Where were you last week? While you were busy running a half-marathon, mowing the lawn, walking the dog, packing your bags for the Breeders’ Cup or sorting out a ride to basketball practice, Snap Decision was reminding everyone who he was.
America’s top steeplechase horse over the last four – maybe five – seasons got back to winning Saturday, ruling five others in the $75,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial Handicap a week after pulling up in the soft turf of the American Grand National at Far Hills. The 9-year-old Hard Spun gelding stalked West Newton throughout, kicked on halfway through the final turn and galloped in to win by 3 lengths all while carrying 162 pounds. Trained by Jack Fisher for Bruton Street-US, the winner gave 20 pounds to runner-up West Newton and a dozen to third-place Awakened. It was Snap Decision’s 13th win from 23 steeplechase starts (to go with seven seconds). The $45,000 payday pushed his jump earnings to $794,400 and lifted his career bankroll – flat and jump – to $1,000,834.
Whenever the race video ends up on nationalsteeplechase.com, watch it.
Snap Decision’s win fueled a big day for trainer Jack Fisher, who won four. Thirteen-year-old Schoodic, who ran over hurdles as a 3-year-old (really) in 2010, won the $75,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes. Neotropic won a $35,000 allowance hurdle and Look North landed a $30,000 maiden hurdle. Graham Watters rode three for Fisher (including the two stakes) and won a maiden claimer aboard Auction Kingdom for Neil Morris to tie Harry Beswick atop the jockeys’ standings.
On the handicappers’ scorecard, Joe (Snap Decision, Schoodic, Auction Kingdom) and Tom (Look North, Schoodic, Auction Kingdom) had three wins each while Sean came up with two (Snap Decision and Schoodic). Joe leads the fall contest with 11 wins, followed by Sean (8) and Tom (7).
All that can change – drastically – this weekend, with three race meets.
MONTPELIER. The historic estate, once the home of President James Madison and later the home of leading Thoroughbred owner/breeder/benefactor Marion du Pont Scott, hosts its annual steeplechase meet with races over hurdles, around the traditional brush course and even a 1-mile opener on the dirt. Post time is 12:30 p.m. There is a free fantasy stable game at Stable Duel.
First race. Training flat at 1 mile on the dirt. The only National Steeplechase Association race on dirt drew a field of just three. Champions Soothsayer (jump) and Proud Delta (flat) trained on this track. Lord Donegal used to be part of the Brad Cox barn. Virginia-bred Noble Gem also goes out for trainer Neil Morris. Larry Smith brings homebred Uncle Remi in for his 11th start of 2023.
- Joe: Lord Donegal, Noble Gem, Uncle Remi.
- Sean: Lord Donegal, Noble Gem, Uncle Remi.
- Tom: Lord Donegal, Noble Gem, Uncle Remi.
Second race. $25,000 handicap hurdle for horses rated 110 or below going 2 3/8 miles. Six line up for this, five at or near the top of the handicap in Potus, Frontline Citizen, Withoutdestination, Seismic Wave and Vincent Van Gogo.
- Joe: Withoutdestination, Potus, Seismic Wave.
- Sean: Potus, Seismic Wave, Withoutdestination.
- Tom: Potus, Seismic Wave, Vincent Van Gogo.
Third race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. Six look to graduate near the end of the season. Icandothat ran well at Foxfield, not so well at Great Meadow. The 4-year-old returns in a week, with blinkers. Bless Bless was third at Great Meadow and drops down a level. Absam’s race from May would serve him well. You want a newcomer? Three-year-old Alternation filly All Roses makes her jump debut for Kate and Bernie Dalton (and owner Bill Wofford).
- Joe: Icandothat, Absam, All Roses.
- Sean: Absam, Bless Bless, Icandothat.
- Tom: Bless Bless, Absam, Grunion.
Fourth race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. Seven more potential winners. Best Chance gets off the bench and drops in class. Factotum debuts. Ice Bar led for a while at Virginia Fall. Bellarmine Hall was third in his last.
- Joe: Bellarmine Hall, Ice Bar, Best Chance.
- Sean: Best Chance, Bellarmine Hall, Factotum.
- Tom: Bellarmine Hall, Ice Bar, Best Chance.
Fifth race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. Eight line up for this, several off good efforts. First-timer Evie’s Prince looks live for Neil Morris. I Can Only Imagine was third at Virginia Fall. Active Duty has run well twice this year and took a swing at the 4-year-old stakes at Far Hills before fading. High Deff was second last week at Great Meadow. Casamo rallied to be third at Virginia Fall. Samui Sunset was right behind him. Giantsbane is out of hurdle stakes winner Kisser N Run. Solid race.
- Joe: I Can Only Imagine, Active Duty, Casamo.
- Sean: I Can Only Imagine, Active Duty, High Deff.
- Tom: Casamo, Samui Sunset, Evie’s Prince.
Sixth race. $50,000 Montpelier Cup Hurdle Stakes for fillies/mares going 2 3/8 miles. Say Goodbye dominated at Far Hills and stayed over for another run – this time under 165 pounds. Right Tempo gave it a go when second there and gets 22 pounds from the favorite. Third at Far Hills, Gold Charm gets 20 and might appreciate the firmer ground. Bercasa has been really good this year and skipped Far Hills.
- Joe: Gold Charm, Bercasa, Say Goodbye.
- Sean: Gold Charm, Say Goodbye, Bercasa.
- Tom: Say Goodbye, Bercasa, Gold Charm.
Seventh race. $75,000 Noel Laing Hurdle Stakes going 2 1/2 miles. This one is fun as it’s run over natural brush fences which go back to jump racing’s early days. They’re bigger, wider, probably a little softer than the standard National Fences but experience matters. Zabeel Champion was terrible at Foxfield, really good at Far Hills. Scorpion’s Revenge drops out of two Grade 1 races, so does Mortlach who has good form over English steeplechase fences. Gordon’s Jet floundered on the engine and in the soft at Far Hills. Eye Of Gunfighter looks for his third win since Oct. 1. Proven Innocent tries to right his ship at season’s end.
- Joe: Zabeel Champion, Scorpion’s Revenge, Gordon’s Jet.
- Sean: Scorpion’s Revenge, Zabeel Champion, Proven Innocent.
- Tom: Zabeel Champion, Scorpion’s Revenge, Gordon’s Jet.
CALLAWAY GARDENS. Georgia hosts its annual November date with five races at the Callaway Gardens (think golf and butterflies) resort. Post time is 12:45 p.m.
First race. $20,000 allowance timber/cross-country going 3 1/2 miles. Old pros Rakhaa, Court Ruler, Storm Team and Mercoeur renew acquaintances. Mercoeur won at Great Meadow last week. Storm Team won the novice hurdle stakes here in 2019. Court Ruler won this last year.
- Joe: Mercoeur, Storm Team, Court Ruler.
- Sean: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Mercoeur.
- Tom: Court Ruler, Mercoeur, Storm Team.
Second race. $35,000 Handicap hurdle for horses rated 120 or lower going 2 3/8 miles. Just four runners, but it’s a competitive group. Animal Kingston has made a nice living at this level with four wins, six seconds and three thirds in 18 tries over jumps. Presence Of Mind got off the bench to finish second at Foxfield, then fizzled at Far Hills. For The Parish (fourth in allowance company last week) and Go Poke The Bear give up experience, but might lead the talent race.
- Joe: Presence Of Mind, Animal Kingston, For The Parish.
- Sean: Presence Of Mind, Animal Kingston, For The Parish.
- Tom: For The Parish, Animal Kingston, Presence Of Mind.
Third race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. Another small field (long ship, Montpelier competition, end of the year). Riptide Rock and Foxy Walk look like two rising maidens, even if they approach jump racing from different angles. Riptide Rock finished second in the Queen’s Plate as a 3-year-old and earned $438,098 on the flat. He was third over hurdles this summer at Colonial. Irish-bred Foxy Walk finished a strong second to Kiyomori at Virginia Fall. McSteamy and first-timer Macheeda complete the quartet.
- Joe: Foxy Walk, Riptide Rock, Macheeda.
- Sean: Foxy Walk, Riptide Rock, Macheeda.
- Tom: Foxy Walk, Riptide Rock, McSteamy.
Fourth race. $75,000 AFLAC Supreme hurdle for novices going 2 3/8 miles. Four go in the feature, headline by 4-year-old filly Calico, who makes her 16th start of 2023. She won at Far Hills, but gets a tougher test today in the classy The Hero Next Door (second in the novice at Far Hills), Iroquois novice winner Cool Jet and the solid Fast Vision (third in this race last year).
- Joe: The Hero Next Door, Cool Jet, Fast Vision.
- Sean: The Hero Next Door, Calico, Cool Jet.
- Tom: Calico, Cool Jet, The Hero Next Door.
Fifth race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 3/8 miles. If pedigree means anything, Karl Cares is worth a long look. He’s by Grade 1 winner Empire Maker out of Grade 3 winner It’s Tea Time, whose foals include $655,284 earner Midnight Tea Time. The 4-year-old was fourth at Foxfield and drops into the claiming ranks. Agitare has some ability in there somewhere. He fell in his hurdle debut this spring and struggled in his last two. D’arpino B C is by Flintshire. I Am Fortunata’s best races were in Ireland.
- Joe: I Am Fortunata, Karl Cares, Agitare.
- Sean: Karl Cares, I Am Fortunata, Agitare.
- Tom: Karl Cares, I Am Fortunata, Agitare.
PENNYSYLVANIA HUNT CUP. Sunday, the gang gets back on the road for the timber meet outside Unionville, Pa. Post time is 1:30 p.m. Don’t forget to change your clocks.
First race. $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Seven clash in the opener and they come from all over the place. Timber form, hurdle form, Ireland, etc. Ya Boy Ya and Hard Strike were second and third in the same race last time.
- Joe: Ya Boy Ya, Hard Strike, The Butler Yates.
- Sean: Ya Boy Ya, The Butler Yates, Hard Strike.
- Tom: Ya Boy Ya, Queens Empire, Hero’s Return.
Second race. $20,000 allowance timber going 3 miles. For non-winners of two, the race revolves around Mr. Fine Threads, who won at Genesee Oct. 14. Rhythmia won at Winterthur in May and is a half-brother to timber stakes winner Mystic Strike. Mr. Fine Threads won the maiden over the course last year, only to be disqualified.
- Joe: Mr. Fine Theads, Rhythmia, Brooklyn Speights.
- Sean: Mr. Fine Threads, Rhythmia, Brooklyn Speights.
- Tom: Mr. Fine Threads, Rhythmia, Brooklyn Speights.
Third race. $35,000 Pennsylania Hunt Cup timber stakes going 4 miles. Monbeg Stream ran away with the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup Oct. 14 in soft going. Sunday’s course will be different. He meets Royal Ruse, a distant third there but capable of better and second in this last year. Awesome Adrian won at Willowdale in May. Shootist won a maiden here in 2021. Renegade River couldn’t handle Monbeg Stream in April, got the better of his rival in May. A fall at Genesee prevented a proper rematch.
- Joe: Renegade River, Shootist, Monbeg Stream.
- Sean: Monbeg Stream, Royal Ruse, Renegade River.
- Tom: Shootist, Monbeg Stream, Awesome Adrian.
Fourth race. Athenian Idol training flat for apprentice jockeys going 1 3/8 miles. If you get there, look up the previous winning riders. It’s a fun list. Prophets Voice has been doing decent work on the flat all year, including a fourth going a mile at Presque Isle Oct. 11. This is different, but there is no standout in this.
- Joe: Prophets Voice, Get Khozy, Eleazar.
- Sean: Prophets Voice, The Red Fox, Lady Raven.
- Tom: Prophets Voice, Bialystock, Lying Jeff.
Fifth race. The other half of the Athenian Idol, also at 1 3/8 miles, also for apprentice jockeys. Ajourneytofreedom has earned $345,175 and taken on stakes company. Union Gen. George won twice in 2021 and once last year before a hurdle win two weeks ago. Maryland-bred Kenilworth King sold for $500,000 as a weanling, and won once in England. If Withoutdestination shows up here, he’s a major player.
- Joe: Withoutdestination, Ajourneytofreedom, Union Gen. George.
- Sean: Withoutdestination, Ajourneytofreedom, Kenilworth King.
- Tom: Inbound, Withoutdstination, Kenilworth King.
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