Happy Thanksgiving. Before we get to the turkey and the stuffing, put a bow on the 2023 National Steeplechase Association season. The circuit wrapped up its year with five races at Aiken Saturday, and the traditional South Carolina finale showcased a few fresh faces with promising futures.
The featured Holiday Cup – a $35,000 hurdle stakes for 3- and 4-year-olds – only attracted three runners but Kiyomori and Total Joy put on a show in finishing three-quarters of a length apart. Owned and bred by Greg Hawkins (how many people remember Campanile?), the winner set a mild pace for Graham Watters and withstood a challenge from Total Joy late to get the win. Our Boy Wes was 8 3/4 lengths back in third.
Kiyomori comes by his hurdle success honestly as his British-bred dam The Grey Express won over hurdles in Ireland in 2011 and (after being sold to Hawkins and trainer Janet Elliot) at Saratoga in 2013. Bred to First Samurai in 2018, she produced Kiyomori in 2019. Last year, the New York-bred made two flat starts for trainer Dave Donk and tried hurdles for Elliot at Montpelier. This year, the gray gelding pulled up over hurdles at Radnor in May, finished third on the flat at Delaware Park in July and was fifth over hurdles again at Colonial Downs in September. Sent by Elliot to trainer Todd Wyatt in time for a maiden hurdle at Virginia Fall, Kiymori graduated with a late-running win over Foxy Walk and I Can Only Imagine. Third in allowance company at Great Meadow two weeks later, Kiyomori put that experience to good use at Aiken.
Wyatt thanked Elliot for the early work, and jockey Harry Beswick (injured early in the Aiken card and replaced by Watters) for handling the reins early in the autumn campaign.
“Janet has done all the work, raised him, broke him, trained him, managed his career,” Wyatt said. “We had him a few weeks before he won at Middleburg. Harry and I thought the 4-year-old stake at Aiken was the right race. Janet suggested the allowance race at the Gold Cup, and I think it made the difference.”
For more, see story on the New York Thoroughbred Breeders website.
Thomas Rice’s Oscar Winner won a late fight with Tease And Seize to capture Aiken’s 115 handicap hurdle for trainer Leslie Young and apprentice jockey Conor Tierney. The Pennsylvania-bred son of Lord Shanakill started 2023 with a maiden claiming win at Foxfield in April, lost his next six (while never worse than fourth) and put a nice finishing touch on the season. The 5-year-old improved to 2-for-8 over jumps with $41,700 in the bank, all this year.
The rest of the Aiken card belonged to maiden hurdlers. Sawbuck Racing’s Bellarmine Hall (Watters) won the opener, a $20,000 maiden claimer, for trainer David Bourke. Another New York-bred, the 6-year-old Bellamy Road gelding won six races on the flat before converting this summer. Bruton Street-US runner Quick Master (Watters) landed the starter maiden with a front-running effort. Fourth to Kiyomori at Virginia Fall and second to Imperial Assassin at Great Meadow, in maiden special weight company, the son of Hard Spun earned $12,000 to push trainer Jack Fisher over the $1 million mark in seasonal earnings for the sixth time. He and Keri Brion (2022) are the only two trainers to reach seven figures in a season.
Trainer/jockey Tom Garner won a maiden hurdle with Active Duty, who rallied past Just Another One, Kenilworth King and Macheeda to win by 2 lengths for owner Gill Johnston. Bred in France, the 4-year-old had lost seven prior hurdle starts in England and the U.S.
NSA Titles Awarded
After the races, Aiken played host to the annual NSA awards dinner where season champions were crowned. See full standings here.
Irv Naylor collected another owners’ crown with $569,450 in earnings. It was his seventh overall, and first since 2016.
Leslie Young ran away with the training championship with 33 wins from 146 starts. It was her second consecutive crown (Jack Fisher won the earnings race).
Graham Watters broke open the jockeys’ race with a triple at Aiken. He finished with 23 wins to 17 for Harry Beswick. Watters also won in 2021.
Merry Maker won the Lonesome Glory Award as the year’s leading earner. Owned by Hurricana Farm and trained by Arch Kingsley, the Irish-bred won two of five starts (an allowance hurdle in May and the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory in September) while also finishing second and third once each. His $180,000 total edged Noah And The Ark by $9,500 with Snap Decision third at $151,500. The official champion will be decided by a vote and crowned with the rest of Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Award winners in January.
Schoodic wound up the timber champion thanks to a late-fall push. The 13-year-old, trained by Fisher for his parents John and Dolly, was the champion 3-year-old hurdle horse of 2013 (let that sink in).
L’Imperator won the novice hurdle crown as the top earner ($110,500) among horses with started the season as maidens. Kingsley also trained him, for Hudson River Farm.
Kyogo won the 3-year-old hurdle title thanks to a win in the $50,000 Gladstone at Far Hills for Meadow Run Farm and trainer Gordon Elliot. He finished a distant third behind Lightning Ridge (the only 3-year-old to win two races this year) at Charleston, but prevailed by $500 in the earnings category.
Finally, the TIHR handicappers’ race wrapped up on the final day too. Joe Clancy picked two Aiken winners, Quick Master and Kiyomori, to get to 21 in the autumn challenge (66 races) and win the coveted case of beer from Industrial Arts Brewing (order the Wrench, everybody). Tom Law nabbed Bellarmine Hall and Active Duty to get to 16 and snatch second over Sean Clancy, who was blanked at Aiken and stood at 15 on the season.