Late June? The Iroquois? Sure, why not? Such is the life of steeplechase racing in the midst of a pandemic and – after one of American jump racing’s truly iconic stops was canceled last year – we’ll take it.
The day includes seven races, $255,000 in purses, solid fields, fans (whew) and another start for Snap Decision who seeks his ninth consecutive win over jumps. Post time is 1 p.m. (central time so 2 p.m. eastern) and you can watch the live stream at the National Steeplechase Association website.
The TIHR handicappers step back into the ring with Joe and Sean tied with 17 wins each (Joe had Chetzeron and Silver Crescent at Tryon while Sean had Silver Crescent and Hurtgen Forest), and a two-win lead on Tom (blanked at Tryon).
First race. $20,000 handicap hurdle (115 and lower) going 2 3/4 miles (1:00 central). The late-June start meant a bit of a shift in the race conditions at Nashville as this and the Grade 1 Iroquois were shortened from 3 miles. Seven showed up, led by Mighty Mark, Boss Man and Hepcat (all rated 115). Hepcat gets a seven-pound break for apprentice Parker Hendriks while Mighty Mark gets five for apprentice Skylar McKenna, meaning Boss Man shoulders top weight of 158. Mighty Mark has won two apprentice races this year, but gets a tougher test here. Decisive Triumph has run well at the level, coming off a second at Radnor. Boss Man looked to be sitting on a big effort at Great Meadow, but lost his jockey early. Be Counted is better than his last effort. Embrace The Grind comes off a win and gets in light. The distance will tell the tale.
Sean: Mighty Mark, Decisive Triumph, Be Counted.
Joe: Mighty Mark, Boss Man, Decisive Triumph.
Tom: Decisive Triumph, Boss Man, Mighty Mark.
Second race. $50,000 Green Pastures novice hurdle stakes going 2 1/4 miles (1:35 central). Late in the year for novices, which should help some of these overcome a bit of an experience disadvantage (18 starts for City Dreamer, 17 for Chief Justice, 12 for Gowiththeflow as opposed to just two for Kilronan and one for Perfect Tapatino). Interesting race. Repeat Repeat looks to be up front early, but won’t have an easy time of it. Fast Car returns. City Dreamer won this race in 2019 and makes his second start of the year. Baltimore Bucko returns to the U.S. after four starts in Ireland. Chief Justice is overdue and leads the field with five wins.
Sean: Kilronan, Fast Car, City Dreamer.
Joe: City Dreamer, Baltimore Bucko, Fast Car.
Tom: Fast Car, Gowiththeflow, Court Ruler.
Third race. $20,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles (2:10 central). Eight go here and cover all bases. Market Bubble makes his fourth start for leading trainer Jack Fisher (good or bad, you decide), Swim is well-bred, but has shown little so far, Princeville keeps getting close, Howya Tuppence was a decent fourth at Great Meadow, The Flasche was claimed from Keri Brion (trainer of Swim and Howya Tuppence) by Leslie Young last time, West Newton was claimed two starts back by Ricky Hendriks, Tap Dance Star has been second twice against fillies and mares, and O Dionysus makes his NSA debut off a flat career with seven wins and $452,074 in earnings. And . . . pick one.
Sean: Howya Tuppence, Princeville, O Dionysus.
Joe: O Dionysus, Howya Tuppence, Swim.
Tom: Tap Dance Star, O Dionysus, The Flasche.
Fourth race. $20,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles (2:45 central). Another eight maidens and another dice roll. The squad includes first-timers Nice To Meet Ya, Queens Empire and Real Good Man, Lost Story (two thirds and a second), Step To The Bar (second last time), Irish import Keri’s Find (who tuned up at Great Meadow), Plenty In the Tank (a flat winner in England), Hail Michigan (third at Great Meadow last fall). For pedigree nerds, Queens Empire is out of Crown Queen – who won four of six including the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on the flat for trainer Bill Mott. Crown Queen is a half-sister to the great Royal Delta.
Sean: Queens Empire, Nice to Meet Ya, Plenty In The Tank.
Joe: Nice To Meet Ya, Queens Empire, Lost Story.
Tom: Queens Empire, Hail Michigan, Plenty In The Tank.
Fifth race. $25,000 Margaret Currey Henley filly/mare hurdle stakes going 2 1/4 miles (3:20 central). Nice to see a field of 10 signed on as the distaff division can get light sometimes. The Mean Queen dazzled at Great Meadow, ousting the boys while improving to 2-for-2 over jumps. Amnicalola shook off some rust at Radnor, her first start in almost two years. Bercasa won twice over hurdles in Ireland. Down Royal halted a long losing streak with a win at Charlotte last time and was second here in 2019.
Sean: The Mean Queen, Paddy Wears Prada, Down Royal.
Joe: The Mean Queen, Down Royal, Amnicalola.
Tom: Down Royal, The Mean Queen, Amnicalola.
Sixth race. $20,000 allowance timber (NW2) going 3 miles (3:55 central). Timber horses don’t typically get a chance to run in June, and this offers some newcomers a chance outside of stakes company. Tomgarrow won over the lumber in 2020, then was a good second to Schoodic last time. That would serve him well here. Rakhaa and Hafajay won at Winterthur. Motivational won at Charlotte and goes out for hometown team of Tantivy Racing and trainer Ted Thompson. Zanjabeel was a champion over hurdles and was second at Middleburg over timber. Storm Team couldn’t hold off Motivational at Charlotte or Mystic Strike at Radnor. That last effort would probably win this though. It’ll depend on how much company he gets early.
Sean: Storm Team, Tomgarrow, Motivational.
Joe: Tomgarrow, Storm Team, Rakhaa.
Tom: Storm Team, Zanjabeel, Tomgarrow.
Seventh race. $100,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Steeplechase (Gr. 1) going 2 3/4 miles (4:30 central). A 3-miler going back to its early days in the 1940s, the feature gets trimmed in distance but drew a standout field of seven. By post position, the field goes:
• Galway Kid. Four wins in eight starts over jumps and coming off a win at Great Meadow. Gutsy that day, as he turned aside Gibralfaro and Bedrock while getting weight. The Iroquois is weight-for-age so everybody carries 158. Six-year-old has lost to Snap Decision three times. Bernie Dalton rides.
• Snap Decision. The favorite rides an eight-race winning streak into his first Grade 1 start. Has won twice in open company and beaten four of his six rivals (he hasn’t faced the other two). Graham Watters rides and will have to figure out when to use his horse’s best stride. He’s got gears when he needs them, but the 7-year-old hasn’t been truly tested in awhile. Only American-bred horse in the field, but a deserving favorite.
• Footpad. The Irish star was well beaten last time when behind Snap Decision in the Gwathmey, but it could be forgiven as it was his first start since January 2020. He’s won 11, earned just shy of $1 million and competed at Cheltenham, Punchestown and Leopardstown. This is Music City and he better bring his A game. He did his best work going 2 miles overseas, but won going 2 3/4 at Thurles and finished third in the 3-mile King George. In 2017-18 season, he defeated Brain Power and Optimus Prime (familiar names to fans of U.S. jump racing) and left Ireland in 2020 with official ratings of 163 over chase fences and 157 over hurdles. Didn’t run in the U.S. last year as his major targets were canceled. Fascinating horse owned by Sonny Via (of Good Night Shirt fame) with Sean McDermott taking the return call.
• New Member. One of three (with Snap Decision and Footpad) for trainer Jack Fisher. Has never lost to Snap Decision, but has also never faced him. Solid seconds in handicap ranks last year and placed in a Grade 1 in 2018. Sean Flanagan is over for the ride. Will have to step forward.
• Sportswear. Course winner in 2019 hasn’t won since but woke up when second at Tryon last time. Finished behind Snap Decision twice in 2019. Son of the mighty Frankel and Group 1 winner Casual Look. Tom Garner rides and he could be a sneaky pace player.
• Amschel. Third behind Snap Decision in the Gwathmey and liable to improve for the race. Was up close early there and could match the winner late and the weight swings 12 pounds. Won three in Ireland, and one here in 2019. Gerard Galligan gets the ride as Jamie Bargary opts for stablemate Bedrock.
• Bedrock. If there’s one horse in the field who hasn’t shown America quite what he’s capable of, it’s this guy. Eight-year-old won five in England/Ireland for Iaian Jardine and achieved a rating of 157 while defeating Samcro and Wicklow Brave. Flubbed two starts in 2019 (one as the favorite) for Leslie Young and was moved to Cyril Murphy by owner Irv Naylor. Son of Fastnet Rock was a game third while giving weight to Galway Kid and Gibralfaro (beaten a half-length) at Great Meadow in May. Sharp and your most likely upsetter.
Sean: Snap Decision, Bedrock, Footpad.
Joe: Snap Decision, Bedrock, Footpad.
Tom: Snap Decision, Galway Kid, Footpad.