Emma Lavelle has already been to Belmont Park, but she makes her debut as a trainer when Casino Markets runs in Thursday’s Grade 1 Lonesome Glory hurdle stakes – the second of two jump races which help launch the National Steeplechase Association’s fall season.
Lavelle, who won’t make the trip over from her base in England, expects an improved effort from her horse – eighth in the New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga Aug. 24 – but also knows it will be difficult to top her previous Belmont experiences.
“I spent some time over there, 20 years ago, at Belmont,” she said Tuesday. “I spent time with Shug McGaughey. Oh my God, it was absolutely amazing, very spoiling I must say. Coronado’s Quest was there. I remember Wandering Star, who was a high-class mare. I rode out in the morning and Buzzy Tenney was the foreman then so I followed him around in the afternoons.”
Lavelle obviously learned plenty, as she oversees a 70-horse string based at Bonita Racing Stables near Marlborough in Wiltshire west of London. She’s won 119 races over the last five seasons in England, led by Grade 2 winners Fox Appeal, Junction Fourteen, Closing Ceremony and others. Casino Markets, who races for American Stuart Halpern and his wife Chrissi, has won four times in England and seeks to pull an upset in the Lonesome Glory.
The 9-year-old Irish-bred meets Turf Writers foes Modem, All The Way Jose, Swansea Mile and Mr. Hot Stuff plus newcomers Simenon, Hinterland and Charminster in the 2 1/2-mile race. Worth $150,000, the Lonesome Glory goes as the day’s second race with a post time of 2:01 p.m. Modem, second in his two American starts for Elizabeth Voss, is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line. English veteran Leighton Aspell flies in for the ride aboard 20-1 Casino Markets, who gets in with 144 pounds (12 less than Modem).
Lavelle called the American foray a learning experience.
“It was an idea that was sparked off last summer and we thought, ‘Well let’s give it a go’ and we could see what it takes,” she said. “Casino looked like the ideal horse that we had, but he’s definitely not the ideal horse for Saratoga and probably not for Belmont either. He has a high cruising speed, but he’s a big chaser. He could do with some undulations and a test of proper stamina rather than it being all about speed.”
The Lonesome Glory will offer the stamina test at 2 1/2 miles, a furlong longer than the Turf Writers, but Lavelle may have to wait for next month’s Far Hills Races to get her horse on the course she wants.
“He wants quick ground, but the quick ground at Saratoga really wasn’t to his liking,” Lavelle said. “He’s better than that so we’ll give it another try. It’s been a great experience. Everybody over there has been absolutely amazing and it’s allowed us to learn a great deal. They’re putting up enough prize money to warrant support. We’ll see what happens.”
Casino Markets spent the last few weeks with trainer Leslie Young in Pennsylvania and will race with Lasix for the first time.
“He went off to the spa after Saratoga and that’s done him a world of good,” Lavelle said. “I think he’s doing great and enjoying himself. He might not want to come back.”
Coming off back-to-back seconds at Saratoga, Bob Kinsley’s import Modem looks like the horse to beat. Bred in England but raced in Ireland with Jessica Harrington, the 7-year-old Motivator gelding started as the favorite in the A.P. Smithwick and Turf Writers but couldn’t quite match strides with Swansea Mile in the former or Diplomat in the latter. Jack Doyle rides again for trainer Elizabeth Voss at 156 pounds.
Rosbrian Farm’s Swansea Mile (Mikey Mitchell, 5-1) upset the Smithwick at 29-1, but was outrun late a month later in the Turf Writers. The Irish-bred son of Dylan Thomas seeks his fifth win. Rosbrian and trainer Ricky Hendriks also entered Simenon, an Irish-bred son of Marju with a long past-performance chart. The 10-year-old finished fourth in the 2013 Melbourne Cup in Australia and has also raced in England, Ireland, Japan, Hong Kong and Dubai. A win would put Simenon, a 2016 purchase from the barn of trainer Willie Mullins, over the million-dollar mark in career earnings. Hendriks adds blinkers and tabs Ross Geraghty for the return riding assignment at 15-1 and 144 pounds.
Buttonwood Farm’s All The Way Jose exits a third in the Turf Writers and seeks his first stakes win since 2014. The 7-year-old Pennsylvania-bred, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, made the lead leaving the backside last time, but couldn’t hold off Diplomat or Modem. Darren Nagle takes the ride at 3-1 and 142 pounds. All The Way Jose finished second over the course in 2014.
Leading trainer Jack Fisher sends out two – Grade 1 winner Mr. Hot Stuff and 2015 Lonesome Glory runner-up Hinterland. The latter faced some of England’s best including Special Tiara, Dodging Bullets, Sire de Grugy and Simonsig while with Paul Nicholls but has been limited by injuries since being imported by owner Sonny Via. The 9-year-old was a fast-closing second to Bob Le Beau in this race two years ago, and was second again in the 3-mile Iroquois in May. Sean McDermott takes the ride aboard the 4-1 shot at 152 pounds. Gill Johnston’s popular veteran Mr. Hot Stuff finished seventh after flattening out late in the Turf Writers, his first start since May. The son of Tiznow, 11, won the Smithwick in 2013 – four years after running in the Kentucky Derby for WinStar Farm – and can be a player with a return to form. Fisher liked the Turf Writers effort, which came a month after missing a start in the Smithwick due to a shoeing problem. Danny Mullins flies over from Ireland for the ride at 10-1 and 148 pounds.
“He should run well with the race,” said Fisher. “I don’t think Belmont without a last couple fences will be good for him, but he’s coming into this well and the Saratoga race will help him. Hinterland is a nice horse. His race in the Iroquois was pretty good. We’re trying to get him to Far Hills and this will help.”
Hinterland’s English success sent him to 160 on the handicapping scale as a chaser in 2014, far above any of today’s foes.
Veteran Charminster, third in this last year after making most of the running, completes the field at 12-1 and 142 for Irv Naylor, trainer Cyril Murphy and jockey Carol Ann Sloan.
NOTES: Like Saratoga’s course configuration, Belmont will have no fences in the stretch the final time. The day starts with the William Entenmann Memorial novice hurdle at 1:30 p.m. . . . The stakes division is up for grabs with the losses of 2017 Grade 1 winners Scopriancer and Diplomat to injuries. In addition, last year’s champion Rawnaq is still on the shelf and was joined by 2015 champion Dawalan. Scorpiancer is the leader in the clubhouse with two wins (in two starts) and $150,000 earned . . . The Loneosme Glory, named for the five-time Eclipse Award winner, is the key prep for the $400,000 American Grand National at Far Hills, N.J. Oct. 21 . . . Fisher is running away with the trainers’ standings with 16 wins, double his nearest competitors Sheppard and Hendriks. A title in 2017 will sixth consecutive and 11th overall . . . The jockeys’ race is considerably tighter, though Nagle (11 wins) is up by two on McDermott, followed by Doyle and Ross Geraghty with eight each . . . Jump racing continues at Shawan Downs in Maryland Saturday and Foxfield in Virginia Sunday.