Middleburg Recap: Lyonell wins Grade 2 debut

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Jack Doyle, in sweat-stained green and yellow silks and carrying what little tack he used to do 146 (six pounds over), cut between fans and horsemen after the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg April 21 and thought back to an October conversation, an October declaration.

“I said he was a good horse last year,” Doyle said, on his way to the jocks’ room at Glenwood Park.

Usually understated, Doyle said Lyonell was a proper graded stakes horse last October. Six months later, the German-bred 7-year-old backed up those words with a facile triumph over nine rivals in the Grade 2 stakes. Doyle settled Lyonell, making his first graded stakes start, near the back of the competitive group, eased and breezed his way into contention before rolling to an easy 1 1/4-length score over Zanjabeel, who made a crucial jumping error on the backside, and front-runner Mercouer. Eclipse Award finalists All The Way Jose and Mr. Hot Stuff ran well to be fourth and fifth in their 2018 debuts.

“He’s done it nicely. As I’ve said, I’ve always thought the world of him, he seems to have grown up a lot this year, he’s settling well, he jumped brilliantly, I was always just able to put him where I wanted,” Doyle said. “When he got in front, he idled a little and waited for the other horses, he’s still got a bit to learn but that’s the problem, we don’t have that many options in this country, he wants 2 1/2 miles, he wants nice ground, he’s a fair engine when he does get it.”

Placed methodically since falling in the Appleton at Far Hills in 2016, the 7-year-old son of Montjeu enjoyed a productive and educational four-race campaign while skipping Saratoga last year, picking off the Appleton going 2 5/8 miles at Far Hills in October and eliciting Doyle’s heady words. Trained by Elizabeth Voss for Robert Kinsley, Lyonell has now won three of eight starts.

“I was thinking ratings race at Nashville but she stuck him in here and asked what we should do, I said, ‘Well, we can give it a go, he’s been in Camden all year, he’s busting to run, we can see,’ ” Doyle said of the Gwathmey. “It obviously worked out well. I could put him wherever I wanted, he jumped brilliantly. You would think 3 miles at Nashville would be right up his street. He’ll improve off that.”

• Jack Fisher sat atop the stone wall at Glenwood Park and watched Doc Cebu press the pace of Top Man Michael and Grand Manan in the Middleburg Hunt Cup. After a circuit – and after other comments – Fisher summed up the race.

“…I’d like to be where Super Saturday is right now…”

Super Saturday, a two-time winner over timber and the longest shot in the race, loped along in fourth, spanning the chasm between the rapid frontrunners, that included two stakes winners, and the lagging closers, that included three stakes winners.

Two circuits later, everybody wanted to be where Super Saturday and jockey Gerard Galligan were as they picked up the pieces left from Top Man Michael, Grand Manan and Doc Cebu. Super Saturday cruised across the finish line, 2 1/2 lengths clear of Le Chevalier, making his first start in a year, in the $30,000 timber feature. Doc Cebu, riding a three-race win streak and a 4-for-5 mark over timber, faded to finish third, 20 lengths behind Super Saturday. Owned by Irv Naylor and trained by Kathy Neilson, Super Saturday snapped a 17-race losing streak dating back to an allowance timber win at Camden in March, 2015.

“That was a surprise,” Galligan said, as he guided Super Saturday toward the winner’s circle.

Galligan, winning his third race of the season and first aboard Super Saturday, loved his early position.

“I guess they were all told to be handy and they took it literally, they were going very fast, I was happy to have him with a lead but off the pace,” Galligan said. “I just kind of had him in my hands, but he’s a very quirky horse, if I start chasing him, he’s going to say, ‘I’m not trying.’ I let him think it was his idea, it worked out great because they went so fast I sat off them but still got a lead, he jumped so good, he’s one of the best jumpers I’ve ever ridden, he does it so naturally, he traveled into it real nicely.”

Almost too nicely as the 9-year-old, who’s refused in previous races, led the field to the last.

“I’m trying not to be in front, but there’s nothing I can do because he’s going so well, I don’t want to take him off the bridle because he’s not going to try for me off the bridle, I’m trying to keep changing my hands and keep him on the bridle,” Galligan said. “He’s terrible for stopping at home and stopping in races, he’s too clever for his own good. I didn’t envision that happening, hitting the front too soon. Expectations were low. He surprised us all.”

• Iranistan solidified himself as the best 4-year-old in the sport, scampering to another electric win over six rivals in the Glenwood Hurdle. Owned by Hudson River Farms and trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Iranistan pulled jockey Darren Nagle to the lead after the first and opened a commanding lead while racing greenly. Nagle guided the free-running gelding like he was sitting on a fire hose, but deftly managed to keep Iranistan between the flags. Down Royal challenged Iranistan across the backside the final time but was no match, fading to third as Flash Jackson rallied late to garner second.

Iranistan spent the winter in Gulfstream Park for Sheppard and owner/breeder Crossed Sabres Stable. After finishing sixth for a $35,000 maiden claiming tag, Iranistan transferred to Hudson River Stable and into the jumping division, he’s 2-for-2 and emulating a former mercurial Sheppard frontrunner, Thrice Worthy.

“Yes, he looks a little like him, doesn’t he?” Sheppard said after trainer Ricky Hendriks compared the two.

• “You said if he jumps, he wins.”

Doyle had read the ST Handicappers’ summary of Andi’amu’s chances in the Alfred M. Hunt. Placed in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup and Iroquois, the 8-year-old loomed large in his steeplethon debut.

He jumped, he won. Well, he jumped everything (perfectly) but the water coming down the hill in the 2 5/8 miles free-for-all. There, the French-bred splayed like Bambi on ice, sliding from a sweet, stalking position to the back of the eight-horse field.

“It’s nearly too small, he bunny-hopped it and left his hind legs in the water, he stood straight up,” Doyle said. “I thought, ‘Just pop the next two and see how he feels, if we can get a little prize money get a little prize money.’ I put winning out of my mind at that stage, it was just get him around.”

Oh, he got around.

Doyle sat like a librarian before, during and after the blunder, allowing the Andi’amu to regain his composure. The French-bred popped the two hedges in front of the stands like nothing had happened and gradually put air back in his bellows, jumping everything else with aplomb, blowing plast Cognashene and holding off a late re-rally by him. The margin was a neck.

“When we turned the sharp bend, he got in between a couple and grabbed a hold of it, he was away then,” Doyle said. “Even with the mistake, he was only in second gear. Like you said, ‘If he jumps, he wins.’ If he hadn’t made the mistake, he probably would have won by as far as you wanted.”

Owned by Ballybristol Farm and trained by Leslie Young, Andi’amu collected his fourth jump win and second with Doyle who guided him to an allowance hurdle win at Monmouth Park back in 2016.

• Doyle won the Sonabank Cup, a maiden claimer, aboard Really Ready for owner Ronald Sapp and trainer Jonathan Sheppard, holding off Misfortune and Corstorphine to win by 1 3/4 lengths.

“It was a bit of a messy race, they were green enough in front,” Doyle said. “He just jumped his way to the front, he was traveling easy so I left him galloping.”

Bred by Sapp and his wife, Betsy, Really Ready won a maiden at Presque Isle for Sheppard in 2015 before being claimed for $7,500 at Presque Isle Downs last July. Claimed back in September, the Pennsylvania-bred son of Ready’s Image finished third over hurdles at Aiken in the fall and pulled up there this spring.

As for having six more wins than he did at this time last year, Doyle credited spending the latter part of the winter in Camden, S.C.

“It’s made going to Camden worth it,” said Doyle who’s won three races for the Hall of Famer in 2018. “I wouldn’t have gotten on as many horses for Sheppard and our horses have hit the ground running. Now I have to keep it going.”

• Nagle doubled on the card, settling Ocean Ready off the pace in the Virginia Equine Alliance Maiden Hurdle before collaring frontrunner Dynaformersrequest to draw off by 3 3/4 lengths. Owned by Naylor and trained by Cyril Murphy, Ocean Ready made two starts over hurdles last year, finishing second in his debut at Aiken and fifth at Charleston. An American-bred son of More Than Ready, Ocean Ready was purchased from the Tattersalls Autumn Horses in Training Sale in 2016. Lyonell graduated the same sale the previous year.