Two to go. The second-to-last racing day of the 2019 steeplechase season arrives Saturday with the Callaway Gardens Steeplechase in Pine Mountain, Ga. The five-race card showcases novice hurdlers in a $75,000 stakes and 4-year-old hurdlers in a $30,000 restricted allowance.
And, before we go any further, here’s to Callaway shifting its race date a week later on the calendar to give the schedule another day and relieve some conflicts for horsemen and fans with the Montpelier Races run last weekend. The two meets shared a Saturday for decades and this seems much more sensible. Thank you.
Saturday’s races are interesting enough, but two seasonal contests are worth attention as well.
First, jockeys Jack Doyle and Michael Mitchell are still trying to settle the NSA championship. Doyle won two last weekend to get to 20, one ahead of Mitchell. Each has five rides Saturday. Second, Jack Fisher is still chasing the all-time record for jump victories in a single year. He’s got 36 and needs three more to tie Jonathan Sheppard. Fisher runs six horses in four races.
The TIHR handicappers get back to work as well. Last week, everybody had three winners – Tolaga Bay and Anticipating plus Just Wait And See for Sean and I Am Not Here for Joe and Tom. So it’s 17 for Sean, 16 for Tom, 15 for Joe. As Gene Hart would say when the Flyers needed to rally: Time’s a wasting.
Post time Saturday is noon.
First race. $20,000 novice timber going 3 1/8 miles. No, Schoodic did not make the program which means the race is up for grabs and Andi’amu will be your 2019 timber champion. Dapper Dan and Mercoeur finished 1-2 in the cross-country race at Great Meadow. This is a little different, but not the stiffest timber course around. Doyle rides Mercoeur, an 11-length winner at Shawan in September. Mitchell tries with Other Cheek in his timber debut for Fisher. They were fifth over hurdles at Great Meadow Oct. 26.
- Sean: Dapper Dan, Mercoeur, Other Cheek.
- Tom: Dapper Dan, Mercoeur, Other Cheek.
- Joe: Dapper Dan, Mercoeur, Other Cheek.
Second race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Alsinaafy makes jump debut for Leslie Young and Doyle. Shark du Berlais goes out for Fisher and Mitchell off a pull-up in maiden special weight company last time. Pappy On The Rocks and Downhill Racer exit the straight maiden at Aiken, with the former looking to improve off a third there.
- Sean: Pappy On The Rocks, Shark Du Berlais, Flushed.
- Tom: Shark Du Berlais, Flushed, Pappy On The Rocks.
- Joe: Pappy On The Rocks, Shark du Berlais, Alsinaafy.
Third race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. They’re still coming up with solid maiden fields, as eight turn up here led by promising 4-year-olds Galway Kid and Emerald Rocket (Doyle). They both ran at Far Hills and will be factors on similar efforts. Lonely Weekend is due to break through, as is You’re No Better (Mitchell). Gold Shield’s flat form will take him a long way. Fun race.
- Sean: Emerald Rocket, You're No Better, Lonely Weekend.
- Tom: Galway Kid, Emerald Rocket, Lonely Weekend.
- Joe: Emerald Rocket, Galway Kid, Lonely Weekend.
Fourth race. $75,000 AFLAC Supreme hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Novice hurdlers take their last swing of the year, and it’s a nice mix of stakes horses, allowance winners and recent maiden-breakers. Iranistan carries high weight of 159 pounds and makes his first novice start since a 6-length win at Nashville in 2018. He placed in two open Grade 1 stakes last year before going to the sidelines for almost 14 months. The Far Hills run will help. Storm Team (Mitchell) looks like a pace player along with Iranistan, which could set the table for spring novice winner City Dreamer and Doyle. Big Bend has done nothing wrong in two jump starts for Neil Morris. Elucidation , The Holy One, Lethal Steps, My Afleet and Maccabee are all capable. Fisher is represented by City Dreamer and Storm Team.
- Sean: Iranistan, City Dreamer, Storm Team.
- Tom: Iranistan, Storm Team, Lethal Steps.
- Joe: City Dreamer, Iranistan, Big Bend.
Fifth race. $30,000 4-year-old allowance hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Nine go in here, led by Far Hills winner Zanzi Win (Doyle) and runner-up Caldbeck both from trainer Ricky Hendriks’ barn. Zanzi Win was a half-length better that day, but the weights swing three pounds in Caldbeck’s favor. Bodes Well was fourth there while Fisher’s two of Knockholt and Our Legend (Mitchell) were sixth and seventh but still within 5 lengths of the winner. Sprotswear was really good in the spring winning his first two, but has struggled to find that form. Of course, he was facing the streaking Snap Decision. Newcomers Skydiving, a winner of two straight, and Aiken maiden winner Family Tree complete a strong field. For pedigree fans, Skydiving is a relative of Maryland Hunt Cup winner Welter Weight, champion hurdler Martie’s Anger, Grade 1 winner It’s A Giggle, Saratoga hurdle stakes winner The Price Of Love and $448,309 earner Polar Pleasure among others.
- Sean: Zanzi Win, Caldbeck, Skydiving.
- Tom: Caldbeck, Skydiving, Family Tree.
- Joe: Skydiving, Zanzi Win, Caldbeck.