The International Gold Cup race meet hosts its 25th running at Great Meadow Saturday, headlining a seven-race card which offers $190,000 in total purses. The race course, created on farmland in The Plains, Va., opened to the public Oct. 20, 1984, and has been a popular stop on the NSA circuit ever since. So it's only appropriate that the favorites for the featured $50,000 timber stakes are also fans of the place.
Bubble Economy and Salmo both scored big victories at Great Meadow, taking the 2008 and 2007 renewals of the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup, respectively. Purse-wise, they were the two biggest wins in timber history, as the spring feature became the first six-figure timber stakes only last year.
Talent and liking for the course are the only things the timber veterans have in common, however.
Arcadia Stable's Bubble Economy is the consistent, predictable one, a reliable fixture on the timber scene since 2004, when he won the NSA timber title at age 5. Now 9, he's raced over the lumber 24 times, notching five wins while hitting the board at a 75-percent clip. His big day came at Great Meadow this May, when he brought home the Virginia Gold Cup (and the $60,000 winner's check) in a wild four-way finish, charging from off the pace to get up in a tight-as-can be affair where a length separated first from fourth after 4 miles.
Jack Fisher gave the son of Rakeen a well-deserved summer vacation for his effort, and Bubble Economy returned to action Oct. 4, running fourth in the National Sporting Library Chronicle Cup at Middleburg, Va. Robbie Walsh, who won the 2007 International Gold Cup for Fisher aboard Seeyouattheevent, gets the call Saturday, and Fisher enters Buble Economy with confidence.
"He's rockin' and rollin' and came out of the Chronicle Cup in good shape so he's ready to go," Fisher said. "I don't think he jumped that well at Middleburg and that obviously cost him in the race. The Gold Cup is a good fit for him — and the top three from the Chronicle Cup aren't in there."
Those three (Monte Bianco, Erin Go Bragh and Irish Prince) head to Far Hills Saturday, but another challenger emerges from the sidelines for the first time in nearly 18 months.
Irv Naylor's Salmo hasn’t been seen over jumps since taking the 2007 Virginia Gold Cup, but Desmond Fogarty has him ready for a comeback. Previously trained by Fisher, the 12-year-old has been a timber factor since finishing third as a maiden in the 2004 International Gold Cup. The Virginia-bred son of famed steeplechase sire Northern Baby took the 2006 Radnor Hunt Cup and the six-figure Gold Cup a year later, but has been sidelined with various ailments. Salmo has been out action, but that doesn't mean he's out of shape, as Fogarty's been getting him fit on the flat and in the swimming pool.
"He's coming in good, schooling good, so we'll send him out there and hope for the best. If he jumps right he can win, that's for sure, but he's an old horse so we'll just have to let him show us," said the trainer, who gives Darren Nagle the call. "I got a nice little piece of work into him on the flat at Foxfield and he has been training and swimming right along at the farm so we're excited to get him back going."
Lightly raced throughout his jump career, Salmo finished second in the 2007 timber standings despite starting just twice.
"He got injured after the (Virginia) Gold Cup of 2007, some timber shins and then a bowed tendon, so it's been a long road back. But we've got his legs good and tight and he's fit, so I'd expect him to bounce out and make the running," Fogarty said. "If you tuck him in behind he gets a little rank, so he'll go out and lead them."
Salmo needs room to do his thing, as jumping is the X-factor in his game. At his best, he's hard to beat; when he makes it to the finish line, he's usually in front. At his worst, he’s tough on himself. Either way, he always attracts attention. Three years older than Bubble Economy, Salmo has been a far-less frequent sight at the races, making only 13 timber starts since 2003. Still, the flamboyant chestnut has built a following along the way.
"I'm sure they'll all be keeping an eye on him; he's a popular old guy with the people; 12 years old and still going. He's got quite a fan base and we're looking forward to Saturday," Fogarty said. "It's a tough race but we'll give them a go."
Lurking in the wings are a pair of timber veterans who've also enjoyed success in the International Gold Cup.
Jubilee Stable's Woodmont, second in the 2007 edition, sports in-the-money finishes in the last two Mason Houghland timber stakes at Nashville, and goes out for Ted Thompson under regular rider Jeff Murphy. Shady Valley, third last year, followed that effort with a second in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Mike Berryman saddles Shady Valley for Anne Haynes and gives the leg up to her son Russell.
Rounding out the International Gold Cup field are relative newcomers: Don Cochran's The Other Me (Jake Chalfin) notched his first timber win in an amateur highweight contest Oct. 5 at Middleburg for Paddy Neilson; Professor Maxwell (George Hundt Jr.) won a similar highweight contest at Unionville last November for Lucy Stable and Richard Valentine; Brimson (Chip Miller), looks for an upset for Never Better Stables and Miller, who also handles his training; Profowens (Nick Carter), an Irish-bred with two English hurdle wins to his credit, goes out for Emma Wettern and trainer Barbara McWade; McWade also sends out Cary Jackson's A Fine Story (Lucy Horner), a 12-year-old making just his fifth career start.
The seven-race card features three hurdle races, two $20,000 flat races, and the popular Steeplethon, a 3-mile affair over a course that tests horses over water jumps, stone walls and brush fences, among other obstacles. The day also includes a visit from some of Europe’s top amateur jockeys, who will compete in the day’s fifth race, the $20,000 International Fegentri World Cup. Jockeys from Germany (Nadine Gratz), Switzerland (Catherine Burri) and other nations will compete. Americans George Wood, Jake Chalfin, Diana Gillam and Blair Wyatt are also in the field.
International Gold Cup field (with jockey, trainer, owner and weight):
1. SHADY VALLEY (Russell Haynes, Mike Berryman, Anne Haynes, 155)
2. A FINE STORY (Lucy Horner, Barbara McWade Cary Jackson, 150)
3. BUBBLE ECONOMY (Robbie Walsh, Jack Fisher, Arcadia Stable, 165)
4. PROFOWENS (Nick Carter, Barbara McWade, Emma Wettern, 150)
5. SALMO (Darren Nagle, Desmond Fogarty, Irv Naylor, 160)
6. PROFESSOR MAXWELL (George Hundt Jr., Richard Valentine, Lucy Stable, 160)
7. WOODMONT (Jeff Murphy, Ted Thompson, Jubilee Stables, 155)
8. BRIMSON (Chip Miller, Chip Miller, Never Better Stables, 160)
9. THE OTHER ME (Jake Chalfin, Paddy Neilson, Donald Cochran, 160)
Gates open at 10 a.m., with the first post at 1:30 p.m. The International Gold Cup is carded as the sixth race.
NOTES: Bubble Economy leads the timber standings with $68,250, slightly more than $6,000 ahead of barnmate Monte Bianco. Both chase $50,000 purses Saturday, with Monte Bianco — owned by Great Meadow founder Nick Arundel — running up north in the New Jersey Hunt Cup at Far Hills . . . The International Gold Cup dates back to 1930, when it was run over a brush course at Tennessee's Grasslands Downs. Later held at Rolling Rock in Pennsylvania, the race moved to Virginia in 1984, when it was contested over timber for the first time.
Additional reporting by Brian Nadeau