Foxfield, Md. Hunt Cup picks & preview

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Snap Decision powers over the last fence on the way to his third win in the Temple Gwathmey Handicap. Tod Marks photo

The last Saturday in April. As usual, the steeplechase season hits full speed and makes you wonder where it went and how we got here. Two stops – one a storied timber race, the other a roaring-back-to-prominence Virginia stalwart – make for a full day.

Last week was busy and featured the best performance of the year as Snap Decision demolished seven others in the Temple Gwathmey, the year’s first open hurdle stakes. Technically a Grade 2 (Booooo!), the $75,000 stakes dates to 1924 and has been won by legends. The 2024 field included the first, second, fifth, sixth, eighth, 11th, 12th and 13th horses on the NSA ratings system. Snap Decision gave them between 10 and 20 pounds and won by eight lengths for Bruton Street U.S., Jack Fisher and Graham Watters. It was the 10-year-old’s third Gwathmey in four years, he was second in 2022, and 14th win in 24 starts over jumps. He’s earned $839,400, fifth all-time. Noah And The Ark finished a solid second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Awakened. Watch the Gwathmey.

Young at 14, Schoodic flies a fence early in his Middleburg Hunt Cup win. Tod Marks photo

Fisher and Watters won three other races on the card. First came the Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes with 14-year-old Schoodic, his third consecutive win and 16th overall in 48 starts over fences. The Tiznow gelding ran over hurdles in 2013 – before his three Middleburg rivals were born. First-timer hurders Tiz A Giant and Kitten Mischief won maiden races. Leslie Young tripled on the card, topped by the U.S. debut of High Definition in a $50,000 allowance hurdle. The Irish import, a Group 2 winner and Group 1 placed on the flat, scored by a neck over Leiper’s Fork Steeplechasers stablemate Rampoldi Plan without working overly hard. The looming showdown with Abaan in the Iroquois novice could be fun. Young won a filly/mare maiden hurdle with My Forever Annie and the Alfred Hunt cross-country race with Court Ruler. Neil Morris landed the maiden claimer with Evie’s Prince and Wicked West started the day with a training flat win for trainer Todd Wyatt.

Up the road in Maryland for the Grand National timber met, Maryland-breds shined. Awesome Adrian won the feature $35,000 timber stakes for owner/breeder Nancy Reed, trainer Kathy Neilson and jockey Teddy Davies. Fellow Maryland-bred Road To Oz finished second in a repeat of the race’s exacta (in the opposite order) from 2022. Shootist was third. A son of Great Notion and the Valley Crossing mare River Kwai, 11-year-old Awesome Adrian won for the fifth time over jumps. Davies won the allowance timber with Mr. Fine Threads, a Sightseeing gelding bred in Maryland by William Harris, for trainer Joe Davies. Father and son teamed up again in the finale, as another Maryland-bred, Bogey’s Image won for the second timber over timber. The son of Imagining, bred by South Branch Equine, won over hurdles in 2021 before making the conversion. Young and jockey Freddie Procter won the maiden timber with Irish-bred The Butler Yates.

The TIHR handicappers handled a fairly chalky, 13-race weekend. Joe tabbed nine winners – High Definition, Schoodic, Snap Decision, Tiz A Giant, Kitten Mischief, Court Ruler, The Butler Yates, Mr. Fine Threads, Bogey’s Image. Sean countered with eight (all of the above except The Butler Yates) and Tom had five. From 43 races, Joe leads with 19. Sean has 16. Tom has eight.

Mr. Fine Threads enters the Maryland Hunt Cup off a win at the Grand National. Douglas Lees photo

Maryland Hunt Cup. The Granddaddy of them all. Or something like that anyway. The 4-mile timber race for amateur jockeys dates to 1894 and has been run at its same Worthington Valley location since 1922. With wars and pandemics and who knows what else, this is the 127th running.

And it’s a puzzle. Nine runners, just one coming off a win, contest the $100,000 race and its 22 fences.

Rocket Star Red and Blackhall jumped around in 2022 and fell last year. Withoutmoreado won last year, in an upset. He has struggled this year – a distant fourth at Cheshire and a lost rider after a mistake early last week at the Grand National. Goodoldtimes finished third in 2022 and lost his rider last year. He fell last week at the Grand National. Shootist pulled up last year and was third in the Grand National last week. Mr. Fine Threads won an allowance timber at the Grand National last week, over Blackhall and Rocket Star Red. Wagner won a maiden at the Manor two weeks ago and was going nicely before jockey Freddie Procter jumped the wrong fence while leading the race Mr. Fine Threads won. New jockey Eric Poretz gets aboard the English chase/point-to-point veteran. Royal Ruse is most likely to get around. He was second last year and has won four timber races including last year’s Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Erin Scully gets back aboard. Vintage Vinnie set course records when he won in 2021 and 2022, wow, but was pulled up last year. The 15-year-old, wow, comes off a second at My Lady’s Manor.

Post time for the day’s only race is 4 p.m. Get there in time to walk the course – or at least to stand next to the third, 13th, sixth and 16th.

  • Joe: Mr. Fine Threads, Royal Ruse, Shootist.
  • Sean: Royal Ruse, Mr. Fine Threads, Shootist.
  • Tom: Mr. Fine Threads, Vintage Vinnie, Royal Ruse.

Foxfield Races. Kudos to the Virginia Equine Alliance for bolstering the state’s steeplechase meets, and to the Foxfield organizers for beefing up this course and meet. Foxfield, a staple on the spring Charlottesville/UVA calendar, should be a destination meet and this year proves it. The cancellation of the Queen’s Cup in North Carolina is not a positive, but did help Foxfield fill out a strong card. Post time is 12:30 p.m.

First race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. A full field of 10 (with two on the also-eligible list) for the opener. Westerland, still a maiden, has been close often and makes his 16th hurdle start. I Am Fortunata was second at Tryon. Trainer Sean McDermott puts his 2-for-2 record on the line with rookie Reel Well. Auchincruive (glad we don’t have to say it) won at the Old Dominion Point-to-Point over Middleburg winner Tiz A Giant and gets to waive the claiming tag.

  • Joe: Auchincruive, Reel Well, I Am Fortunata.
  • Sean: Auchincruive, Reel Well, Penicillin Success.
  • Tom: Westerland, Penicillin Success, I Am Fortunata.

Second race. $30,000 Handicap hurdle (110 and below) going 2 1/8 miles. Valuable spot for low-level handicappers. Newcomer Minella Plus leads eight rivals with five wins. The Irish-bred went up (and back down) the ladder as a handicapper in England. He won three over hurdles and two over chase fences. He ran through a wing in his U.S. debut at Aiken in March. Webb won at Radnor last year. Baltimore Kid was second over the course in October, adds blinkers and Lasix. Rhebus Road was second at Willowdale a year ago. Fits The Jill won a filly/mare maiden last year. Union Gen. George won in October and was third at Tryon.

  • Joe: Rhebus Road, Baltimore Kid, Webb.
  • Sean: Baltimore Kid, New Appointment, Rhebus Road.
  • Tom: Rhebus Road, Webb, Baltimore Kid.

Third race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. High Deff leads the field with seven hurdle tries, three seconds and two thirds. Irelands Call folded late at Camden, but could move forward. Hidden Path, twice a winner with Todd Pletcher on the flat, was third at Camden. Doesn’t Sting and Pavoni debut for Jack Fisher (who won with two first-timers last week). Royne has a right to be better. Travesuras has been third in his last two. Solid race.

  • Joe: Doesn’t Sting, Irelands Call, Travesuras.
  • Sean: Doesn‘t Sting, Travesuras, Hidden Path.
  • Tom: Travesuras, Hidden Path, Irelands Call.

Fourth race. $20,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. The timber veterans head to the Maryland Hunt Cup. Newcomers go to Foxfield. Potus won two over hurdles. So did Presence of Mind. Eryx was third at Blue Ridge. Animal Kingston was second at Cheshire, to next-out winner Hard Strike.

  • Joe: Presence Of Mind, Potus, Animal Kingston.
  • Sean: Presence Of Mind, Potus, Eryx.
  • Tom: Potus, Hard Game, Animal Kingston.

Fifth race. $75,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial novice hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. Division leader Abaan sits this one out, leaving seven runners. New import Tuddenham Green won twice in England, the second in a two-horse race. Go Poke The Bear looks for his fourth win while stepping up to stakes company off a handicap win at Tryon. Ziggle Pops should move forward off a fourth in that race. Neotropic prepped with a fourth at Camden. Kiyomori put together three solid runs, two wins and a third, last year. Total Joy won his first two last year and was second to Kiymori at Aiken in November. Going Country brings an experience edge, but hasn’t run in nearly a year.

  • Joe: Tuddenham Green, Neotropic, Kiyomori.
  • Sean: Tuddenham Green, Kiyomori, Total Joy.
  • Tom: Kiyomori, Tuddenham Green, Go Poke The Bear.

Sixth race. $50,000 Good Night Shirt handicap hurdle (130 and lower) going 2 1/8 miles. Named for a Hall of Famer who made his hurdle debut at Foxfield in 2005 before winning two Eclipse Awards and $1 million plus, the co-feature attracted six runners. Welshman carries top weight of 158 while going out for Good Night Shirt’s connections Sonny Via and Jack Fisher. Bernie Dalton rides the 6-year-old, a winner of four hurdle races. If you can get past the last two, both double-digit defeats, he looks tough. The son of Flintshire won over the course in 2022. Who’s Counting seeks his fourth jump win for McDermott, who does double duty as the jockey. Caramelised was second at Aiken after leading late. Gordon’s Jet finished second to Welshman last May, but struggled thereafter. Gold Charm won a filly/mare stakes in August. Proven Innocent labored through five starts last year. Maybe the break can reverse his form.

  • Joe: Welshman, Who’s Counting, Gordon’s Jet.
  • Sean: Who’s Counting, Proven Innocent, Welshman.
  • Tom: Caramelised, Welshman, Who’s Counting.

Seventh race. $35,000 Handicap hurdle (115 or lower) going 2 1/8 miles. The third handicap on the card attracted nine runners. Each is a two-time winner, except Auction Kingdom (who has a win and three seconds). Icandothat puts his two-race streak on the line. Seismic Wave has been prepping on the flat. English winner Lydford gets off the bench, as does highweight State Of Affair. Artistic Choice makes his U.S. debut off two English hurdle wins, one each in 2022 and 2023.

  • Joe: Seismic Wave, Auction Kingdom, Icandothat.
  • Sean: Artistic Choice, Eye Of Gunfighter, State Of Affair. 
  • Tom: Icandothat, Auction Kingdom, Eye Of Gunfighter.