The Iroquois Steeplechase. The biggest meet of the spring. The biggest race of the spring. Where champions are crowned. Just six hopefuls (four for leading trainer Jack Fisher) line up for the big one while sharp fields grace the maiden, filly and mare and novice stakes. Smaller fields, but competitive fields, converge for the allowance, ratings and timber races.
As for last week, well, let’s just say, Joe put the hammer down, nabbing six of the nine races at Virginia Gold Cup (Clondaw Camp, Days Of Heaven, Ack Feisty, Optimus Prime, Andi’amu, Gostisbehere). Tom countered with five (Days Of Heaven, Other Cheek, Optimus Prime, Gostisbehere, Accountable). Sean picked four winners (Days Of Heaven, Optimus Prime, Deposit, Gostisbehere). For the season, Joe and Tom are gridlocked with 17 wins apiece while Sean stumbles along with 14 wins (and he has to buy the beer after Gostisbehere’s win).
Race 1. The Green Pastures. Allowance Hurdle. $50,000. 2 1/4 miles.
The opener pits seven quality allowance runners with a variety of experience and ability. Sportswear and Repeat Repeat broke their maidens this spring while Cite, Renown and Undisclosed won last year, Whitman’s Poetry won over the course in 2017 and Our Legend makes his American debut after winning his most recent start at Navan in Ireland.
- Joe: Renown, Whitman’s Poetry, Sportswear.
- Tom: Renown, Whitman’s Poetry, Sportswear.
- Sean: Whitman’s Poetry, Renown, Cite.
Race 2. The Bright Hour. Ratings Hurdle. $35,000. 3 miles.
Six rivals line up at the Iroquois distance of 3 miles. Rosbrian purchased Stooshie, who slides into the handicap for Irish raiders Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy, the 6-year-old won one of 12 starts over hurdles and hit the board twice in four starts over fences. The venerable Orchestra Leader makes his 43rd start over hurdles. All For Us won cozily at Queen’s Cup.
- Joe: Stooshie, Orchestra Leader, Lord Justice.
- Tom: Stooshie, All For Us, Lord Justice.
- Sean: Stooshie, All For Us, Orchestra Leader.
Race 3. The Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle. Novice Stakes. $100,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Wow, the race of the day. Welcome to America, Chief Justice and Winston C. High-powered Cheveley Park sold the former to Irv Naylor after the 4-year-old won five races, including his most recent start, a conditional/amateur jockeys race at Aintree. Rated 139, he’s had two wind surgeries but comes here with strong form. As for Winston C, he’s won three of five starts, finished fifth in a novice hurdle at Aintree and is rated 142. The son of Rip Van Winkle exits Harry Fry’s strong yard and enters Jonathan Sheppard’s potent program. As for America, it’s hard to knock Belisarius who dominated the Foxbrook in the fall and ran huge in his 2019 debut, finishing second against open company at Middleburg. The talented but fragile My Afleet returned with a sharp effort at Queen’s Cup two weeks ago.
- Joe: Belisarius, Chief Justice, Winston C.
- Tom: Belisarius, Chief Justice, City Dreamer.
- Sean: Winston C, Belisarius, Chief Justice.
Race 4. The Margaret Currey Henley Hurdle. Filly and Mare Hurdle. $50,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Wow, a full field of fillies and mares converge. Funny how the filly and mare division ebbs and flows, the Peapack didn’t fill at Far Hills in October and here we are in May with 11 for the Henley. Sarah Joyce loves it here, she’s won the past two renewals, beating Jonathan Sheppard’s maidens Ciboure and Inverness. Now 7, Sarah Joyce hasn’t run over hurdles since here a year ago. Bethany Baumgardner tries to make her season with the owned/trained/ridden Mavourneen. Down Royal makes her first start over hurdles since finishing third against open allowance foes last year. Amnicalola won her return at Camden for Fisher.
- Joe: Sarah Joyce, Mavourneen, Go As You Please.
- Tom: Wigwam Baby, Sarah Joyce, Down Royal.
- Sean: Amnicalola, Snowie Hill, Down Royal.
Race 5. The George Sloan and John Sloan Sr. Maiden Hurdle. $40,000. 2 ¼ miles.
Wow, this is a heater. Think the trip will bother Irish raider Markhan? The son of Birdstone made three starts in four days last summer and ran two races in three days at Dundalk this winter. He’s tough and battled tested, making 36 starts in his career, including four starts over hurdles where he’s finished second twice and third once. And he gets Davy Russell. Beyond him, look out for American Snap Decision, a waiting-for-another-day second at Queen’s Cup.
- Joe: Snap Decision, Snuggling, Markhan.
- Tom: Markhan, Snap Decision, Snuggling.
- Sean: Snap Decision, Markhan, Archanova.
Race 6. Mason Houghland Memorial. Allowance Timber. $25,000. 3 miles.
Graded hurdle stakes winners running over timber. My, how times have changed. Just four line up for the allowance timber, Mercoeur chased Days Of Heaven at Middleburg while Schoodic won his long-anticipated timber debut at My Lady's Manor.
- Joe: Mercoeur, Schoodic, Satish.
- Tom: Schoodic, Mercoeur, Codrington College.
- Sean: Mercoeur, Schoodic, Satish.
Race 7. The Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Grade 1 Hurdle Stakes. $150,000. 3 miles.
Bruton Street-US is locked and loaded here with three of the six runners. Moscato hasn’t finished worse than second in his American hurdle career and won the Temple Gwathmey in his return. Jaleo finished third day. Former champion Scorpiancer pulled up. Beyond those three, the ever-dangerous All The Way Jose lines up yet again, Gibralfaro tries open company for the first time and Surprising Soul should relish the distance.
- Joe: Moscato, Gibralfaro, Surprising Soul.
- Tom: Moscato, Jaleo, Gibralfaro.
- Sean: Moscato, Gibralfaro, Jaleo.
And for those of you keeping score, we'll post Willowdale's picks and preview tomorrow, we're going partying in Nashville. Look out Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge!