Almost there. The steeplechase season is at the sixteenth pole with two meets this weekend at Montpelier Saturday and Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Sunday and single stops over the next two to wrap up everything until March. As usual, the autumn season (never feels right to use fall) was quick. It seems like we just left Saratoga.
There’s still a little drama remaining.
Jack Fisher needs three wins to tie the all-time National Steeplechase Association record of 39 held by Jonathan Sheppard. Fisher tripled at the International Gold Cup last week to get to 36, and is pretty light this weekend with just three runners (in two races) at Montpelier and none at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. That’ll leave the record to perhaps fall at Callaway Gardens Nov. 9 or Charleston Nov. 17. Jockeys Michael Mitchell (19 wins) and Jack Doyle (18) are still trading punches at the top of the standings. They’re both seeking their first titles. They’re both busy at Montpelier with Doyle picking up a couple in Pennsylvania too. The final stretch will be fun to watch.
Beyond that, most year-end titles have been decided.
Brain Power will win the earnings crown, based on one rich win (yawn) in the Grand National at Far Hills. If you can figure out the Eclipse Award vote, with confidence, feel free to chime in. It shouldn’t go to Brain Power. Winston C had a good month (but did win two Grade 1 stakes). Scorpiancer was brilliant in the Iroquois and beat all the Americans in the Grand National. How about Snap Decision? The first-year hurdler won four of six, with two seconds, to rule his novice division but never did try open company. He’d be the equivalent of a dominant 3-year-old in a flat season with no standout older horse.
And we thought Andi’amu had clinched the timber championship with three wins, a second, and $115,500 in the bank BUT Schoodic has one more chance to claim the crown as he's eligible for the novice timber at Callaway Gardens Nov. 9. Schoodic, who ousted Andi'amu in the International Gold Cup after starting the year as a maiden, has won five of six (with a second) and has $109,500 in earnings. The Callaway race, restricted to horses who started 2019 as timber maidens, is worth $12,000 to the winner. Andi'amu is not eligible as he won his first timber race last year.
Now, let’s turn to this weekend. The TIHR handicappers are still swinging (and mostly missing). Tom had three winners last weekend – Ebullience, Gibralfaro and Accountable. Joe countered with two – Schoodic and Family Tree. Sean had one – Lela’s Gift. That leaves the series at 14 for Sean, 13 for Tom and 12 for Joe.
MONTPELIER. It used to be the home of James Madison, and also noted Thoroughbred owner/breeder Marion du Pont Scott (whose diverse racing stable included Battleship, Soothsayer, Mongo and Proud Delta among dozens of other stars). Post time is 12:30 at the historic meet, which includes the only dirt race on the NSA circuit.
First race. Training flat going 1 mile on the dirt.
- Sean: Tolaga Bay, Speed Alert, Ready Set Shop.
- Tom: Tolaga Bay, Speed Alert, Arkadag.
- Joe: Tolaga Bay, Arkadag, Ritual Way.
Second race. Handicap hurdle (110 and down) going 2 3/8 miles. Cool group of 11 and an example of the handicap system at work. These guys don't have to run for a claiming price to find a realistic spot. Paddy’s Crown (Doyle aboard) comes off a third behind next-out winner Ebullience at Middleburg. Aydoun, Mathayus and Mutin are all rated 110, and Mathayus won over the course last year. Junonia looked good winning a maiden claimer at Middleburg. Ack Feisty (Mitchell) is capable on his best day. Who gets the trip?
- Sean: Paddy’s Crown, Mathayus, Mutin.
- Tom: Mathayus, Paddy's Crown, Aydoun.
- Joe: Paddy’s Crown, Mathayus, Ack Feisty.
Third race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. Another full field of maidens in a year full of them. If the circuit needs a goal for 2020, it’s to graduate more maidens.
- Sean: Lucky Soul, Dream Verse, Attracting.
- Tom: A Day In Paradise, Hollywood Strike, Attracting.
- Joe: Masquerader, Cheetah Beach, Attracting.
Fourth race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. See above.
- Sean: Eleven It Is, I Am Not Here, He’ll Do.
- Tom: I Am Not Here, Ace Of Diamonds, Eleven It Is.
- Joe: I Am Not Here, Eleven It Is, Colonel Moorhead.
Fifth race. $25,000 allowance hurdle (NW2 for fillies/mares) going 2 3/8 miles. Five maidens plus Aiken winner Lela’s Gift running right back, Down Royal trying to get back on track and Foxfield winner Inverness. Ciboure is a maiden, but she’s been second in three stakes. She’ll be happy not to have to chase Pravalaguna, who won at Far Hills.
- Sean: Ciboure, Inverness, Lela’s Gift.
- Tom: Ciboure, Inverness, Down Royal.
- Joe: Inverness, Ciboure, Lela’s Gift.
Sixth race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. Ten in the body plus three on the AE list. Crazy. Withoutmoreado exits two timber starts. Aldous Snow won graded stakes on the flat and has been third in two jump starts. Deposit makes long-awaited jump debut off two flat wins and a second at Colonial this summer. Anticipating will be tough with any improvement off his last at Middleburg.
- Sean: Anticipating, Deposit, Mr. Fine Threads.
- Tom: Anticipating, Deposit, Eryx.
- Joe: Anticipating, Mr. Fine Threads, Deposit.
Seventh race. $40,000 Noel Laing handicap hurdle going 2 1/2 miles over the brush course. Cool, old fences get to be seen in a cool, old race first run in 1937. Laing was an amateur jockey and trainer for Montpelier way back when, and the race has been won by some good ones – Soothsayer, Fire Control, Zaccio and others – and three from the Joe Clancy Sr. stable in the 1980s (Owhata Chief, Heart Of The Desert and Hawaiki). This year’s field includes Grade 1 winners All The Way Jose and Show Court plus the first three home in the Appleton at Far Hills in Pik Em, Querry Horse and Stooshie (where All The Way Jose was fourth). Invocation returns to this division after two starts over cross-country courses. He’ll miss regular jockey Sean McDermott, who is out with broken ribs from a fall at the Gold Cup. Kieran Norris substitutes. Second in all four starts in the U.S., Querry Horse gets a nice weight break. Good race.
- Sean: Pik Em, Stooshie, Querry Horse.
- Tom: Pik Em, Invocation, Querry Horse.
- Joe: Pik Em, Amschel, Querry Horse.
PENNSYLVANIA HUNT CUP. On to the big timber Sunday in Unionville. It’ll feel a little strange not seeing Paddy Neilson at one of his favorite race meets, but we’ll be thinking of him. Thanks to the big weather change Halloween night, it’ll be proper Hunt Cup weather – crisp, clear and breezy. Bring gloves, and your credit card (it’s good spot for some early holiday shopping). Post time is 1:30 for a four-race card.
First race. $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Pincer Movement crossed the line first at Genesee but was disqualified for going off course. Renegade River and Royal Ruse have run well this year and rrepresent the RR squad. Pocket Talk could be sitting on a big race, as could Forever Bernardini.
- Sean: Renegade River, Forever Bernardini, Pincer Movement.
- Tom: Royal Ruse, Renegade River, Pince Movement.
- Joe: Pocket Talk, Forever Bernardini, Renegade River.
Second race. $20,000 allowance timber (NW2) going 3 miles. Decent field of six for this. Maidens El Jefe Grande and Really Ready aren’t that far off the winenrs. Just Wait And See won at Winterthur and has been good in the cross-coutnry races. This is a bit more of a jumping test. Rocket Star Red got the win at Genesee, on the DQ of Pincer Movement.
- Sean: Just Wait And See, Really Ready, Rocket Star Red.
- Tom: Really Ready, Just Wait And See, Rocket Star Red.
- Joe: Really Ready, Just Wait And See, Rocket Star Red.
Third race. $40,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup timber stakes going 4 miles. It’s not the Maryland Hunt Cup, but it’s still one of the sport’s top tests for timber horses. Stand Down won last year and tuned up with a fourth at Genesee. Witor can contend with his best. It’s been a long time between drinks for Grand Manan. Mystic Strike and Mark Beecher are always tough to handle. Super Saturday has placed in two stakes this fall and was second to Stand Down here last year.
- Sean: Witor, Stand Down, Super Saturday.
- Tom: Super Saturday, Grand Manan, Witor.
- Joe: Stand Down, Mystic Strike, Witor.
Fourth race. Training flat for amateur and apprentice jockeys going 1 3/8 miles. Twelve runners. Expect a little chaos. Michael Dickinson won this last year with In It To Win, and returns with Rumors Of Violence. The 4-year-old Violence gelding has won his last two at Parx and Delaware. Barhanpour and Sara Gartland dominated at Shawan. Stone Farm will be represented by Telegram, a homebred Quality Road gelding now trained by Elizabeth Voss. Fancy Pance makes U.S. debut out of Irish point-to-point competition.
- Sean: Rumors Of Violence, Fancy Pance, Good And Proper.
- Tom: Rumors Of Violence, Bulland, Fance Pance.
- Joe: Rumors Of Violence, Fancy Pance, Bulland.