Limited steeplechase opportunities mean cards like Saturday’s at Virginia Fall with nine races and overflow fields at every turn over hurdles, over timber and on the flat. The historic Glenwood Park course in Middleburg – with its hillside viewing area, iconic stone walls and rock outcroppings among the box seats – plays host to nine races with a first post of 12:30 p.m.
You can watch it all via live stream – with remote commentary from Megan Connolly and TIHR's Joe Clancy at nationalsteeplechase.com.
A 115 handicap is the hurdle feature, while timber horses get a stakes try in the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup, but it will also be fun to see the cross-country course in action and two solid maiden hurdle races.
The TIHR team takes another swing at handicapping. Last week, Joe had two wins (Animal Kingston in the opener and Elucidation in the apprentice jockey hurdle) while Tom had one (Inverness in the handicap hurdle) and Sean was blanked. Going back to spring’s two meets (we didn’t really handicap the summer though Tom went 5-for-9 at Saratoga), the standings read Tom 7, Sean 6, Joe 6. We’ll see if there’s any movement after Saturday.
First race. $15,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Full field of 10 launches the day. Middleburg rewards experience as it’s a bit wide-open with some undulating ground, no inside rail in most parts of the course and even a bit of a right-hand turn out into the country. That puts first-timers Hail Michigan, Eagle Fifty and Overdrawn at a bit of a disadvantage. Thomas Cubitt ran well twice as a 3-year-old last fall. Compass Zone (who led early) and Lemonade Thursday (who rallied late) exit the same race at Colonial Downs in August. No Mans Land hasn’t shown much in his two jump starts, but was good enough to win twice on the flat in New York.
Tom: Lemonade Thursday, Thomas Cubitt, Eagle Fifty.
Sean: Lemonade Thursday, Chetzeron, Thomass Cubitt.
Joe: Lemonade Thursday, Thomas Cubitt, Compass Zone.
Second race. $15,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Another 10-horse field, maybe not quite as deep as the first race. Bet The Pot ran OK twice over jumps in spring 2019, and won three times on the flat this summer for breeder, trainer, co-owner Jonathan Sheppard. Fitness won’t be a problem. You’re No Better has had 10 tries over hurdles. Douglas Road won three on the flat, and wasn’t’ disgraced in two stakes tries. He was fourth in his only hurdle start (at Colonial Downs in August). Mr. Bridger chased the talented French Light, who came back to win at Saratoga, home at Colonial. Deposit gets Lasix for the first time in a race, has good flat form and was in the mix in two hurdle starts this spring.
Tom: Bet The Pot, Douglas Road, Cause For Pardon.
Sean: Mr. Bridger, Douglas Road, Bet The Pot.
Joe: Douglas Road, Bet The Pot, Deposit.
Third race. $20,000 handicap hurdle for horses rated 115 and below going 2 1/8 miles. Eight horses after the scratch of Show Court. Only Corky Lemon has won twice over hurdles. Look for Repeat Repeat on the lead early, though the next batch will be stalking. All three of trainer Jack Fisher’s should be better than they’ve shown. Brianbakescookies had two dull fifths at Saratoga after opening 2020 with a good second and closing 2019 with a maiden win. Whitman’s Poetry (also fifth in his two 2020 starts) just seems overdue to win again. Notjudginjustsayin makes his first start after winning one of three over hurdles in 2018. Anticipating won on the flat at Presque Isle last month and was third at Middleburg in June. Jump Ship was beaten a half-length on the flat at Delaware in July and has run some solid races over jumps. Cool race.
Tom: Anticipating, Brianbakescookies, Jump Ship.
Sean: Brianbakescookies, Anticipating, Whitman's Poetry.
Joe: Brianbakescookies, Anticipating, Whitman’s Poetry.
Fourth race. $25,000 National Sporting Library and Museum Cup timber stakes going 3 ¼ miles. Some familiar names among this group of eight including the indefatigable Super Saturday – he of the 43 starts over jumps going back to 2013. He makes his 10th start at Glenwood for trainer Kathy Neilson. The 11-year-old hasn’t won since April 2018, but has been second or third eight times since. The field includes four 11-year-olds and a 10-year-old. At the other end are 6-year-olds Storm Team and Royal Rose. The former won a maiden timber over this course in June and then went off course while setting the pace in the Virginia Gold Cup two weeks later. Mikey Mitchell gets on for the first time over timber (they won a hurdle race together last fall). Royal Ruse won a maiden timber at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup last fall and won a point-to-point at Shawan Downs Sept. 26.
Tom: Storm Team, Super Saturday, Grand Manan.
Sean: Storm Team, Codrington College, Royal Ruse.
Joe: Storm Team, Royal Ruse, Super Saturday.
Fifth race. $10,000 maiden hurdle for 3- and 4-year-olds going 2 1/8 miles. Ten more look to graduate here. They’re all 4 except Koko Star, a Kitten’s Joy gelding who won a $65,000 maiden claimer for Mike Maker at Gulfstream Park in May. Junior Senator, a half-brother to Maryland Hunt Cup hero Senior Senator, makes his jump debut for Irv Naylor and trainer Billy Meister. Irish-bred Rambaldi was second at Colonial for the Leslie Young barn while Another Ty has been second twice for Jonathan Sheppard (once over the course in June).
Tom: Rambaldi, Sea Mast, Another Try.
Sean: Rambaldi, Sea Mast, Another Try.
Joe: Rambaldi, Another Try, Koko Star.
Sixth race. $10,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Scratch The Silent Trainer and draw in Second Amendment from the also-eligible list, so expect a field of 12. Flash Jackson was second over the course in his timber debut in June and you know he’s jumped plenty at trainer Todd Wyatt’s place. Hafajay comes over from England for trainer Richard Valentine, with a hunters steeplechase win in 2019. Satish was a solid second over timber at My Lady’s Manor in 2019. Timber rookie My Afleet is certainly fast enough to win this if he’s handled his jumping lessons with trainer Mark Beecher. Second Amendment won a point-to-point start at Shawan.
Tom: Flash Jackson, Satish, The Silent Trainer.
Sean: Flash Jackson, The Silent Trainer, Satish.
Joe: Flash Jackson, My Afleet, Second Amendment.
Seventh race. $15,000 cross-country steeplechase going 2 5/8 miles. Call it the steeplethon or whatever, the race goes over the Alfred Hunt Course at Glenwood and features fences of every shape and size, a hairpin turn and plenty of other challenges. Invocation excels over this course and won over it in June, in part due to his handiness and turning ability, but gets challenged by his old friend Mercoeur (who won at Great Meadow) plus Skydiving and cross-country newcomer Belisarius. The latter might enjoy the change of pace, and has proven his ability against the best over hurdles. He was pulled up after getting struck into by another horse in a scary-looking incident, but was none the worse for wear and had to work for veterinarians in Saratoga to prove his fitness. Fun race as usual. The corner by the tree on the backside will tell the tale.
Tom: Hepcat, Mercoeur, Peppay Le Pugh.
Sean: Invocation, Mercoeur, Winner Massagot.
Joe: Invocation, Belisarius, Mercoeur.
Eighth race. $5,000 apprentice jockey timber going 3 miles. Opportunity knocks for a crew of inexperienced jockeys as a field of 12 lines up in the day’s final jump race. Scratch Pocket Talk. Tough form to decipher. Pured It, Cheers To Us, Withoutmoreado, Hanno and Coastal Moon look like players. Crowded field, lots of ground to lose or save at Glenwood. Best ride wins it.
Tom: Hanno, Pured It, Stand Down.
Sean: Hanno, Withoutmoreado, Canyon Road.
Joe: Pured It, Coastal Moon, Hanno.
Ninth race. Training flat going 1 ½ miles. The finale lists post time at 5:10 p.m. Don’t get behind schedule or it’ll be dark. The Neil Morris barn will be well-represented by Mutasaaway (always a factor in these races), Oceanographer (a three-time winner last year) and Onarock (another who won three last year). New Member has all the hurdle class. Cloudbased won at Gulfstream Park in April for Stuart Janney and Shug McGaughey.
Tom: Onarock, New Member, Cloudbased.
Sean: Mutasaawy, New Member, Onarock.
Joe: Mutasaawy, Onarock, Cloudbased.