The last big weekend of the steeplechase season (hey don’t forget Charleston!) is here. Callaway Gardens, Montpelier and Pennsylvania Hunt Cup offer late-season chances for horses to cap off their seasons and for horsemen to earn Christmas money. Novices try to graduate at Callaway, veteran hurdlers aim at the Noel Laing and timber horses leap high at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
As for the championship races, Rosbrian Farm is home and hosed as champion owner (they say Irv Naylor is stocking up for 2019), Jury Duty won the earnings title but Zanjabeel surely has the Eclipse Award under his feed tub and Doc Cebu’s trophy doesn’t have to leave Charlie Fenwick’s mantel. As they should, the trainer and jockey races-won races are still in pencil. Ricky Hendriks leads Jack Fisher by two wins for champion trainer, Hendriks has more runners this weekend. Jack Doyle, searching for his first title, leads former champions Darren Nagle by one win and Ross Geraghty by two wins. Doyle and Geraghty go for quantity at Montpelier while Nagle goes for quality at Callaway. Sunday, Doyle and Nagle open their tack bags while Geraghty walks his dog.
If you’re keeping score at home, the leaders’ dockets look like this:
Doyle: Wigwam Baby, Jump To Juneau, Geyser, Mr Singh, Euro Power, All The Way Jose, Coastal Moon, It’s Nothing, Carrickboy.
Geraghty: Specialeyes, Sugimoto, Fletched, Zeppelin Ride, Quarla, Detroit Blues.
Nagle: Formidable Heart, Don’t Scip A Check, Ice It, Hooded.
As for the ST Handicappers, it’s the last major chance to hold on or close the gap in the fall competition. Sixteen races – hurdle, timber and flat – could make or break a man’s season. Last week, Sean picked eight winners, yes, eight winners as Renown, Katnap, Elucidation, Optimus Prime, Doc Cebu (anybody see what the Gold Cup Early Pick Five paid?) and Shrove Tuesday won at the International Gold Cup and Diplodocus and Av A Word won at Aiken. “College Tour” Joe had a productive weekend (and lost ground), picking five winners (Elucidation, Optimus Prime, Doc Cebu, Shrove Tuesday, Barhanpour) and “West Sixth” Tom managed to pick Barhanpour, Optimus Prime, Doc Cebu and Barhanpour.
For the season, Sean leads with 16 wins over Joe with 12 and Tom with 10.
Montpelier Races. Montpelier Station, Va. Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Race 1. The Montpelier Foundation Cup. 1 mile. Flat.
The only dirt race on the steeplechase circuit, the opener attracts five and looks like a layup for All Out Of Aces, a five-time winner on the dirt for prominent flat trainer Larry Jones. Send Us A Raven and Trustifarian have home-field advantage.
- Sean: All Out Of Aces, Send Us A Raven, Trustifarian.
- Joe: All Out Of Aces, Trustifarian, Send Us A Raven.
- Tom: All Out Of Aces, Trustifarian, Send Us A Raven.
Race 2. The Madison Plate. Handicap Hurdle. $20,000. 2 3/8 miles.
Another competitive ratings race attracts eight solid veterans. Specialeyes, Perfect Union and Ack Feisty (2-3-4 at Virginia Fall) return. They carry the same weights as they did at Virginia Fall, 2 ½ lengths separated them that day.
- Sean: Ack Feisty, Specialeyes, Perfect Union.
- Joe: Perfect Union, Specialeyes, Wigwam Baby.
- Tom: Mathayus, Perfect Union, Disobedience.
Race 3. The Battleship. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $15,000. 2 3/8 miles.
Great to see Montpelier split the maiden claimer, offering another $15,000 to horsemen before the days get shorter. Sugimoto, Bibbo and Montauk Man wheel back after Aiken losses while Cotton Town returns from a fourth at Foxfield.
- Sean: Cotton Town, Jump To Juneau, Sugimoto.
- Joe: Cotton Town, Jump To Juneau, Sugimoto.
- Tom: Jump To Juneau, Sugimoto, Bibbo.
Race 4. The Liberty Cup. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $15,000. 2 3/8 miles.
Fletched won a training flat race at Genesee Valley and could provide Geraghty (and Sean) with a key late-season win. Geyser led the 3-year-olds for a long way at Shawan Downs. Royal Ruse tries again.
- Sean: Fletched, Geyser, Royal Ruse.
- Joe: Royal Ruse, Fletched, Choklitcoverdonut.
- Tom: Jackson S, Royal Ruse, Choklitcoverdonut.
Race 5. The Constitution Cup Virgina Equine Alliance Maiden Hurdle. $30,000. 2 3/8 miles.
Dynaformersrequest owns three seconds in eight starts over hurdles, is today the day? Fisher needs him if he’s got any chance at a late-season run. Mr. Singh, decent on the flat, makes his hurdle debut for Elizabeth Voss and Doyle. Zeppelin Ride, stuck in the mud at Far Hills, offers Geraghty another pickup ride when he needs it most.
- Sean: Dynaformersrequest, Mr Singh, Zeppelin Ride.
- Joe: Dynaformersrequest, Mr. Singh, Makkadangdang.
- Tom: Dynaformersrequest, Mr Singh, Zeppelin Ride.
Race 6. The Montpelier Cup. Allowance Filly and Mare Hurdle. $25,000. 2 3/8 miles.
Hendriks could clinch it here (if he hasn’t already) with the well-spotted Quarla, one of just three winners in this filly and mare allowance. Inverness has played the game well so far.
- Sean: Quarla, Inverness, Mavourneen.
- Joe: Always Summer, Mavourneen, Inverness.
- Tom: Mavourneen, Quarla, Always Summer.
Race 7. The Noel Laing. Handicap Hurdle. $40,000. 2 ½ miles.
The Noel Laing. The sport’s iconic race over the famed natural brush course at James Madison’s old home attracts a perfect group of stakes horses, perhaps, a notch below the best but as productive as a rubber band in a deck of cards.
Hard to believe but All The Way Jose is winless this year, he was gallant as ever at Far Hills. Mercoeur won this last year but loses Nagle and picks up Barry John Foley. Hendriks takes Lasix away from Clarcam, dull in three American starts. Winner Massagot ran huge in stateside debut, does he progress or regress here? Osmoz was right behind him two weeks ago. Detroit Blues steps into open company for the first time, fresh off an impressive win in the Foxbrook at Far Hills. Likable veteran Schoodic makes his 30th start. Indian Hawk makes his third start in this country, he’s finished seventh in his previous two tries.
Splendid edition of an iconic race.
- Sean: All The Way Jose, Detroit Blues, Winner Massagot.
- Joe: All The Way Jose, Detroit Blues, Schoodic.
- Tom: Osmoz, Detroit Blues, Days Of Heaven.
Callaway Gardens. Pine Mountain, Ga. Saturday, 1 p.m.
Race 1. The W.C. Bradley. Novice Timber. $20,000. 3 1/8 miles.
Perfect spot for the two-time winner Formidable Heart who wired several of these at High Hope. Giza has done little wrong in two steeplethon tries. Handsome Hoyt crushed maidens at Virginia Fall.
- Sean: Formidable Heart, Rudyard K, Giza.
- Joe: Formidable Heart, Rudyard K, Hanno.
- Tom: Hanno, Formidable Heart, Rudyard K.
Race 2. The Blade & Bow. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $20,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Love the name of this one. Unfortunately the maiden hurdle failed to fill and just five wind up in the maiden claimer. They are a combined 0-for-24. Motivational drops. Cap’s Vow tries again. Artie’s Flight returns from a 16-month break. Soluble has shown glimmers in two tries. Don’t Scip A Check looked strong for a long way at Virginia Fall.
- Sean: Motivational, Don’t Scip A Check, Soluble.
- Joe: Motivational, Soluble, Artie’s Flight.
- Tom: Motivational, Don't Scip A Check, Soluble.
Race 3. The AFLAC Supreme Hurdle. Novice Stakes. $75,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Three-time winner Mutasaawy makes his final start in the novice division and picks up Shane Crimin for the first time. Three-time winner this season, Boss Man tries to erase his only real blemish when inexplicably trailing early at Far Hills. Set To Music wheels back in seven days after finishing third in the allowance at Great Meadow. Veneer Of Charm failed to land a blow in his stateside debut, a sixth in the faster division of the Foxbrook. Ice It, the greatest novice in history, makes his 19th career start, he was second in this race to probable 2018 champion Zanjabeel in 2017. Gibralfaro led for most of the way in the Foxbrook before being nabbed late by Detroit Blues.
- Sean: Gibralfaro, Mutasaawy, Ice It.
- Joe: Gibralfaro, Mutasaawy, Set To Music.
- Tom: Gibralfaro, Ice It, Mutasaawy.
Race 4. The Synovus Cup. Allowance Flat. $25,000. 1 ½ miles.
Start taking notes for next year. Callaway managed to split the allowance flat race and offer impactful opportunities for horses who could make an impact next year.
Cite looked like the best maiden of the year when he won at Iroquois but got stuck in the mud like a ten-speed bike at Far Hills. Tobias tuned up for this with a win at Aiken. Run a line through Snowie Hill’s race at Far Hills, she’s live here. Bobby The Boss winds up here when the maiden didn’t fill.
- Sean: Cite, Bobby The Boss, Lonely Weekend.
- Joe: Cite, Tobias, Snowie Hill.
- Tom: Tobias, Cite, Lonely Weekend.
Race 5. The Standard Concrete Cup. Allowance Flat. $25,000. 1 ½ miles.
Same thing here, a good opportunity to see what you’ve got. Talk Less was claimed from Loooch Racing in June, wonder if he’s keeping an eye on the son of Blame from his box at the Breeders’ Cup? Oskar Denarius, adding Lasix and shedding blinkers, has been freshened since pulling up at Saratoga. Unsinkable has the talent, now does he have the aplomb? Be Counted makes his NSA debut for Gillian Johnston and Todd Wyatt. Storm Team won over hurdles at Foxfield. Show Court tries to pad his $147,850 earned in 2018.
- Sean: Be Counted, Storm Team, Unsinkable.
- Joe: Show Court, Storm Team, Unsinkable.
- Tom: Show Court, Talk Less, Be Counted.
Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Unionville, Pa. Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Before you read on and wonder why we picked who we picked, stop and take a moment for Pennsylvania Hunt Cup icons Gene Weymouth, Bill Teter and Kathee Rengert who are sadly gone from the field where they made so many memories.
Race 1. The Lewis C. Ledyard. Maiden Timber. $15,000. 3 miles.
Enuff Alex transferred to Kinross Farm since a runner-up effort at Genesee, the 6-year-old could easily graduate here. Hooded showed promise in his timber debut at Virginia Fall. Coastal Moon adds Doyle and looks live here. We’ll root for Sweet Talking Guy.
- Sean: Enuff Alex, Hooded, Coastal Moon.
- Joe: Biedermeier, Enuff Alex, Rollforward.
- Tom: Enuff Alex, Hooded, Rollforward.
Race 2. The Arthur O. Choate Jr. Memorial. Allowance Timber. $20,000. 3 miles.
In jeopardy of not filling, the allowance hurdle winds up with four maidens and four allowance horses. Pured It was good this spring and dull this fall, he looks like a standout in here. That goes for Boogie Biz as well. After that, it looks like a Kathy Neilson Stable Tour.
- Sean: Pured It, Boogie Biz, It’s Nothing.
- Joe: Biedermeier, Boogie Biz, Coastal Moon.
- Tom: Coastal Moon, Last Farewell, It's Nothing.
Race 3. The Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Timber Stakes. $40,000. 4 miles.
The iconic timber stakes, the little brother to the Maryland Hunt Cup but a standard bearer for the sport, attracts eight horses for its 4 miles and big fences.
Canyon Road has knocked on the door of a big one longer than a day-early trick or treater, the 9-year-old homebred for Gordonsdale and Chris Kolb could finally have his day here.
The others have questions, too, lots of questions. Can Grand Manan somehow rekindle his flame? Can Super Saturday wheel back in seven days and improve on his third in this race in 2016? Can 14-year-old Carrickboy turn back time? Can Be Great find reserves he couldn’t find in this in 2016? Can Monstaleur, 7 lengths behind champion Doc Cebu at Genesee Valley, give Forrest Kelly his greatest day in the saddle? Can Aquies turn the tables on Stand Down and Carrickboy who had his measure in the spring? Can Stand Down be the horse he was in the spring and not the horse he’s been in the fall?
Those questions and more will be answered.
- Sean: Canyon Road, Monstaleur, Carrickboy.
- Joe: Canyon Road, Stand Down, Carrickboy.
- Tom: Super Saturday, Grand Manan, Carrickboy.
Race 4. The Athenian Idol. Apprentice Flat Race. 1 3/8 miles.
Ah, the legends that have come out of this race over the years. Joe Clancy Jr., Graham Motion, Lizzie Merryman, Eddie Graham, Nora Sadler, Ben Guessford to name just a few. A great opportunity for horse and jockey to learn the ropes.
- Sean: Broken Force, Simenon, You’re Not Better.
- Joe: Tap The Moment, Broken Force, Paddy O'Wagon.
- Tom: In It To Win, Paddy O'Wagon, Broken Force.
And that’s a wrap – 1,868 words strong. Enjoy the weekend.