Darren Nagle walked from the winner’s circle to the jocks’ room and shook his head, once, twice, three times after the Marcellus Frost at the Iroquois Steeplechase May 12.
The crowd had seen it, Nagle had felt it.
“Unbelievable,” Nagle said. “Unbelievable.”
The unbelievable Iranistan improved his record to 3-for-3 with another electric performance in the $100,000 Novice Stakes. Nagle was able to hold Iranistan off pacesetter Lachares until the field went under the wire with a circuit to go. Rolling downhill, Iranistan took over, using the wings as goal posts and Nagle’s hands as guides, Iranistan devoured a circuit of Percy Warner Park like few before him, winning with ease as Nagle stood up and pumped his left fist, long before they reached the wire.
The 4-year-old son of Einstein made his hurdle debut six weeks ago at the Carolina Cup with an unpolished win over 4-year-olds, he ran and jumped like water sprayed from a hose. He came back to win again over 4-year-olds at Middleburg, still far from polished, he trounced rivals with another free-running, free-roaming score. Moved up to novice company at the Iroquois, Iranistan wound up in front again but started to add the polish, scampering up Heartbreak Hill to win by 6 lengths over Gibralfaro and Barnacle Bill. Owned by Hudson River Farm and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Iranistan has bankrolled $96,000 in three starts since finishing sixth in a $35,000 maiden claimer at Gulfstream Park Feb. 1, when owned by breeder Crossed Sabres Farm and trained by Sheppard.
“He’s an absolute freak and he’s only going to get better, I’d say he’s only 50 percent into his potential, he doesn’t even know what a race is,” Nagle said. “It’s crazy, I’ve never sat on a young horse like him. For a 4-year-old to come here after running just against 4-year-olds, it’s ridiculous, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
• Over and over again in the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley filly and mare stakes, Sarah Joyce looked like she was going to lose.
She was fourth of eight early behind Pram, Rare Mix and Wigwam Baby but a good 5 to 7 lengths off the lead for the first half of the race. On the final run up the backstretch, she advanced to third when Rare Mix pulled up and then ranged alongside Pram after Wigwam Baby fell. By the next fence, Sarah Joyce was in front, but looked like nothing more than a target with three fences to go. Inverness loomed, and brought For Goodness Sake along coming to the third-last. Sarah Joyce landed first, cut the corner and set sail for the stretch. To the inside, For Goodness Sake struck. To the outside came Inverness. For Goodness Sake got in front after the last, but Sarah Joyce responded to Jack Doyle and answered the call to win by a half-length over Inverness with For Goodness Sake settling for third.
“Oh my God, I didn’t think I had a chance,” said Doyle of the race’s final stages. “There were two or three times I thought I was beaten.”
Owned by The Fields Stable, the 6-year-old mare didn’t get that message and collected her third American win since coming over from Ireland in 2016. She won the Henley in 2017 and picked up a handicap win before that at the Queen’s Cup. In all three, and pretty much every race she runs, Sarah Joyce is all about determination.
“Just pure toughness,” said Doyle, a 6-footer who looks even taller on the mare. “She wouldn’t work with any horse at home. She’s that slow. She gets out here and she gets bigger and tougher though. She tries so hard.”
At the Iroquois, she gave maiden Inverness 24 pounds and wouldn’t let her past. Bred in Ireland by Thistle Bloodstock, the daughter of The Carbon Unit won twice on the flat in 2014-15 while with trainer John Patrick Shanahan in Ireland. At Goffs in 2015, she sold as a hurdle prospect for less than $22,000 and won an 18-runner maiden hurdle at Clonmel in May 2016. Two years later, she’s an American stakes winner and following the hoofprints of The Fields mare Guelph who won the 2008 Henley.
Like Doyle, trainer Elizabeth Voss credited Sarah Joyce’s effort.
“She just doesn’t give up,” Voss said. “She loves this track, obviously, but she just needs a big, galloping track like this. She always looks like she’s going flat out, like she’s giving it all but she just digs in and keeps digging in when it gets close. That’s just her.”
• “That’s the good news and the bad news. I’m so proud but I get so nervous.”
That’s how Emily Day summarized watching Plated in the Mason Houghland Memorial timber stakes.
Day, wife of trainer Jimmy, had schooled and fox hunted Plated all winter long. In his NSA debut over timber, Plated provided only good news for Day, dominating the $50,000 timber stakes by 5 1/4 lengths over Shinobi and Two’s Company. Doyle, aboard for the first time, guided the son of Tiznow to the front-running score for owner Maggie Bryant.
“They took me on a little bit early down the back, I was trying to get a breather into him but he winged the second-to-last,” Doyle said. “From there on I knew he was going to stay galloping, it’s pretty tight coming to the last, it’s going to take a good one to come around, he jumped super, I never sat on the horse, all credit to everyone else who’s done the work on him.”
Bred by Overbrook Farm and campaigned on the flat by Lael Stable, Plated made his debut for the Days in 2013. Since then, he’s won on the flat (at Belmont Park), over hurdles (including Saratoga) and now over timber.
“Plated has just been a class act since we got him, he’s one of those horses who comes pre-programmed to do a lot of stuff, I just love him, I’ve always loved him,” Emily said. “Jimmy thought in the back of his mind that he’s a stayer, he doesn’t have a turn of foot, he just gallops. He’ll keep going, he’s just easy. It was pretty natural. He’s a good careful jumper. I just love him.’
• Three Kingdoms made his American debut at Saratoga last summer. The Irish import leapt over the first fence like he was doing a circus trick, from there, he got higher at his fences and farther behind the field. It was so adventurous, the crowd roared every time he leapt over a hurdle and the chart caller used the word, “vaulted” to describe the performance. In his next start, Three Kingdoms lost his jockey at Montpelier.
Well, that was then and this is May and Three Kingdoms has learned to get lower and quicker at his hurdles, capturing the 3-mile Bright Hour handicap. Owned by Gregg Ryan, trained by Julie Gomena and ridden by Kieran Norris, the son of Street Cry honed his technique to oust favorite Schoodic by a neck.
Norris slid the chestnut gelding from the outside post to a comfortable spot near the back of the full field. Along the backside the final time, Three Kingdoms moved into contention, bridging the gap between the frontrunners and highweight Schoodic. Norris swung Three Kingdoms past Orchestra Leader and Able Archer on the turn, opened up in the stretch and held off Schoodic by a diminishing neck. Orchestra Leader hung tough to be third.
“The horse has put me through hell, abscess last week, colic the day Kieran was going to come school him, it’s been a long road,” said Gomena, who saddled the veteran for the first time. “But he’s a lovely animal, so straightforward. I gallop him every day, he’s a lovely horse. I was nervous, for a three-mile race you need a lot of horse there and I had to skip around to get here.”
Gomena, who took over the training of Three Kingdoms this winter, knew the horse’s jumping form.
“I took him to Camden and told Jack Doyle, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, we’ll find out,’ ” Gomena said. “He was foot perfect from day one.”
Bred by Darley, Three Kingdoms began his career in Ireland with Dermot Weld, moved to John Ferguson in England, went back to Weld in 2016 where he was purchased privately by Ryan.
• Willie McCarthy stood next to Cite after a maiden hurdle at the Loudoun County Point-to-Point in April and fired a warning to an onlooker who was mesmerized by another horse from Jack Fisher’s barn.
“This horse might be better,” McCarthy said.
The former champion jockey nailed it.
A month after that assessment, Gillian Johnston’s Cite won the maiden at Nashville by a measured neck. McCarthy allowed the son of Blame to settle near the back, gradually moved forward, sliding through Jump To Juneau and Belisarius like jelly between two pieces of toast coming to the last and won without McCarthy’s whip being raised.
Asked about his confidence level at the point-to-point, in a runner-up finish at Queen’s Cup two weeks later and in the Nashville maiden, McCarthy smiled.
“You know when you get on a good one that just travels and jumps effortlessly, that’s the horse I rode at the point-to-point and he proved the same at Charlotte, I went out there full of confidence,” McCarthy said. “I could have ridden him any way I wanted and he would have still won, I thought, conserve him and half school him around would be more beneficial going forward. He travels and jumps, you get the gaps when you’re traveling, I was full of confidence and knew he was going to do that. He’s a very, very good horse.”
• Lord Justice swept to an easy score in the opener, a $50,000 allowance. Bred in Ireland by Whisperview Trading and owned by Bruton Street-US, the son of Zoffany dominated five rivals to win with authority for trainer Jack Fisher and jockey Sean McDermott. The 5-year-old ended a three-race runner-up streak (Foxfield, and International Gold Cup in the fall and Block House this spring) since leaving Joseph O’Brien last summer.