Middleburg, Butler Picks & Preview

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Timber champion Andi’amu makes his 2023 debut
at Middleburg Saturday on a card that also includes the
Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey over hurdles. Tod Marks photo

The acceleration continues. Saturday’s two-stop steeplechase lineup includes the first open hurdle stakes of the year, a key timber test, classy allowance hurdlers and plenty to see at two meets.

Start in Virginia with the Middleburg Spring Races at Glenwood Park. If you’ve never been, get there someday. Glenwood, which hosts racing in the spring and fall, is a gem. The program includes eight races – flat, hurdle, timber and the cross-country stylings of the Alfred Hunt course.

Up the road near Baltimore in Butler, Md., timber horses tackle the Grand National in the last prep for next week’s Maryland Hunt Cup. The $30,000 feature comes first on a four-race card, and brings together Royal Ruse, Shootist, Monbeg Stream and two-time 2023 winner Master Seville.

Taking a quick look back to last week, Tomgarrow won his second consecutive My Lady’s Manor timber stakes for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers, Leslie Young and Freddie Procter. The 9-year-old Irish-bred stalked Hunt Cup winner Vintage Vinnie early, then powered off to an easy win. Other wins on the day went to Fashion Line (Armata Stable, Kathy Neilson, Connor Tierney), Stolen Shoes (Tuscany Racing, Young, Procter) and the aforementioned Master Seville (South Branch Equine, Mark Beecher, Brett Owings).

At Tryon in North Carolina, it was a day of doubles as trainers Sandra Webb and Jack Fisher each won two, so did owner Riverdee Stable and jockey Barry Foley. Gordon’s Jet won the featured 120 handicap for Fisher, Riverdee and jockey Jamie Bargary. Fisher and Graham Watters teamed up to win the maiden with Bruton Street-US runner Beat Le Bon. Webb (Fisher’s former assistant) and Foley won the waiver conditioned claimer with Riverdee’s Seizing The Dream and the maiden claimer with Northwoods Stable’s Whisky Warrior.

The TIHR handicappers each picked four winners last week. Sean has 12, Joe and Tom have 11 each.

Middleburg Spring Races. Post time 1 p.m. The card is part of a free contest worth $2,000 on stableduel.com so download the app and try your luck/skill. Oh, it and looks like rain. Your attire, and your handicapping, accordingly.

First race. Training flat going 1 ½ miles. Eight show up and you’ll want to watch For The Parish and Garrison Forest, new Irish-breds making their first starts for the Young barn. Summer Silence’s flat form would suit him well, and the same goes for In Effect. Old pro Iranistan should never be dismissed. Realist gets off the bench, but has won three times and was second on the flat at Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point.

  • Joe: Realist, Iranistan, Summer Silence.
  • Tom: Iranistan, Realist, For The Parish.
  • Sean: In Effect, Realist, Garrison Forest. 

Second race. $35,000 allowance (NW2) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Jack Fisher won 10 maiden hurdle races last year. Three winners show up here – South Mountain, Neotropic and Awakened – in a field of six. They meet the Keri Brion-trained Modus Operandi, a winner last year at Montpelier, and 2023 winners The Hero Next Door and Seismic Wave. The Hero Next Door cost £120,000 (about $145,000) at last year’s Cheltenham December sale. The Irish point-to-point winner dominated a maiden hurdle at Camden April 1. Can he repeat against winners? South Mountain made four hurdle starts in England last year before being imported. He was third at Great Meadow and won at Montpelier. Seismic Wave has run nine times over hurdles, and finished behind South Mountain, Neotropic and Awakened last year before winning at Aiken in March. Modus Operandi won on the flat in Ireland and at Gulfstream Park and wasn’t beaten all that far in two Grade 3 stakes on the turf. He fell at the first in his debut last fall, but showed no ill effects when winning at Montpelier. Awakened, a half-brother to Grade 1 flat winner Imagining, was second over the course last spring before winning at Shawan in September. Some race. No one would be a surprise.

  • Joe: Neotropic, Awakened, The Hero Next Door.
  • Tom: South Mountain, Awakened, Modus Operandi.
  • Sean: Awakened, Modus Operandi, Neotropic.

Third race. $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes going 3 ¼ miles. Hello old friends. Timber champion Andi’amu gets back to work against a solid group of Storm Team, Cracker Factory, Mystic Strike and Notjudginjustsayin. The race is a prep, sorta, for the 4-mile Virginia Gold Cup but it can be a very different race. Storm Team won it last year, but Andi’amu was coming off a long layoff.

  • Joe: Andi’amu, Storm Team, Notjudginjustsayin.
  • Tom: Andi’amu, Storm Team, Notjudginjustsayin.
  • Sean: Storm Team, Andi’amu, Cracker Factory.

Fourth race. $100,000 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap going 2 ½ miles. Snap Decision gets his 2023 started under top weight of 158 pounds (12-18 more than the rest). The 9-year-old closed 2022 with a well-beaten sixth in the American Grand National. Can he get back to his best? Going Country and Ask Paddington have been sharpening on the Tapeta at Fair Hill. Belfast Banter should be better than he’s shown. Redicean won nicely at Far Hills last year. Iranistan pulled a front-running upset last year. Who makes the running this year, and how soft will the turf be?

  • Joe: Snap Decision, Ask Paddington, Belfast Banter.
  • Tom: Snap Decision, Redicean, Going Country.
  • Sean: Snap Decision, Belfast Banter, Ask Paddington.

Fifth race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Brion runs newcomer Praghas Ceart (second in a point-to-point) and the slightly more experienced Girl Dad (a faller at Aiken). Middleburg president and course clerk Doug Fout shows up with Rewind and Press Pause, both making their second starts of 2023. Mission Brief was third behind Cross Border at Aiken and leads the group with four hurdle starts. Karl Cares wins the pedigree game (Empire Maker-It’s Tea Time, Dynaformer). Young found American-bred Rampoldi Plan (a Hard Spun 4-year-old) in England.

  • Joe: Praghas Ceart, Rewind, Girl Dad.
  • Tom: Girl Dad, Mission Brief, Press Pause.
  • Sean: Girl Dad, Praghas Ceart, Rampoldi Plan. 

Sixth race. $25,000 filly/mare maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Eight show up for this, which is a decent sign of some depth in a division that can sometimes struggle for runners. Dream North, Right Tempo, Fox Force Five, Tanka Tough Fox In The Park and Afraid Not all ran in the same race at Old Dominion April 8. Second to her stablemate there, Dream North looks tough for owner/breeder Northwoods Stable. Lady’s Game makes her debut for Brion.

  • Joe: Dream North, Right Tempo, Lady’s Game.
  • Tom: Dream North, Right Temp, Lady’s Game.
  • Sean: Dream North, Right Tempo, Fox Force Five. 

Seventh race. $20,000 starter maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Runners must have started for $25,000 claiming price or less on the flat or over jumps. Eight line up for this. Quid gets a little class relief after four good efforts last year. Be Yourself was second to Cross Border at Aiken. Sire Flintshire’s best runners include hurdle winners Welshman, Freddy Flintshire, Topic Changer and Connagh’s Quay. Here’s another jumper, Lord Flintshire from owner/breeder Parkland Thoroughbreds. Rocket One cost $600,000 as a yearling, met Gunite in his debut and tangled with Speaking Scout last spring at Keeneland. He’ll appreciate getting away from them at least.

  • Joe: Rocket One, Lord Flintshire, Quid.
  • Tom: Quid, Be Yourself, Rocket One.
  • Sean: Quid, Rocket One, Boffo Kid. 

Eighth race. $20,000 Alfred Hunt Steeplechase going 2 5/8 miles over the cross-country course. Alfred Hunt led the iconic and long-gone Rolling Rock Hunt Races in western Pennsylvania and owned a stable of steeplechasers way back when. His family started Alcoa. His race involves brush fences, a water jump, hurdles, timber fences and a hairpin turn around a tree and none of the four have tried it before. Fast Vision and Cause For Pardon look live for Young. Decisive Triumph, third over hurdles at Aiken, ought to love this too. Anticipating exits a second over hurdles at Aiken.

  • Joe: Decisive Triumph, Fast Vision, Cause For Pardon.
  • Tom: Fast Vision, Cause For Pardon, Decisive Triumph.
  • Sean: Decisive Triumph, Cause For Pardon, Fast Vision.

The Grand National. Yes, it’s a little confusing with the race in the fall at Far Hills. No, it’s not like the English one. Yes, it’s still pretty cool. The all-timber meet, started as a companion/answer to its big brother and neighbor the Maryland Hunt Cup 120-odd years ago, cards four races and presents a stiff test to timber stakes horses. Post time is 2:30 p.m., but arrive early for the tailgates.

First race. $30,000 Grand National timber stakes going 3 ¼ miles. They go pretty quick out there, and the fences aren’t easy. Seven face the flag in the feature. Royal Ruse was second in 2021 and fell late last year. He and Elizabeth Scully exit a third at My Lady’s Manor last week. Renegade River has run well at the Manor, and is capable on his best. Master Seville has won twice this year and four times over timber. Monbeg Stream won twice last year. Shootist won the allowance here last year.

  • Joe: Master Seville, Royal Ruse, Shootist.
  • Tom: Monbeg Stream, Master Seville, Shootist.
  • Sean: Master Seville, Royal Ruse, Our Friend.

Second race. $12,500 maiden timber going 3 miles. Mystic Strike’s kid brother Rhythmia exits a second at Cheshire. Bogey’s Image was fairly solid over hurdles and looks like a potential timber player (he’s Master Seville’s half-brother). Hero’s Return last all 10 hurdle starts. Maybe timber is the key. The Butler Yates won at Piedmont Point-to-Point.

  • Joe: Bogey’s Image, The Butler Yates, Rhythmia.
  • Tom: Bogey’s Image, Rhythmia, Hero’s Return.
  • Sean: The Butler Yates, Bogey’s Image, Druid’s Altar. 

Third race. $17,500 allowance (NW2) timber going 3 ¼ miles. Just four turn up here. Rocket Star Red finished second here last year and was also second in the Maryland Hunt Cup. His only win came via disqualification in 2019. Great Road has tackled some stiff timber assignments with two seconds and two thirds. Hill Tie (named for a Virginia Gold Cup winner many years ago) is actually the only runner to cross the line first in a timber race.

  • Joe: Rocket Star Red, Great Road, Blackhall.
  • Tom: Rocket Star Red, Great Road, Blackhall.
  • Sean: Rocket Star Red, Great Road, Blackhall. 

Fourth race. $10,000 allowance timber for apprentice riders going 3 miles. Fletched has looked pretty good in his last two, a year apart at Cheshire. Rakhaa shook off some rust with a fourth at Old Dominion. Chosen Mate came over from Ireland with high hopes in 2021 and won at Cheshire in March.

  • Joe: Rakhaa, Fletched, Chosen Mate.
  • Tom: Chosen Mate, Fletched, Rakhaa.
  • Sean: Fletched, Paddy’s Crown, Chosen Mate.