The first Saratoga steeplechase race is 18 days away, but there is plenty of action for the up-and-over set at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa. - on the flat and over jumps. Sunday, two $25,000 races for steeplechasers help fill up a 10-race card. Tuesday, three hurdle races will be part of a 10-race lineup.
Sunday's double header brings out Grade 1 winner and 2014 steeplechase champion Demonstrative in his tightener for the $125,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial at the Spa Aug. 6. Owned by Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trained by Richard Valentine, the 8-year-old is 7-2 on the morning line despite not running in a "real" flat race since June 2010 at England's Newcasatle Racecourse. The son of Elusive Quality is regularly competitive in NSA training flat tests, however, and will be a factor in Sunday's opener.
"He's very, very good," said Valentine's assistant trainer Laird George. "He's training along, ready for a training flat race. He's not a flat horse, not that it's quite a flat race so to speak. It'll be a challenge for him and hopefully he gets out of it what he needs."
What he needs is some added fitness for the Smithwick, which he lost by a nose in 2014 to signal a return to form after wind surgery.
Demonstrative gets reunited with regular jockey Robbie Walsh, who missed a win in the Grade 1 Iroquois Steeplechase with a collarbone injury, in a field of 11. The race, set for 1 1/2 miles, is no easy spot.
Maggie Bryant's Kings Giant won a similar race at the Iroquois with ease and is unbeaten in two career jump starts for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. The 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway is the morning-line favorite at 5-2 and gets jockey Willie McCarthy. If recent maiden hurdle winner Alwaary can find the rewind button, he could be a major player for Merriefield Farm and trainer Elizabeth Voss. The son of Dynaformer kept top company on the flat in England while part of John Gosden's flat barn and finished fourth in the Group 1 King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in 2009. Bred by Shadwell Farm, the 9-year-old gets jockey Jack Doyle, whose winning percentage is .47 this year.
The field also includes Fair Hill maiden hurdle winner Cul Baire, who won on the flat in Ireland two years ago. Trainer Jimmy Day named leading jockey Paddy Young on the 7-year-old son of King's Best.
Demonstrative took a short break after the Iroquois in May, but has been in steady work at Valentine's Virginia base. Cooperative spring/summer weather has kept the turf gallops in shape, and Demonstrative has thrived.
"He probably had a week where he did nothing, maybe 10 days, then it's been just ticking over," said George. "He always likes to do something even if we just use him to watch a set go. He'd rather go hack up the mountain than just get turned out. He can be a lead pony. He loves it. He'll watch horses school, do whatever you want."
Sunday, he runs in a race, looking to build on another potential championship season. Of steeplechasing's six active Grade 1 stakes, Demonstrative has won five - the Iroquois, the New York Turf Writers Cup, the Lonesome Glory, the Grand National and the Colonial Cup. Only the Smithwick has eluded him.
Parx's third race drew a field of 12, headed by Carolina Cup winner Diplomat, veteran hurdler All Together, 2015 handicap winner Charminster, 2015 hurdle stakes winner Bob Lea Beau, the stakes-placed Dr. Skip and two-time hurdle winner Hiwasse Gem.
NOTES: The flat races at Parx will begin from walk-up starts like jump races, rather than starting a starting gate . . . Two days later, Parx hosts three jump races as the first, third and fifth of the day. Maidens go in the first and third. The opener includes Miguel Grau (second at the Iroquois), Noble Bull (second at Monmouth), Irish newcomer Mizyen. The third drew Yellow Mountain (three seconds and a third), Hooded (second at High Hope), Daddy In The Dark (second at Monmouth) and Curmudgeon (third at Fair Hill).
The TIHR crew will be back with picks for both days at Parx.