At the Montpelier and Callaway Gardens steeplechase meets Nov. 7 and 8, jockey Darren Nagle won six races. But he singled out one. "The one that didn't count was probably the most important one," he said with a laugh after riding out for trainer Graham Motion Friday.
That one, a training flat race with no purse, came aboard steeplechase champion Demonstrative and enabled Nagle to get feel of the 8-year-old in advance of Sunday's Grade 1 Colonial Cup at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. Demonstrative is one of 11 entered in the $100,000 stakes, which caps the 2015 season and will go a long way toward deciding year-end championship honors. Bob Le Beau has the inside track with three wins (two Grade 1) and $216,250 along with Dawalan (whose lone U.S. win came in the $300,000 Grade 1 Grand National at Far Hills).
Demonstrative could make his case in the Colonial Cup, though he would trail the other two in terms of earnings. Regardless, a win will salvage 2015 for last year's champion steeplechaser, whose season began with a Grade 1 win in the Iroquois in May but derailed with three consecutive losses. Trainer Richard Valentine tapped Nagle to replace Robbie Walsh, who was injured in a fall aboard another horse at Far Hills Oct. 17. The new combination worked well at Montpelier, where Demonstrative rolled to the front and out-galloped six others including fellow Colonial Cup entrants Bob Le Beau and Alajmal who were second and third in the 1 1/2-mile turf test.
"I popped him out front and let him bowl along and let him enjoy himself," Nagle said. "I let him go a good old gallop and see if he could keep it up. He did. To be fair, the horse has nothing to prove. It would be nice to see him come back to his form. He's been one of the best horses over here for a long time."
Nagle should know. He's battled Demonstrative numerous times, including several slugfests with Divine Fortune. With Nagle in the tack, the 2013 champion defeated Demonstrative in last year's Colonial Cup but died from a broken shoulder suffered in a fall at Saratoga this summer. Nagle would rather not be open to ride Demonstrative Saturday, and also feels for the sidelined Walsh. Paddy Young rode Demonstrative in the Grand National at Far Hills, where the horse finished a lifeless ninth. When Walsh got hurt this spring, Jack Doyle rode Demonstrative. Young (Gustavian) and Doyle (Bob Le Beau) have Colonial Cup mounts.
"They were probably kind of struggling for a rider," Nagle said. "I've ridden a bit for Richard down the rough the years and they were kind enough to give me the opportunity. I'm friendly with Robbie and he's one of the best people out there. I can talk to him about things and he can give me as much information as I need.
"It's a lot easier to be injured and miss the ride than somebody just taking you off the horse for no reason, which can happen as well. It's a good opportunity for me, especially after losing Divine Fortune."
Demonstrative must win to revive any thoughts of a second Eclipse Award, but also to reboot his career. The star of owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom's stable came into 2015 with a chance to become just the third horse to earn $1 million in American steeplechase purses. Bred by Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky, the son of Elusive Quality will have to come back for a 9-year-old campaign in 2016 to make that happen as he's still $78,000 behind.
Purchased by Valentine at England's Tattersalls horses in training sale, the dark bay gelding made his jump debut as a 3-year-old in 2010 after a short flat career in England. He's up to a dozen career jump wins, including a score in the 2012 Colonial Cup. His 2015 campaign seems similar to 2013 when he opened with an Iroquois victory and lost his next four. He underwent off-season wind surgery and returned to win three Grade 1 stakes and take the Eclipse Award last year.
In 2015, the year began with an Iroquois victory, and he tuned up for the summer with a flat win at Parx Racing. Demonstartive finished third in the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga (while giving 16 pounds to the two horses in front of him) and was pulled up three weeks later in the New York Turf Writers Cup. He emerged from that race with a lung infection, but was seemingly healthy heading into the Grand National and never threatened after a bad jump on the final run down the backside. Nagle finished sixth in the race aboard Charminster.
"He might have had an off day," Nagle said. "I was following him and he made a mistake and he didn't recover. The thing about all these Grade 1 races is they're so different. The Iroquois, the Smithwick, the Turf Writers, Far Hills, Camden, there are so many big differences on the day. It takes an amazingly consistent horse to perform at all of those races and he's done that. Camden is probably the most galloping track these good horses get to race on, and that suits Demonstrative I think."
Nagle was impressed by the Montpelier race.
"He enjoyed himself, he showed plenty of life, he was competitive, he stuck his head down and wanted to stay in front," said the jockey. "There were a lot of positive things to take out of it."
The Colonial Cup field (with owner, trainer, jockey). All horses carry 156 pounds over 2 3/4 miles and 17 fences. The Grade 1 is the fourth race on the day with a post time of 2 p.m.
- Diplomat (Flying Elvis Stable, Kate Dalton, Bernie Dalton).
- Demonstrative (Jacqueline Ohrstrom, Richard Valentine, Darren Nagle).
- The Nephew (Bruton Street-US, Jack Fisher, Connor Hankin).
- Bob Le Beau (The Fields Stable, Elizabeth Voss, Jack Doyle).
- All Together (David Jacobson, Jacobson, Steven Pateman).
- Dawalan (Irv Naylor, Cyril Murphy, Ross Geraghty).
- Rawnaq (Irv Naylor, Cyril Murphy, Sean McDermott).
- Lune de Caro (Tamara McSorley, Jonathan Sheppard, Mark Beecher).
- Able Deputy (Irv Naylor, Cyril Murphy, Carol-Ann Sloan).
- Gustavian (Magalen Bryant, Leslie Young, Paddy Young).
- Alajmal (Greg Hawkins, Janet Elliot, Kieran Norris).