Oh, the third Saturday in April. It's officially spring and officially stakes season. The Grand National Steeplechase and the Middleburg Spring Races, stalwarts on the circuit, have been hosting history and horses for, well, a century. The Grand National runs for the 117th time and the Middleburg Spring Races hosts its 99th running. Now that's history.
Hard to call the Grand National, a testing $50,000 gem over timber and the Temple Gwathmey, a testing $75,000 classic over hurdles, preps for bigger things but you can’t think of either race without thinking of the Maryland Hunt Cup next week and the Iroquois on the second Saturday in May.
That’s not to say horses aren’t tuned up to win the lucrative stakes. Eclipse Award winner Scorpiancer returns as one of a three-way phalanx from Bruton Street-US and Jack Fisher in the Temple Gwathmey and the mercurial Senior Senator eyes his third consecutive Butler scourge for Irvin Crawford and Joe Davies.
The Masters has moving day. This is moving day for the ST Handicappers. Ten races to choose from, winners – and losers – abound. As for last week, each handicapper picked hurdle stakes winner Schoodic (Joe and Sean, luckily, with the scratch of Enuff Alex) and Tom nailed Political Theatre in the Thomas H. Voss (Tom would be proud of Tom). For the season, Joe and Sean lead with five wins apiece while Tom lurks (or lags?) with three.
The Middleburg Spring Races. Glenwood Park. Middleburg, Virginia. 1:00 p.m.
Race 1. The Glenwood Hurdle. NW2. $35,000. 2 1/8 miles.
Solid allowance hurdle starts off a stellar card over a superlative course. Set To Music has sparred with novice stakes horses. Cite wowed us at the Iroquois but has lost his way since, keep the faith? Renown took to the jumps like he took to the flat. Special Relation trounced rivals at Far Hills in the fall. Tricky race.
- Joe: Special Relation, Renown, Undisclosed.
- Sean: Cite, Set To Music, Special Relation.
- Tom: Special Relation, Renown, Cite.
Race 2. The Middleburg Hunt Cup. Timber Stakes. $30,000. 3 ¼ miles.
The sister act to the big timber stakes in Maryland, this one pits Virginia Gold Cup hopefuls making their 2019 debuts. It’s like a Saturday night at the local bar, they’ve all been here before. Two’s Company beat Kings Apollo and Grand Manan. Le Chevalier ousted Canyon Road and Two’s Company. Grand Manan beat Two’s Company. Super Saturday upset Le Chevalier. Kings Apollo beat Canyon Road. Super Saturday and Canyon Road beat Be Great. The only one who hasn’t been in the ring? Andi’amu, winner of two steeplethons last spring and the one who gets the craftsman, Jack Doyle.
- Joe: And'amu, Le Chevalier, Two's Company.
- Sean: Kings Apollo, Le Chevalier, Two’s Company.
- Tom: Andi’amu, Two’s Company, Super Saturday.
Race 3. The Temple Gwathmey. Hurdle Stakes. $75,000. 2 ½ miles.
Well, hello again. Scorpiancer, Eclipse Award winner in 2017, makes his return. He’s been away since dominating the Iroquois nearly two years ago. Sean McDermott keeps the ride on the 10-year-old who surely can’t be primed for this. Or can he? Fisher and Bruton Street-US also dust off Moscato, the top novice from 2017 and Jaleo, fifth in the Grand National after a mid-race move that diminished his chances that day. Winner Massagot burst on the scene in the fall, finishing second in the Appleton, storming the Noel Laing by 16 lengths and enjoyed an easy flat victory at Camden this year. Surely, it’s a good time to take on Scorpiancer, especially in receipt of 10 pounds. Belisarius, an electric novice from last year, dips his toe in deeper water. The gallant and gifted All The Way Jose comes back for more. Great race.
- Joe: Belisarius, Winner Massagot, Moscato.
- Sean: Winner Massagot, Belisarius, Scorpiancer.
- Tom: Scorpiancer, Moscato, Belisarius.
Race 4. The Virginia Equine Alliance Maiden Hurdle. $30,000. 2 1/8 miles.
Oh, this is where it all starts. Ten relative newcomers (well, other than Other Cheek and Khafayya) aim to graduate and become stars down in the steeplechase constellation. Demonstration has big shoes to fill but he sure looked strong at Camden. Teodoro has flat form and looked like Pharlap on the flat at Camden. Other Cheek has more experience than any maiden in the game and his owners want to win here.
- Joe: Teodoro, Demonstration, Gold Braid.
- Sean: Demonstration, Teodoro, Other Cheek.
- Tom: Khafayya, Other Cheek, Teodoro.
Race 5. The Sonabank Cup. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $20,000. 2 1/8 miles.
We need more of these in the game – high-priced maiden claimers. This one is for $25,000-20,000 and attracts an overflow field. Junonia takes the most prodigious drop in the sport – maiden special to maiden claimer. Tiepolo looked potent in Camden. We’re rooting for Masquerader.
- Joe: Junonia, Moorland, That's My Brother.
- Sean: Tiepolo, Junonia, Leopard Cat.
- Tom: Tiepolo, Five Carat Cat, Moorland.
Race 6. The DBM Wealth Management Training Flat. 1 ½ miles.
All eyes are on Grade 1 stakes winner Optimus Prime who primes for the David Semmes Memorial in two weeks.
- Joe: Gold Shield, Optimus Prime, Deposit.
- Sean: Optimus Prime, Gold Shield, Broad Reach.
- Tom: Optimus Prime, Master Plan, Deposit.
Race 7. The Alfred M. Hunt Steeplechase. 2 5/8 miles.
Specialists Just Wait And See and Katnap take on divisional newcomers and solid hurdlers Overwhelming, Days Of Heaven and Mercoeur. Joe and Sean go with experience while Tom, who's never seen an actual steeplethon, goes with hurdle and flat form.
- Joe: Katnap, Mercoeur, Just Wait And See.
- Sean: Katnap, Mercoeur, Just Wait And See.
- Tom: Overwhelming, Katnap, Show King.
The Grand National Steeplechase. Butler Road, Glyndon, Maryland.
Race 1. The Grand National. Timber Stakes. $50,000. 3 ¼ miles. 3:15 p.m.
Another classic renewal of the venerable timber stakes. In a way, Maryland timber racing makes sense, there are only four weekends that matter, this is the third of the four. You can set your watch to seeing Senior Senator, Raven’s Choice and all their friends lining up for another foray over the unforgettable, unforgivable Grand National course.
Senior Senator reigns as the best of his generation. The 9-year-old owns two wins in the Grand National and two wins in the Maryland Hunt Cup. Hard to see why he won’t make it three in a row. Raven’s Choice, 12, lines up at the Grand National for the sixth straight year, he’s run in the big one for four years in a row, garnering a win, a second and two thirds. Beyond those two, traditionalists Wildcatter, Old Timer, Joshua G, Drift Society, Monstaleur and others look for reasons to scale the biggest steeple in steeplechasing in seven days.
- Joe: Senior Senator, Old Timer, Raven's Choice.
- Sean: Senior Senator, Raven’s Choice, Monstaleur.
- Tom: Senior Senator, Old Timer, Raven’s Choice.
Race 2. The Benjamin H. Murray Memorial. Allowance Timber. $20,000. 3 ¼ miles.
Full field of allowance timber toppers line up for the co-feature. Vintage Vinnie opened up a big lead at My Lady’s Manor last year only to be run down, he’s had a point-to-point run and looks live here. Biedermeier chased Senior Senator at Elkridge-Harford two week ago. Hooded broke his maiden at Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in the fall. Enuff Alex intrigued handicappers last week before scratching. Competitive and confounding.
- Joe: Biedermeier, Vintage Vinnie, Awesome Adrian.
- Sean: Biedermeier, Vintage Vinnie, Hooded.
- Tom: Aquies, Hanno, Hooded.
Race 3. The Western Run Plate. Allowance Timber. $10,000. 3 miles.
Another competitive affair for amateur apprentices. Eric Poretz is still eligible, he rides Rollforward. Pured It looks strong if he decides to go here instead of allowance timber. Jonathan Sheppard should have Codrington College primed for his second timber start, he rolled at Queen’s Cup last year. Church Music upset this in 2016. Flaming Sword won a point-to-point.
- Joe: Codrington College, Pured It, Boogie Biz.
- Sean: Pured It, Codrington College, Flaming Sword.
- Tom: Codrington College, Pured It, Boogie Biz.