Ursula and Chris Nupp drove all the way from Malverne on Long Island to Saratoga Race Course Thursday morning to see the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup steeplechase. To see history.
“I’m a kid, going back 40 years, my grandpa’s taking me to Essex in Jersey before it was called Far Hills and Jonathan Sheppard’s giving a leg up to Jerry Fishback who won everything back then, and we still love it,” said Chris while standing with his wife on the first floor of the clubhouse a few minutes after Winston C gave Sheppard his 15th Turf Writers victory as a trainer. “This is tradition, this is what we came for.”
Ursala picked up the narration from there, “We boarded the cat early this morning to make the jumps race, can you believe it?” she said. “We brought the cat to the place and then started driving, Thursday morning . . . traffic . . . we made it.”
Winston C and jockey Tom Garner might have had an easier time than the Nupps, charging into contention leaving the last jump on the backside and drawing off to score by 8 3/4 lengths after 2 3/8 miles in 4:38.16. Gibralfaro hung on to second by a nose over Belisarius. The winner, owned by area resident Ed Swyer’s Hudson River Farm, collected $90,000 and ran his steeplechase record to 5-for-8 with two thirds and $239,866. He also leaped into the picture for the steeplechase Eclipse Award as the first horse to win two Grade 1 stakes this year.
Sheppard’s last champion was Divine Fortune in 2013, and the Hall of Famer won’t heap the expectations on his newest star just yet.
“If we can keep the trainer from messing up we might be on to something,” he said in the winner’s circle Thursday. “He did that nicely and each race it just endorses what we kind of hoped for when he came in.”
The Irish-bred son of Rip Van Winkle started out as a flat horse in England, winning twice, before converting to hurdles in 2018. Trained by Harry Fry, the bay gelding won three in a row this winter – a January maiden at Wincanton, a February novice at Sandown and a March handicap at Kelso. The rapid rise earned him a try at the Aintree Festival in April and he finished fifth in a Grade 1 novice hurdle in soft ground before going on the market and selling to Swyer and Sheppard.
Five weeks after that Aintree run, Winston C made his American debut in Nashville and finished third (beaten three-quarters of a length) against novices. Since then, Winston C has learned his lessons – taking to the different American fences, adapting to Sheppard’s way of doing things on the farm and simply settling in. Since 1966, the Sheppard stable has prepped steeplechasers – homebreds, American-breds, foreign-breds and flat converts. All these years later, Winston C is a bit different.
To read the rest of the New York Turf Writers recap, download Friday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.