Iroquois meet highlights double steeplechase weekend

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Pack up the traps and hit the road, again. The jump circuit goes on the road Saturday – north to Pennsylvania for Willowdale and south to Tennessee for the Iroquois. Fourteen races make up the schedule. Post time is 1 p.m. (central for Iroquois; eastern for Willowdale). Watch them via livestream on the NSA website.

Rampoldi Plan (right) heads to victory over Welshman in the Commonwealth Cup Stakes at Great Meadow. Tod Marks photo.

Glancing back at last week, the Virginia Gold Cup and Winterthur wound up wet which helped some and hurt others. The first Grade 1 hurdle stakes of the season went to the post in Virginia as Rampoldi Plan pulled a mild upset in the $150,000 Commonwealth Cup for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers, Leslie Young and Jamie Bargary. The winner was bred in Flordia by Hardacre Farm, but raced in Britain before being reimported in time to go jumping last year. Off a second to stablemate High Definition at Middleburg April 20, the 5-year-old Hard Spun gelding outran Welshman late to win at 13-1. L’Imperator rallied for third with Awakened fourth. Young won two others on the card, the maiden with Irish-bred Kelmscott (Paddy O’Hanlon aboard) for Silverton Hill and the Speedy Smithwick 4-year-old stakes with Irish-bred Clifton Down (Bargary) for Runnymoore Racing.

Dolly Fisher’s veteran Schoodic won the Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes to run his winning streak to four. The 14-year-old Tiznow gelding has won 17 of 49 jump starts, to go along with 10 seconds and six thirds. Graham Watters rode the winner, who reeled in Awesome Adrian in the final stages to win by 2 lengths. It was Jack Fisher’s 14th Gold Cup win as a trainer.

Schoodic (right) jumps alongside Awesome Adrian in the Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes. Tod Marks photo

Irish-bred Hold Hard (Bernie Dalton) won a tough allowance hurdle over Pure Courage and Frontline Citizen for Rolling Tide and trainer Doug Fout. Virginia-bred Southpaw Mike (Joe Fowler, Kate Dalton, Bernie Dalton) won a starter maiden hurdle. Trainer Keri Brion and jockey Stephen Mulqueen teamed up for two starter maiden winners – Flintshire gelding Kitten Around for Upland Flats, Darkhorse Racing and The International Venture and the well-bred Juulstone for Chris LaBerge and USA Steeplechase. The winner is by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah out of Grade 3 turf winner of $875,644 earner Hessonite.

Sunday’s Winterthur card featured wins by Theda’s Boy in the maiden timber for owner/breeder Daniel Doane, trainer Kevin Boniface and jockey Brett Owings; Fast Vision in the allowance timber for Leipers Fork, Leslie Young and Freddie Procter; and Fashion Line for Armata Stable, Kathy Neilson and Jack Power. Right Tempo won the training flat for Procter and Young.

The TIHR handicappers might have done better with firm turf, but didn’t get it. Joe tabbed four winners – Schoodic, Kitten Around, Fashion Line and Right Tempo; Sean had Schoodic, Kitten Around and Right Tempo. Tom had Schoodic. With two weeks left in the spring – the double meet this weekend and Radnor next – Joe leads with 26 wins from 64 races. He’d like to stay above 40 percent. Sean has 22. He’d like to rally. Tom has nine. He’d like to break into double digits.

Iroquois Steeplechase. It’s a Nashville fixture dating to 1941. The city’s Percy Warner Park plays host to one day of world-class jump racing each year and the 2024 card goes seven races headlined by the Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois. The 3-miler is worth $200,000 and counts among its past winners Hall of Famers Flatterer, Lonesome Glory, Good Night Shirt and McDynamo.

Post time for the first is 1 p.m. central time. The area got blasted with rain early in the week, though the flood warning ended Friday at 1 p.m. Course conditions will play a factor, but it’s difficult to know without seeing a race first. It was dry Friday and expected to be dry Saturday.

First race. $45,000 handicap hurdle going 2 3/4 miles. Restricted to horses rated 120 and below, the opener drew a field of 11. British-bred Tuddenham Green (rated 119) carries top weight of 158 pounds and makes his American debut. He’ll need to bring his best as contenders come from several directions. Oscar Winner and Artistic Choice were 1-2 at Foxfield. Lydford was fourth in that race and running late. Recent Revelations and Frontline Citizen exit solid efforts. Wicked West was second in this last year. Going Country drops a level. Ziggle Pops shook off some rust at Tryon. Ljay will appreciate the ground. Sherkali won at Camden. Pick one.

  • Joe: Tuddenham Green, Wicked West, Frontline Citizen.
  • Sean: Tuddenham Green, Ljay, Artistic Choice.
  • Tom: Lydford, Tuddenham Green, Artistic Choice.

Second race. $40,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Maidens at Nashville are always tough. This one goes seven deep. Quid wins the experience battle with seven starts (three seconds and two thirds). Memento was second at Camden. Irish-bred rookie Old Tom Morris won an Irish point-to-point in January and cost $190,000 to top the Tattersalls January Sale at Cheltenham. He won at Virginia’s Loudoun Point-to-Point and represents local owner Leipers Fork Steeplechasers and leading trainer Leslie Young.

  • Joe: Old Tom Morris, Memento, Quid.
  • Sean: Memento, Old Tom Morris, Doesn’t Sting. 
  • Tom: Memento, Pavoni, Doesn’t Sting.

Third race. $40,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Maidens at Nashville are always tough. Eight tackle the second division. Young brings Irish-breds Irelands Call (second at Foxfield) and Ready To Wear (fourth at Middleburg). Snow Geese has placed three times. Parish Delight surely needed the last, a fifth at Camden. He’s been second three times. Gettleman debuts for Jack Fisher. Irv Naylor needs $10,330 to become U.S. steeplechasing’s all-time leading owner (Augustin Stable leads with $9,049,281) and has first-timer Denis Anthony here.

  • Joe: Roboreti, Irelands Call, Denis Anthony.
  • Sean: Roboreti, Ready To Wear, Ireland’s Call. 
  • Tom: Snow Geese, Roboreti, Denis Anthony.

Fourth race. $75,000 Green Pastures novice hurdle stakes going 2 1/4 miles. Four runners after the scratch of State Of Affair, but holy hell it’s a showdown between Abaan (three times a winner in four starts) and High Definition (2-for-5). Under the top two, Total Joy won at Foxfield and Neotropic ran with stakes horses Awakened and Merry Maker last year. Abaan won novice stakes at Far Hills (October) and Camden (March) for Kate and Bernie Dalton. The 7-year-old Will Take Charge gelding meets High Defintion, who won a Group 2 and placed in a Group 1 on the flat for Aidan O’Brien in Ireland before moving to Joseph O’Brien and hurdles where he won a Boxing Day maiden at Leopardstown and finished second in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown. In the U.S., he won a non-winners of two allowance over next-out winner Rampoldi Plan at Middleburg.

  • Joe: Abaan, High Definition, Neotropic.
  • Sean: Abaan, High Definition, Total Joy.
  • Tom: Abaan, Neotropic, Total Joy.
Snap Decision seeks to become just the second horse
to win the Iroquois Steeplechase. Tod Marks photo

Fifth race. $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Grade 1 hurdle stakes going 3 miles. Snap Decision tries, again, to become just the second horse to win the race three times after Uncle Edwin (1982, 1985, 1986). The 14-time winner ruled the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg in April and won this race in 2021 and 2022 before finishing second to Irish raider Scaramanga last year. The turf will be softer than he wants, but he carries level weights against five rivals. How the first four races play out will provide an indication of Snap Decision’s chances. Noah And The Ark, Sebastopol and Zabeel Champion were second, fourth and fifth in the Gwathmey getting weight. Jimmy P won over the course last year and was second in a Grade 1 at Saratoga. Newcomer Vae Patron, three times a winner over hurdles in France, has plenty of soft-ground experience including a third going 3 miles at Auteuil in November. He won at the Loudoun County Point-to-Point in Virginia.

  • Joe: Snap Decision, Jimmy P, Sebastopol.
  • Sean: Snap Decision, Sebastopol, Noah And The Ark.
  • Tom: Snap Decision, Sebastopol, Zabeel Champion.

Sixth race. $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley hurdle stakes for fillies/mares going 2 1/4 miles. Eight turn up here including last-out winners My Forever Annie and Right Tempo. Naylor runner Gold Charm won twice last year and prepped with a third against males in a 130. Handicap at Foxfield. Molly Fantasy carries 155 pounds as a three-time winner. She, Fits The Jill and Right Tempo ran in this last year.

  • Joe: Gold Charm, Right Tempo, My Forever Annie.
  • Sean: Right Tempo, My Forever Annie, Gold Charm.
  • Tom: Right Tempo, Gold Charm, Fits The Jill.

Seventh race. $25,000 allowance timber (non-winners of three) going 3 miles. Hard Strike rides a two-race winning streak, but will need to deal with timber rookies Andy Dufresne (who won twice over hurdles and chase fences in Ireland), Jet Setting Johnny (an Irish chase winner) and Presence Of Mind (an Irish and U.S. hurdle winner) plus Foxfield winner Animal Kingston (who won a race that finished a lap too soon). The Nashville timber course won’ t make anyone think of the Maryland Hunt Cup, but they’ve still got to jump and navigate soft ground.

  • Joe: Hard Strike, Presence Of Mind, Animal Kingston.
  • Sean: Hard Strike, Jet Setting Johnny, Presence Of Mind.
  • Tom: Andy Dufresne, Hard Strike, Animal Kingston.

Willowdale. The Pennsylvania meet used to run on Sunday, playing host to the fast-traveling Iroquois winners along the way. Seven timber, hurdle and flat races make up the Saturday card, which helps local attendance but hurts some of the racing lineups, with a first post of 1 p.m. eastern.

First race. $15,000 apprentice jockey handicap allowance hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Non-winners of a stakes this year. Prove Innocent looks to get his career straightened out. He won a novice over The Mean Queen in 2022. Baltimore Kid exits a win at Foxfield. Fast Vision won over timber at Winterthur last week. Decisive Triumph won at Blue Ridge. Eye of Gunfighter was second twice to start the year.

  • Joe: Decisive Triumph, Baltimore Kid, Proven Innocent.
  • Sean: Proven Innocent, Baltimore Kid, Decisive Triumph.
  • Tom: Decisive Triumph, Baltimore Kid, Fast Vision.

Second race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle ($10,000 price) going 2 1/4 miles. In a field of eight, I Am Fortunata makes his fourth start of 2024 after a second at Tryon two back. On The Couch, Plunk and Ricks Revenge waive the claiming price in their hurdle debuts. On The Couch (a New York-bred son of Freud) won eight on the flat.

  • Joe: On The Couch, Rickys Revenge, Willow Wood.
  • Sean: On The Couch, Dizzy Kitty, I Am Fortunata. 
  • Tom: On The Couch, Willow Wood, Plunk.

Third race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle ($10,000 price) going 2 1/4 miles. Eight more go in the second division, with Feisty Kitten waiving the tag. Fox In The Park makes her 12th start. Westerland goes for number 17. The reins broke last time at Great Meadow. Before that, he was second. Lowcountry was second last fall at Middleburg. Codigo was third last time at Foxfield.

  • Joe: Westerland, World Factor, Codigo.
  • Sean: Westerland, Fox In The Park, Codigo. 
  • Tom: L’Avvocato, Westerland, World Factor.

Fourth race. $20,000 handicap hurdle (110 and lower) going 2 1/4 miles. Seismic Wave and Auction Kingdom slid down to this level off sub-par finishes at Foxfield. They’re better than that. Prophets Voice was second at Aiken. Minella Plus won five times in Britain. Jimmy Dan rolled in his hurdle debut at Tryon. Icandothat won two in a row, then finished a distant seventh with blinkers last time. The shades come off this time.

  • Joe: Jimmy Dan, Seismic Wave, Auction Kingdom.
  • Sean: Jimmy Dan, Icandothat, Minella Plus.
  • Tom: Jimmy Dan, Icandothat, Auction Kingdom.

Fifth race. $35,000 Buttonwood/Sycamore Farms timber stakes going 3 1/2 miles. Maryland Hunt Cup winner Withoutmoreado, Pennsylvania Hunt Cup winner Royal Ruse, Grand National timber winner Road To Oz, My Lady’s Manor winner Our Friend head a field of eight that also includes 2024 winners Druid’s Altar, The Butler Yates and Bob’s Bar.

  • Joe: Road To Oz, Our Friend, Bob’s Bar.
  • Sean: Road To Oz, Our Friend, Bob’s Bar.
  • Tom: Bob’s Bar, Druid’s Altar, Road To Oz.

Sixth race. $15,000 apprentice jockeys allowance timber going 3 miles. Eight give this a go, Fashion Line off a win at Winterthur, Huyana off a second in that race, Crealion off a win via disqualification at Great Meadow and nine-time winner Court Ruler among them.

  • Joe: Fashion Line, Huyana, Great Road.
  • Sean: Court Ruler, Fashion Line, Queens Empire.
  • Tom: Crealion, Queens Empire, Huyana.

Seventh race. $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Uco Valley was third at Foxfield. Potus won over hurdles in November. Hero’s Return has been close several times (over timber and hurdles). Hey Teacher and Glencorrib Sky were third at Winterthur. Brooklyn Speights looked OK when second last fall, but fell at the Grand National.

  • Joe: Hero’s Return, Glencorrib Sky, Brooklyn Speights.
  • Sean: Uco Valley, Potus, Hero’s Return.
  • Tom: Potus, Hero’s Return, Fit For A King.