Jack Doyle doesn’t do anxious moments.
“He gave one rail a rub down the back, I think it was the second time around, that’s as close to a mistake as he made the whole way.”
That’s how Doyle described any anxious moments aboard Andi’amu after 4 miles and 23 fences of perfection in the Virginia Gold Cup May 4. Owned by Ballybristol Farm and trained by Leslie Young, the French-bred 9-year-old sauntered around Great Meadow to score by 3 lengths over Le Chevalier and Super Saturday. Timber champion Doc Cebu led early, was still in contention when getting too close and pecking at the 21st fence and wound up fourth.
Aboard Andi’amu for the fourth time and collecting their fourth win, Doyle had one task during the timber classic.
“Trying to hold him was the biggest problem, trying to slow him down for the first two miles,” Doyle said. “He was always traveling strongly, jumped great, he’s probably not used to going that slow in races, just trying to steady him up a bit is the toughest part with him. He’s not your typical timber horse to ride over a jump, most of them might spend a little more time in the air where he’s very slick over them, he knows exactly what he’s doing and he’s not stupid.”
Andi’amu began his career on the flat in France, winning a maiden at Agen in May 2013. By fall, he was running over hurdles for Warren Greatrex in England (future American champion Dawalan beat him by 32 lengths at Newbury). A year later, he won a maiden at Market Rasen but failed to win again in four starts, finishing fifth of five in a handicap chase at Fontwell for the Pheasant Inn Racing Club (a member was at the Virginia Gold Cup) in June 2015. Two months later, his career was revitalized finishing second in an allowance at Saratoga for Ballybristol and Young. He won the Noel Laing that fall, a handicap at Monmouth the next summer and hit the board in two subsequent Grade 1 stakes. A notch below the best over hurdles, Andi’amu has become a superstar since switching codes, winning steeplethons at Middleburg and Virginia Gold Cup last spring and going 2-for-2 over timber this spring.
“I hadn’t schooled him last year, I did go up and school him this year because we were going to proper timber,” Doyle said. “It just came naturally to him last year, he has so much ability, he’s only going around in second gear. He’s able to fiddle it and figure it out as he goes, he finds it so easy.”
Doyle placed Andi’amu, well maybe Andi’amu placed Doyle, in second on the inside for the first circuit at Great Meadow before taking over front-running duties. With his typical long hold and low hands, Doyle stifled Andi’amu’s enthusiasm for the next two circuits before allowing natural ability to take over and close the door on the 4-mile classic.
“After the first circuit around, I didn’t see another horse, I heard Le Chevalier turning in and down to the last, the only worries were in front of me at that stage,” Doyle said. “He literally didn’t get out of second gear until landing over the last, I had so much horse the whole way. I was able to quicken and get Le Chevalier off of it but he was still going well within himself. He’s the best timber horse I’ve ridden.”
• Mikey Mitchell continued to pile on the wins, doubling on the card. He guided French-bred Days Of Heaven to a facile score in the steeplethon for Gillian Johnston and Jack Fisher. The fifth highest rated horse in the country made easy work of the overmatched steeplethon rivals, settling well off the pace and easing past Dapper Dan to win comfortably.
Mitchell added his second win on the card and second win for Johnston when deftly maneuvering Ack Feisty from well back in the ratings hurdle to score by 4 lengths over favorite Pik Em and Mutin. Trained by Neil Morris, Ack Feisty snapped an eight-race losing streak, going back to when he broke his maiden over the course in October 2016.
• Irish import Clondaw Camp dominated the first division of the maiden for Buttonwood Farm and trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Tom Garner guided the 4-year-old to a 7 1/2-length score over Brianbakescookies and Foxhall Drive. Unraced under rules, the son of Sans Frontieres was well regarded in the stable and ignored at the window, paying $37.40.
• Fisher continued to pour it on from the top of the standings, sending out Other Cheek to win the second division of the maiden for Woodslane Stable and Mitchell. Making his 10th career start, the son of Smart Strike rallied past longtime leader Rashford’s Double to score by a half-length.
• Beverly Steinman’s homebred Deposit returned to the venue where he made his debut and made it a quick 2-for-2 in his career, dominating the first division of the allowance flat for trainer Doug Fout and jockey Barry Foley. ... Riverdee’s Gostistbehere, making his first start under NSA rules, won the second division of the allowance flat for Fisher and jockey Willie McCarthy. ... Course specialist Accountable won for the third time at Great Meadow, taking the Virginia-bred or sired allowance for Lady Olivia Northcliff, trainer Carla Morgan and jockey Ross Geraghty.