We are still catching up from the torrid spring season. Sorry we’re late, here’s the rest of the day’s recap from the Iroquois Steeplechase May 11.
Longtime leader Boss Man was hanging tough. Barnacle Bill shifted out one lane and pounced. Storm Team searched for an inside route. Help From Heaven loomed to Barnacle Bill’s right. Winston C, making his American debut, swung into the fray from the outside. The long-striding My Afleet needed a gap quickly. Chief Justice, a winner at Aintree in April, was making up for lost time from the back. City Dreamer angled for a clear run from the middle to the outside. Eight novices sparred and starred toward the last of the Marcellus Frost.
Seventh on the turn, sixth at the second-to-last, third over the last and a winner on the line, City Dreamer unleashed a torrent from the outside to nail Help From Heaven by a neck in the $100,000 novice stakes. Winston C and Chief Justice, making their American debuts, lost nothing in defeat (well, other than money) in third and fourth while Barnacle Bill finished fifth. Two lengths separated the first five in a thriller.
Sean McDermott, aboard City Dreamer for the second time, watched it all unfold in front of him.
“I could see Storm Team was ducking down the inner but I felt I had him covered, I had Help From Heaven in my sights for a long way but I didn’t see him late, I knew Winston C was there. I felt swinging wide and getting a clear run…once you’re on the inner on the turn, you don’t lose ground when you swing out, a good jump here or there is the difference,” McDermott said. “Turning up the hill, it was anybody’s race, there was a pile of six horses in front of me, two of them were aiming at the inside spot, which was going to be tight, so I just sling-shotted off the back and hoped I would wing the last two, got tight at the second to last but winged the last and thankfully he was still flowing at the line. We were on the right side of the nod.”
McDermott asked Ross Geraghty aboard Help From Heaven who had gotten the nod. Neither one of them knew.
“We were so far away from each other, I can’t say I was confident,” McDermott said.
Owned by Riverdee Stable and trained by Jack Fisher, City Dreamer garnered his first stateside win in his fourth start since coming here last spring. A £40,000 purchase, the son of Casamento earned his third career win over hurdles.
Fourth after rating well off the pace at Queen’s Cup two weeks earlier, City Dreamer and McDermott used that effort to catapult to Nashville.
“We had a plan to try to teach the horse to relax at Queen’s Cup, I was given a free rein to do that which was very helpful,” McDermott said. “We sat him out the back that day, he jumped and settled really well, I arrived into the race, he flattened out probably because of the downhill run and his first run in a while. It was great to have the freedom to do that, it was a stepping stone towards today.”
• Davy Russell wins everywhere. Leading rider prizes at Cheltenham. Irish jockey championships. Back-to-back Grand Nationals. The Grand Steeplechase de Paris.
The all-encompassing jockey made his first foray to the Iroquois with three plum rides for the all-encompassing trainer Gordon Elliott. Well, they were 0-for-2 after Stooshie finished second in the Bright Hour and Chief Justice finished a closing fourth in the Frost.
Down to Markhan in the maiden, Russell made sure it wasn’t for naught.
“We didn’t come over just for the craic, it’s quite important for us, because when we travel with horses, we need to win to make it viable,” Russell said. “The first lad, it was just one of those things. I wasn’t brilliant on the second horse, he didn’t jump well enough and I got into a bad position and I should have changed it earlier. I thought was doing the right thing, it ended up I didn’t, so I had to make it up on him.”
With his typical long hold and light touch, Russell placed Markhan in a sweet spot in third in the $40,000 maiden, allowed Archanova and Snuggling to engage going up the hill the final time before unleashing a powerful run to score by an easy 4 1/2 lengths. Snap Decision, second at Queen’s Cup in his debut, rallied late to pick up second over first-time starter Archanova.
Owned by Rosbrian Farm and Half Married Syndicate, Markhan scored in his fifth try over hurdles. The American-bred son of Birdstone will stay in training here with Ricky Hendriks.
“He enjoys fast ground, he jumps really, really quick, where in Ireland, that can sometimes be a disadvantage, but here it’s a real advantage to jump fast and he’s fast,” Russell said. “In Ireland, we would rate this on the slow side of good, lovely jumping ground is what we would call it. He’ll enjoy faster ground, I think he could excel over here.”
Russell compared the Iroquois course to Ballinrobe in Ireland.
“It’s quite different, it’s quite tight and it’s a bit of stop-start. This is a beautiful track, it’s lovely scenery. The people here are fantastic. I’m so happy I came and took part of it, it’s an experience,” Russell said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do it early in my career, but it’s great to be doing it now. I wanted to ride a winner here, I didn’t want to just come. I’ve been once before to Far Hills and I didn’t have any success. When the first two got beat, I said ‘oh, maybe it’s not going to happen.’ I’m just thrilled to get the winner here.”
• There are plenty of gawks, stares and moments of reflection at the Iroquois Steeplechase. There were none bigger than Aaron Sinnott’s as Wigwam Baby took over in the Margaret Currey Henley Hurdle. The apprentice jockey looked over his left shoulder for one, two, three strides as Wigwam Baby powered away from Sarah Joyce and nine others. Relishing, the soft ground, Wigwam Baby was long gone as Sinnott said his long goodbye.
“To be fair, she’s a mare who just stays galloping, she has no quickening pace,” Sinnott said. “I love her, any time it rains, I see her light up.”
Sinnott rode Wigwam Baby once before, in a prep over the Carolina Cup course. Flat and fast, Camden is a long way from the stamina test that Percy Warner offers.
“Camden is very quick, she felt flat footed,” Sinnott said. “A bit of rain, she loves it. Hopefully we’ll keep getting a bit of rain.”
Owned and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Wigwam Baby earned her first win since taking a filly and mare allowance at Atlanta in 2016.
Sinnott notched his third victory this spring.
“It’s brilliant,” Sinnott said. “I’m here as an amateur. I’m looking to come back over, I’m just trying to ride as many winners as I can.”
Sinnott was unseated from Satish in the next race and missed winners at Willowdale Sunday.
• Fisher continued his dominance, sweeping four of the seven races. In addition to Scorpiancer and City Dreamer, the 12-time champion trainer sent out Lord Justice to win the Bright Hour and Schoodic to win the Mason Houghland.
Owned by Bruton Street-US and ridden by Mikey Mitchell, Lord Justice stretched 3 miles to best Irish raider Stooshie and pacesetter Motivational in the handicap hurdle.
Fisher didn’t expect it.
“We didn’t get the trip at 2 miles, what makes you think we can get 3 miles?” Fisher said.
Lord Justice finished seventh in the Queen’s Cup Novice Stakes two weeks earlier.
As for Schoodic, that was expected.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Fisher said.
The hurdle stakes winner improved his timber record to 2-for-2 with an easy win over three rivals (which was reduced to two quickly when Satish lost jockey Aaron Sinnott at the first). From there, Hadden Frost simply schooled Schoodic around the course for a facile win over Mercoeur and Codrington College.
Switched from Edie Dixon to Fisher’s mother Dolly Fisher and switched to timber this spring, Schoodic won his debut by a nose at My Lady’s Manor. After that test, the Houghland was a lot easier.
“It was a foxhunting pace early. He jumped really well. We won it on our jumping to be honest. These are a lot easier to jump than the Manor,” Frost said. “You’re expecting him to jump better the second time and we went a schooling pace in a schooling environment which helps with the jumping. When I slipped the reins, he kicked on. I think he’s a slow hurdler or a fast timber horse now. He enjoys the juice in the ground too, and that helped him today.”
• Sheppard, who missed the races with an illness (he was back clocking horses days later) doubled on the day, taking the opener with Sportswear. Owned by KMSN Stable, the son of Frankel improved his 2019 mark to a cool 2-for-2 with a cool inside run to take the allowance hurdle. Ridden by Gerard Galligan, Sportswear rated off the pace and slipped through on the inside when leader Repeat Repeat bobbled at the second-to-last. Whitman’s Poetry rallied to be second.
Bred by Will Farish, Sportswear managed a second against maiden claiming company in five tries on the flat before being sold for $30,000 at the Keeneland November sale in 2018.