfaro.
Race 4. Margaret Currey Henley. Filly & Mare Hurdle Stakes. $50,000. 2 ¼ miles.
How do you think Jonathan Sheppard is going to watch this one? The Hall of Famer will be perched on the corner of the post and rail fence on the corner of the hurdle and timber courses, binoculars in hand, tie breezing and watching Inverness, Stalled, Pram, Wigwam Baby and Rare Mix. Yes, the five of them. They’ll need to be sharp to beat last year’s winner, Sarah Joyce, for Elizabeth Voss and Jack Doyle, who couldn’t run down Pram and Stalled at Camden, but will appreciate the stayer’s trip here.
- Joe: Sarah Joyce, Rare Mix, Get Ready Set Goes.
- Sean: Sarah Joyce, Pram, Wigwam Baby.
- Tom: Pram, Sarah Joyce, Stalled.
Race 5. The George & John Sloan Sr. Maiden Hurdle. $40,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Traditionally the best maiden race of the year, this one lures eight horses, who have hit the board over hurdles in their careers, including Queen’s Cup runner-up Cite, who should graduate here.
- Joe: Cite, Forward Thinker, Belisarius.
- Sean: Cite, Belisarius, Forward Thinker.
- Tom: Moss Code, Alshibaa, Belisarius.
Race 6. Mason Houghland Memorial. Timber Stakes. $50,000. 3 miles.
Last year’s winner, Cornhusker, tries to turn back the clock yet again, the veteran has lost five straight since winning here in 2018. El Jefe Grande and Plated have point-to-point form. Dye Fore and Two’s Company need a jolt for Jack Fisher.
- Joe: Cornhusker, Plated, Western Exchange.
- Sean: El Jefe Grande, Cornhusker, Western Exchange.
- Tom: Cornhusker, Dye Fore, Plated.
Race 7. Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Grade 1 Hurdle Stakes. $200,000. 3 miles.
And the finale. Seven line up for the spring’s best race. Mr. Hot Stuff, Modem and All The Way Jose finished 1-2-3 in the Grand National in the fall. Mr. Hot Stuff and All The Way Jose prepped in the Temple Gwathmey while Modem, runner-up in three Grade 1 stakes last year, takes an audacious step, trying to go 3 miles in his first start of the year. Zanjabeel ran hard in the Colonial Cup (whew, that’s tough to type in the spring) and the Gwathmey. Kremlin dominated ratings rivals at Queen’s Cup but makes his open stakes debut. Longshots Sempre Medice and Jamarjo represent Irv Naylor.
- Joe: Modem, Mr. Hot Stuff, All The Way Jose.
- Sean: Mr. Hot Stuff, All The Way Jose, Modem.
- Tom: Modem, Kremlin, All The Way Jose.
Willowdale Steeplechase. Unionville, Pa. First race, 1:30.
Race 1. The Liam Magee. Training Flat Race. 2 miles.
Preps for Radnor and Fair Hill or something bigger and better down the road?
- Joe: Surprising Soul, Clutch Catch, I Am Not Here.
- Sean: Surprising Soul, I Am Not Here, Woodfield Springs.
- Tom: Gmac, I Am Not Here, Surprising Soul.
Race 2. The Folly. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $15,000. 2 ¼ miles.
The hardest working horses in the game, a full field of maiden claimers try to pay their rents. Satish and Red Mist drop from the maiden ranks. Ricky Hendriks, the king of maiden claimers, sends out Get Out Of Town. Ebullience comes back in two weeks after finishing second at Foxfield in his 2018 debut. The ST Handicappers are going through their maiden claimer mantras – “the unknown is better than the known.”
- Joe: Ebullience, Red Mist, Corstorphine.
- Sean: Ebullience, Satish, Red Mist.
- Tom: Ebullience, Corstorphine, Fletched.
Race 3. The Rose Tree Cup. Conditioned Claiming Hurdle. $20,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Wow, this is a competitive race. Canaveral won a training flat race last week. Street Passage dominated at Aiken. Really Ready looked strong at Middleburg. But, as always, it’s a chasm between winning a maiden claimer and winning a conditioned claimer, the ST Handicappers think Street Passage will span it. Darts meet dartboard.
- Joe: Street Passage, Really Ready, Show King
- Sean: Street Passage, Show King, Really Ready.
- Tom: Street Passage, Canaveral, Hanno.
Race 4. Willowdale Steeplechase. Timber Stakes. $35,000. 3 ½ miles.
The timber champion Doc Cebu returns to Willowdale to try to right the ship, after a shocking loss at Middleburg. Tough trip that day, the ship should be righted here. Maryland Hunt Cup winner Raven’s Choice just missed in the Grand National, the gallant veteran hasn’t lost his fastball.
- Joe: Raven’s Choice, Doc Cebu, Daddy In The Dark.
- Sean: Doc Cebu, Raven’s Choice, Monstaleur.
- Tom: Raven’s Choice, Monstaleur, Doc Cebu.
Race 5. The Landhope Cup. Maiden Timber. $15,000. 3 miles.
Willowdale split its maiden timber – from the horsemen, thank you! The opener attracts a competitive group, including Irish-bred Political Theatre, who was third in his American debut at the Grand National for Mary McGlothlin. Kingofalldiamonds finished third at the Queen’s Cup.
- Joe: Kingofalldiamonds, Spirit Of Shankly, Jewish Holiday.
- Sean: Political Theatre, Kingofalldiamonds, Jewish Holiday.
- Tom: Political Theatre, Jewish Holiday, Kingofalldiamonds.
Race 6. The Landhope Cup. Maiden Timber. $15,000. 3 miles.
The second division is equally as competitive with newcomers and oldtimers converging. Causeworthy didn’t show much at the My Lady’s Manor but came back to win at the Middleburg Point-to-Point.
- Joe: Biedermeier, Last Farewell, Sweet Talking Guy.
- Sean: Biedermeier, Causeworthy, Sweet Talking Guy.
- Tom: Causeworthy, Biedermeier, Sweet Talking Guy.
Race 7. Marshall Jenney Memorial. Amateur/apprentice timber. $15,000. 3 miles.
And, whew, the finale. Here’s to everyone finishing the weekend healthy and happy.
- Joe: Stand Down, Straight To It, Aquies.
- Sean: Stand Down, Straight To It, Pied du Roi.
- Tom: Straight To It, Aquies, Saluda Sam.