And it all comes down to this. The Steeplechase at Charleston decides champion trainer, champion jockey and, last but not least, champion handicapper Sunday.
Jack Fisher and Ricky Hendriks battle to the last day. Perennial champion Fisher holds a tenuous one-win lead over Hendriks, searching for his first title (well, trainer title, he’s got two jockey trophies). Fisher sends out runners in each of the four jump races while Hendriks hits three of four.
In the first, a maiden claimer, Fisher tries again with 9-year-old Don’t Scip A Check, a well-beaten third at Callaway Gardens just eight days ago. Hendriks counters with Sugimoto, making his third start in 15 days. Advantage: Hendriks.
In the second, Fisher goes double handed with Bobby The Boss, a promising third over hurdles at Shawan but a disappointing fifth on the flat at Callaway Gardens and Dynaformersrequest, second in his two previous starts. Hendriks is out of bullets in the maiden division. Advantage: Fisher.
In the third, the 3-year-old hurdle, Fisher tries again with Knockholt, fourth in his debut at Shawan but pulled up at Far Hills. Hendriks has the keys in the ignition and his foot on the gas in this one, sending out Far Hills runaway winner Caldbeck. Hendriks also adds You’re No Better, outrun and pulled up at Foxfield when with Stephanie Moore. Advantage: Hendriks.
In the fourth and final, Fisher rolls the dice with With Rhythm, who dwelt at Shawan and pulled up at Far Hills, and the talented Storm Team, second in his flat prep at Callaway Gardens. Hendriks throws three darts into the final board. Go Get The Basil rolls in off two consecutive runner-up finishes. Barhanpour tries to make it three in a row, the first for Fisher and the second for Hendriks after being claimed. Sail Ahoy draws in off the also-eligible list, he’s been disappointing since breaking his maiden in his debut this spring. Advantage: Hendriks.
As for the jockeys, year-long leader Jack Doyle has sputtered since a torrid spring with just three wins since Fair Hill, allowing 2017 champion Darren Nagle to creep back into the race (he’s won four of his last seven). They’re tied with 16 wins. Ross Geraghty, with four live rides (including best bet of the day Caldbeck), lurks two races back.
In the first, Doyle is up against it aboard Eyeing Victory, beaten 78 lengths at Aiken. Nagle rides Moss Code, dropping into a maiden claimer for the first time, the most precipitous drop in sports. Geraghty rides Sugimoto, beaten 21 lengths at Montpelier. Advantage: Nagle.
In the second, Doyle tries again with Rebound, disappointing in his hurdle debut at Shawan Downs. Nagle rides Snuggling for the fifth consecutive time, they were fourth at Far Hills. Geraghty picks up the ride of the day, Khafayya, second at Shawan and Far Hills. Advantage: Geraghty.
In the third, Nagle and Doyle will need miracles. Doyle rides You’re No Better, he’ll need Hendriks’ magic after a dull debut at Foxfield. Nagle picks up the ride on Leopold, tepid at Shawan but better at Far Hills. Geraghty, well this is money in the bank, he takes over for Jack Kennedy on Caldbeck, a 11 ½ length winner at Far Hills. Advantage: Geraghty.
In the fourth, Doyle rides Aardwolf in his American debut, the 4-year-old is bred for this, he’s rated 119 over hurdles in England. For comparison, Sunday rivals Aydoun was rated 115, Oskar Denarius was rated 116, Warp Factor was 109, Invocation was 110 and Bobabout was 127. Nagle tries again on Warp Factor, who unseated him at Shawan. Geraghty rides Barhanpour for the first time. Advantage: Draw.
Good luck to all. Enjoy the ride, boys.
As for the ST Handicappers. Well, last week was a debacle for Sean “I had Three Winners and Picked Two Winners” Clancy, he squandered a four-race lead by picking All Out of Aces and Motivational and that’s it. Joe “I Ain’t Dead Yet” Clancy notched five winners (All Out Of Aces, Royal Ruse, Motivational, Show Court, Biedermeier). And Tom “Brushed off the Bourbon Chase” Law swarmed Brothers Clancy, tabbing and nabbing eight winners (All Out Of Aces, Mathayus, Jump To Juneau, Mavourneen, Hanno, Motivational, Show Court, In It To Win) to go from a remote last to a tie for first. For what it's worth, Sean did pick four winners to Tom's two and Joe's one on the Breeders' Cup Saturday card (maybe that's worth a pint at Henry Street Taproom).
For the season, Sean and Tom are tied with 18 wins and Joe lurks with 17.
Fisher, Hendriks, Doyle, Nagle and Geraghty, you think you’re in a battle, a case of West Sixth Pennyrile Pale Ale is on the line…it comes down to this.
Race 1. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $15,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Is today the day for Misfortune? Seven-year-old has hit the board in four of five starts this year and deserves a diploma to finish off the year. Moss Code will relish the class relief for red-hot Cyril Murphy.
- Sean: Misfortune, Moss Code, Lead Investor.
- Tom: Moss Code, Misfortune, Don’t Scip A Check.
- Joe: Misfortune, Change Maker, Sugimoto.
Race 2. Maiden Hurdle. $30,000. 2 ¼ miles.
A couple of hard-hitting maidens still searching for their graduation. Hard to split Dynaformersrequest, Khafayya, Bobby The Boss, Snuggling and a few others.
- Sean: Dynaformersrequest, Khafayya, Bobby The Boss.
- Tom: Dynaformersrequest, Khafayya, Snuggling.
- Joe: Bobby The Boss, Snuggling, Rebound.
Race 3. Three-year-old Hurdle. $25,000. 2 ¼ miles.
- Sean: Caldbeck, Roller Rolls On, Sim Card.
- Tom: Caldbeck, Roller Rolls On, Leopold.
- Joe: Caldbeck, Knockholt, Skydiving.
Race 4. Ratings Handicap Hurdle. $30,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Joe picked Invocation at Far Hills and abandons him here, perhaps, it’s the impost of 158 pounds. Interesting call. Deep and competitive group, anybody could win it.
- Sean: Invocation, Go Get The Basil, Storm Team.
- Tom: Invocation, Go Get The Basil, Storm Team.
- Joe: Oskar Denarius, Aardwolf, Invocation.
Race 5. Training Flat. 1 ½ miles.
See you next year.
- Sean: All Out Of Aces, Rakhaa, Officer’s Oath.
- Tom: All Out Of Aces, Rakhaa, Indigo Heart.
- Joe: All Out Of Aces, Indigo Heart, Disobedience.