Here we are. The end. The National Steeplechase Association concludes its 2019 season Sunday at the Charleston Steeplechase in Hollywood, S.C. The Nov. 17 ending makes people miss the Colonial Cup, and even the season-ending Aiken-Colonial Cup double of a few years, but it is what it is. And it’s the end.
The best news involving the weekend was jockey Michael Mitchell’s decision to skip the meet and ensure a tie with the injured Jack Doyle (at 20 wins each) for the jockey championship. Though no injuries and a proper head-to-head showdown over the five races would have been more fun, we’ll take it. Mitchell’s call was one of the coolest things to happen in the game all year. Bravo, and get well soon Jack.
Leading trainer Jack Fisher will also bypass Charleston, leaving him at 37 wins for the year. It’s the third highest total in North American history – behind Jonathan Sheppard’s 39 jump wins in 1988 and the 38 put up by Sheppard in 1983 and Mikey Smithwick in 1958 and tied with Jim Ryan’s 37 in 1937. Fisher is the first trainer to reach 30 since Sanna Neilson in 2005.
Charleston offers five hurdles races and a training flat, so there’s still work to be done in the TIHR Handicapping Challenge. The three intrepid punters didn’t exactly shine at Callaway Gardens last week as Tom was the only one to tab a winner – Galway Kid in the maiden – to pull into a 17-17 tie with Sean for the lead. Joe is two back with 15, which apparently earned him the role of typing out this report. But it’s not over til it’s over, or something like that.
Post time Sunday is 12:45 p.m.
First race. Training flat going 1 1/2 miles. Seven line up including recent training flat winners Full Time Party and Barhanpour. Kathy Neilson and daughter Skylar McKenna show up with Grade 3-placed Battle In Seattle. Skylar’s cousin Parker Hendriks gets on Halibut Cove for his mother Sanna Neilson. Another young jockey Daisy Fenwick takes the call on Av A Word for trainer Willie Dowling. And one more as Mell Boucher gets a leg up on Camp Courage for Arch Kingsley.
- Tom: Battle In Seattle, Av A Word, Indigo Heart.
- Sean: Full Time Party, Barhanpour, Av A Word.
- Joe: Battle In Seattle, Full Time Party, Av A Word.
Second race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. There are always maiden claimers. The last one of the year drew a full field of 10 plus three on the also-eligible list. Combined, they’ve lost 34 times over jumps.
- Tom: Elmutahid, A Day In Paradise, Colonel Moorhead.
- Sean: Colonel Moorhead, A Day In Paradise, Ace Of Diamonds.
- Joe: A Day In Paradise, Cheetah Beach, Alsinaafy.
Third race. $15,000 handicap hurdle (110 and lower) going 2 1/4 miles. Seven turn up for this. Bodes Well, rated 110, is the only two-time winner in the bunch and gets a savvy five-pound weight break for apprentice Brian Linehan. Change Maker was second over the course last year and will be better for the run at Montpelier. Paddy’s Crown flattened out late at Montpelier. Attracting rules maiden claimers last time.
- Tom: Bodes Well, Paddy’s Crown, Attracting.
- Sean: Bodes Well, Change Maker, Paddy's Crown.
- Joe: Change Maker, Paddy’s Crown, Attracting.
Fourth race. $20,000 handicap hurdle (115 and lower) going 2 1/4 miles. Another group of seven, rated a few notches above the group in the third race. These are what the handicap system are all about. To get 14 horses places to run, without being risked for a claiming price, is a good thing. Jump Ship figures to be a factor (he almost always is). Aydoun won at this level at Montpelier. Hepcat was beaten just a length in his last. Gaye Breeze’s effort at Great Meadow would put him right there. Even group.
- Tom: Hepcat, Jump Ship, Gaye Breeze.
- Sean: Hepcat, Gaye Breeze, Aydoun.
- Joe: Jump Ship, Aydoun, Gaye Breeze.
Fifth race. $25,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Seven clash in the last maiden race of the season. Tolaga Bay tuned up with a flat win at Montpelier. Fancy Pance is yet another Irish point-to-point runner (he was second in October 2018) to join the American ranks. Decisive Triumph just missed winning at Montpelier. Fightinirishtabit was second at Aiken, 2 lengths behind next-out winner Family Tree. Aldous Snow has been third in his only two starts over jumps, and won just shy of $750,000 on the flat.
- Tom: Decisive Triumph, Fightinirishtabit, Tolaga Bay.
- Sean: Decisive Triumph, Fancy Pance, Fightinirishtabit.
- Joe: Decisive Triumph, Fancy Pance, Tolaga Bay.
Sixth race. $25,000 3-year-old hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Eight runners in their rookie seasons over jumps face the starter, including Far Hills winner Global Freedom and runner-up Must See The Doc. Summer Vow and He’ll Do finished second and third in the maiden claimer at Montpelier. West Newton raced on the flat for The Queen of England, winning once at Doncaster in May. Now the son of Kitten’s Joy is an American jumper for Irv Naylor and Cyril Murphy. What a world.
- Tom: Global Freedom, Must See The Doc, West Newton.
- Sean: Global Freedom, Must See The Doc, Another Try.
- Joe: West Newton, Global Freedom, Must See The Doc.