The first double-meet weekend of the 2013 steeplechase season turned into a showcase for the proverbial little guy as wins came early and often for stables that don’t routinely crack the top 10 on the circuit. Good for the game, no matter who you root for.
Jonathan Sheppard still collected two wins, taking the feature at Stoneybrook with stakes professional Divine Fortune. He settled for being the best man of 2012, with runner-up efforts in the Iroquois, Grand National and Colonial Cup to go with a single allowance win. Bill Pape’s 10-year-old tuned up for stakes company by winning a classy allowance at the North Carolina meet Saturday, getting the best of 2010 champion Slip Away and multiple stakes winner Decoy Daddy for jockey Darren Nagle. Next stop Iroquois. A homebred son of Royal Anthem, Divine Fortune won for the eighth time over jumps and passed the $400,000 mark in earnings over fences.
Bluegrass Summer started the double for Sheppard by winning a maiden hurdle, also with Nagle aboard. The trainer and jockey top the standings with four wins apiece.
Stoneybrook’s maiden claiming hurdle Darnlittlecash, an upstart shipper from Tennesee, who collected the maiden claimer for Jubilee Stable and trainer Ted Thompson. Gus Dahl rode the 5-year-old Florida-bred, whose career to that point included eight starts (one win vs. $5,000 maiden claimers at Charles Town in 2011) on the flat and two (a 50-length defeat and a pull-up) over jumps.
Maryland owner/trainer Michael Leaf shipped Durer to Stoneybrook, and was rewarded with a conditioned claiming score. The 6-year-old son of Smart Strike, a maiden winner over the right-handed course last season, scored by 9 lengths over Sheppard’s Time Off with Classic Bridges third. Roddy Mackenzie rode the winner, who was bred in Maryland by Robert Meyerhoff’s Fitzhugh LLC. Durer has two wins and four thirds in 11 career jump starts.
Looking Sporty at Dogwood Classic
Up the road in Virginia, the jumpers took over Colonial Downs for a five-race card, headlined by a $25,000 allowance hurdle. Rock Ford Stable’s Sporty (Mark Beecher) collected that win, scoring by a length over Sillium with Brave Prospect third. Trained by Julie Gomena, the winner started 2013 where he left off in 2012, with a victory.
The 6-year-old Smarty Jones gelding broke his maiden at the Colonial Cup in November and is now 2-for-4 in his new career. A half-brother to recent maiden jump winner Powerofone, Sporty raced on the flat for Jim Tafel and Carl Nafzger, winning four times before being claimed late in 2011.
Steve Yeager’s Mishcief (Annie Yeager) won the open claimer for trainer Don Yovanovich, outrunning stakes winner Complete Zen by a length with Call Me Sonny third. Like Sporty, Mischief won late last season – taking an optional claimer at Montpelier – and has now collected four steeplechase wins to go with six seconds.
Gill Johnston’s Fantastic Song (Barry Walsh) won the maiden hurdle, defeating Cognashene and Rugged Rascal to graduate at first asking for trainer Fenneka Bentley. The 4-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid ought to be familiar to racing fans after taking turns in the flat barns of Chad Brown and Michael Matz at 2 and 3. He broke his maiden at Saratoga in 2011, finished third in the Grade 3 Pilgrim and earned a start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Last year with Matz, Fantastic Song won on the turf at Delaware Park and finished third in a $40,000 claimer at Keeneland. The new steeplechaser carries plenty of pedigree as his stakes-winning dam earned $250,000 on the flat and his a half-sister to millionaires Shakespeare and Perfect Shirl.
Last year’s leading trainer Jack Fisher got on the board in 2013 with a maiden claiming win by 4-year-old Certain Swagger (Sean Flanagan). The son of Arch raced for Rusty Arnold on the flat and made three jump starts as a 3-year-old last season.
The best horse on the card probably didn’t run over jumps as Mr. Hot Stuff returned to action for Johnston and Fisher and won a training flat race by 2 ½ lengths over Bodie Island and Black Quartz. Now 7, the son of Tiznow won two of four jump starts in 2011 and missed 2012 with leg troubles. When owned by WinStar Farm, Mr. Hot Stuff – a full-brother to Travers winner Colonel John – finished third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and started in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes that year. Still eligible for the novice hurdle conditions, Mr. Hot Stuff could turn up at the Queen’s Cup this month, and/or the Iroquois in May.
News and Notes
This weekend doubles up, too, with the Atlanta Steeplechase in Georgia and My Lady’s Manor Races in Maryland Saturday. Fillies and mares go in the feature at Atlanta while the Manor will once again host the top timber horses in training . . . The staff handicappers missed on the upstarts winning this weekend, but did find a few winners. Rookie Tom Law showed the way with a three pack – getting Bluegrass Summer and Divine Fortune home at Stoneybrook and Mr. Hot Stuff at Dogwood; Joe countered with two (Divine Fortune and Mr. Hot Stuff); Sean had two (Maggie Neary and Mr. Hot Stuff). Through 22 races, the season race is tight. Joe (seven winners) leads Tom by one with Sean two off the pace with five.