Ready for the big finish? After a week off, the steeplechase schedule jumps back to life with two stops Saturday – the Virginia Fall Races at Glenwood Park in Middleburg and the Genesee Valley Hunt Races in Geneseo, N.Y. – to launch a six-weekend sprint to the finish. Don’t blink.
Both old-school courses could probably use some rain, which might limit fields and keep some horses in the barn, but there’s a little bit of everything at both stops. The TIHR handicappers weigh back in after some action at Shawan and Foxfield. Joe and Sean each tabbed five winners last week – Mercoeur, Barhanpour, Douglas Road, Speed Ahead and Inverness for Joe; Mercoeur, Douglas Road, Be Counted, Speed Ahead and Inverness for Sean – while spring champion Tom was blanked at Shawan and came up with Speed Ahead and Inverness at Foxfield. If you’re keeping score at home, and we don’t know why you would, that’s six apiece for Joe and Sean and three for Tom.
If you want something else to watch, the NSA jockeys’ race has gotten fun. Michael Mitchell’s big early lead has shrunk to one, 17-16, over Jack Doyle. Yowza. Both are searching for their first championships. Doyle lost last year’s crown by one (to Darren Nagle). Jack Fisher is home and hosed in the training category with 30 wins, to 13 for Jonathan Sheppard. The only drama is whether Fisher can get the all-time record of 39 set by Sheppard in 1988.
VIRGINIA FALL RACES. Post time is 1 p.m. at one of the coolest old spots on the circuit. If you’ve never been to Glenwood, get there – sit on the rocks and try to picture John F. Kennedy walking by (he was a regular).
First race. The Bon Nouvel. Named after a legend, $20,000 handicap hurdle (110 or lower) going 2 1/8 miles. The NSA handicapping system at work as 11 would-be claimers square off. Paddy’s Crown, Ack Feisty and Querry House hold down the highest marks (110) and shoulder 158 pounds. Querry Horse has been second in both American starts – six days apart – for Leslie Young, who takes blinkers off and puts the streaking Jack Doyle (he’s won with his last five mounts) up. Cool race.
- Tom: Querry House, Shoreline, First Friday.
- Joe: Querry Horse, Brooklyn Speights, Shoreline.
- Sean: Querry Horse, Shoreline, Ack Feisty.
Second race. The Theodora A. Randolph Cup. Named after another legend, who owned Bon Nouvel among others, $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. After overflow entries, a full field of 10 makes the program, but we’ll see who goes. Come on with some rain please. Only three have started over jumps. Big Bend and Gold Shield were stakes horses on the flat. This race might help your wagering at the International Gold Cup in two weeks.
- Tom: Anticipating, Mr. Fine Threads, Gold Shield.
- Joe: Mr. Fine Threads, Anticipating, Royal Drumlee.
- Sean: Anticipating, Royal Drumlee, Mr. Fine Threads.
Third race. $40,000 National Sporting Library and Museum Cup timber stakes going 3 1/4 miles. Just four signed on for this. Blame the firm ground, but there’s some quality here. Andi’amu has won four in a row and will be tough to handle. Super Saturday is plenty capable and loves Middleburg. Witor and Just Wait And See would probably appreciate a bit more cut in the ground.
- Tom: Andi’amu, Witor, Just Wait And See.
- Joe: Andi’amu, Super Saturday, Just Wait And See.
- Sean: Andi’amu, Witor, Super Saturday.
Fourth race. The Daniel C. Sands Cup $15,000 maiden claiming ($15,000-$10,000) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Ten in the body with two on the also-eligible list. Naval Gazer got disqualified out of a win way back in March, Good And Proper was second at Foxfield, Junonia spent the summer running at Presque Isle Downs and Penn National (winning once) after getting claimed at Middleburg Spring. Competitive group.
- Tom: Naval Gazer, Good And Proper, Colonel Moorhead.
- Joe: Naval Gazer, Good And Proper, Be Somebody.
- Sean: Colonel Moorhead, Naval Gazer, Good And Proper.
Fifth race. The James P. McCormick Memorial $15,000 maiden timber going 3 1/4 miles. This one goes 10 deep (with won AE) and includes several timber rookies.
- Tom: On My Wish List, Renegade River, Cocodimama.
- Joe: Renegade River, Rakhaa, Albus.
- Sean: Renegade River, On My Wish List, Withoutmoreado.
Sixth race. $20,000 Steeplethon over the Alfred Hunt cross-country course going 2 5/8 miles. They jump everything and anything here. Who can turn the best? Which jockey will find a way to save lengths? Looks like a showdown between Overwhelming, Invocation and Mercoeur.
- Tom: Overwhelming, Mercoeur, Just Wait And See.
- Joe: Mercoeur, Invocation, Overwhelming.
- Sean: Mercoeur, Overwhelming, Invocation.
Seventh race. Training flat going 1 1/4 miles. Nice to see Balance The Budget return. He always runs well fresh over jumps. Not sure what that means for a flat prep. A Day In Paradise and Downhill Racer won stakes on the flat, though the former hasn’t run since the 2015 Louisiana Derby. Rebound won a bumper at Ludlow last year.
- Tom: Balance The Budget, Undisclosed, Dream Verse.
- Joe: Rebound, Downhill Racer, Balance The Budget.
- Sean: A Day In Paradise, Undisclosed, Downhill Racer.
Eighth race. Training flat for Virginia-bred or -certified horses going 1 1/4 miles. Another prep for the Gold Cup race in two weeks.
- Tom: Speed Ahead, Talk Less, Vincent Van Gogo.
- Joe: Vincent Van Gogo, Galaxy Express, Speed Ahead.
- Sean: Vincent Van Gogo, Talk Less, Speed Ahead.
GENESEE VALLEY HUNT RACES. Another stalwart on the schedule, Genesee hosts its 91st annual race meet in upstate New York. The day includes racing of all types but four NSA-sanctioned affairs (three over timber and one on the flat). Post time is 1 p.m.
First race. The Martha Wadsworth Memorial $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Seven on the program including point-to-point winner Royal Ruse, who teams up with rising apprentice Skylar McKenna.
- Tom: Pincer Movement, Coastal Moon, Pocket Talk.
- Joe: Royal Ruse, Pocket Talk, Coastal Moon.
- Sean: Royal Ruse, Rocket Star Red, Coastal Moon.
Second race. The Cross Country Plate $10,000 amateur/apprentice timber going 3 miles. Eight line up here and it’ll be hard to get past Flaming Sword, who looked like a potential star in the spring, and jockey McLane Hendriks.
- Tom: Flaming Sword, The Duck, Really Ready.
- Joe: Flaming Sword, The Duck, Really Ready.
- Sean: Flaming Sword, The Duck, Really Ready.
Third race. The Genesee Valley Hunt Cup $30,000 timber stakes going 3 1/2 miles. This timber course is never an easy task and the stakes is frequently a steppingstone to bigger things. This year’s group includes three-time timber winner Schoodic (who gets his stiffest jumping test), stakes winner Mystic Strike plus veteran Sovereign Fund from trainer Todd McKenna, stakes winner Le Chevalier from Julie Gomena, Pennsylvania Hunt Cup winner Stand Down (third in this last year), the capable Monstaleur (second in this last year and also second at Shawan) and 2016 Genesee Valley Hunt Cup winner Grand Manan. Deep field.
- Tom: Schoodic, Grand Manan, Le Chevalier.
- Joe: Stand Down, Schoodic, Mystic Strike.
- Sean: Schoodic, Le Chevalier, It's Nothing.
Fourth race. The Oxbow (no, not the horse; we don’t think) amateur training flat going 1 3/4 miles. Champion hurdler Zanjabeel was a scratch so Genesee won’t get that treat. Still a decent race with Shawan winner Barhanpour playing the favorite’s role.
- Tom: Full Time Party, Barhanpour, Av A Word.
- Joe: Barhanpour, Court Ruler, Full Time Party.
- Sean: Barhanpour, Av A Word, Court Ruler.