Mills ready to make mark in U.S. jump racing

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An English jump jockey in America is not news, not anymore. But an English jump jockey who boxes, now that’s news. Alice Mills, whose background includes three-day eventing, tetrathlon, races on the flat and over jumps and – yes – boxing, recently arrived in Maryland for a job with leading trainer Jack Fisher and will be aboard two horses at Belmont Park Thursday.

Mills holds a dual license, flat and jumps, in England and turned professional last year after placing second in the Ladies FEGENTRI World Championship Series for amateur jockeys in 2014. She’s won 15 races on the flat, 11 over jumps and another 28 in point-to-points. Fisher signed her up on the advice of English racing commentator Richard Pittman, and Mills will spend the autumn season with Fisher. Thursday, she rides Dye Fore in the $75,000 William Entenmann novice stakes and Schoodic in the $150,000 Grade 1 Lonesome Glory. She also has rides at Shawan Downs Saturday and Foxfield Sunday.

Mills rode five American races in 2014, including a try at the Maryland Hunt Cup aboard Mach Ten (they pulled up), but knows this is an entirely different opportunity.

“To get to come over is great, but to get to go to the top yard is brilliant,” Mills said Tuesday night. “There are lovely horses about, it’s a really fun yard to work for. So far, I’m loving it. (Thursday’s runners) are both very nice horses. I’ve ridden both plenty of times at home and schooled Dye Fore today and he went really well. They’re both in really good form at home. It’s exciting for my first rides.”

Mills grew up with horses, took part in pony club and rode in three-day events. Dressage was a “buzz kill” however, and she turned to more daring equine challenges including the tetrathlon – a mix of shooting, swimming, riding and running – and later race riding.

She’s won races in England, Ireland, Germany, Norway and Jersey and also ridden in the United States, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, many of those stops as part of the FEGENTRI program for amateur jockeys. Since turning professional last year, Mills has been a freelance work rider while picking up race mounts on the flat and over fences. She won over hurdles at Jersey in May and on the flat there in July.

“I love my jump racing, but I’m not very big so it makes sense to make use of that and ride on the flat as well,” Mills said. “I’m the only dual-licensed lady professional in England.”

And . . . she boxes. In July, to help raise money for Cancer Research UK, Mills stepped in the ring for an Ultimate White Collar Boxing bout and won.

“I started it as a bit of fun and got into a bit more,” she said. “It’s amazing fitness and it was nice to do something different that complements the racing. It’s really good fun.”

She doesn’t plan on using those skills any time soon, though Fisher might have other ideas.

“I think Jack keeps using it as a threat if anyone’s not pulling their weight around the farm,” Mills said. “If they’re not working hard enough, they’ve got to be my sparring partner.”

Field of eight in Lonesome Glory

Named for a Hall of Famer and five-time Eclipse Award winner, the Lonesome Glory attracted exactly zero Grade 1 winners and provides an example of the parity beyond division leader Rawnaq. The Iroquois winner stands apart, far and away the best horse this year with the retirement of Demonstrative and the death of Bob Le Beau from a broken leg at Saratoga. Trained by Cyril Murphy for Irv Naylor, Rawnaq skips Thursday’s race but runs in a training flat race at Shawan Downs Saturday as a final prep for the $350,000 Grand National at Far Hills Oct. 15.

That leaves the gang of eight in Thursday’s Grade 1, at 2 1/2 miles over 10 fences. As they did last year, Belmont’s jump races will not include fences in the stretch and therefore a long run to the finish line.

Mills’ mount Schoodic breaks from the outside at 4-1. He tried both Grade 1 jump races at Saratoga, placing sixth in the A.P. Smithwick and fourth in the New York. The 6-year-old Tiznow gelding, who races for breeder Edie Dixon, won a Grade 3 in May and has 12 top-three finishes in 17 jump starts. The Fisher-trained Scorpiancer is the 9-5 favorite on the morning  line for Bruton Street-US and jockey Sean McDermott. The 7-year-old Irish-bred finished second and fourth behind Rawnaq this spring and also placed in both Saratoga Grade 1 stakes. He’s earned $64,600 without without winning a race this year.

Irv Naylor’s Irish import Jamarjo makes his stakes debut for trainer Leslie Young and jockey Paddy Young, who won the 2013 Lonesome Glory with Gustavian, at 6-1 and 144 pounds. Beaten a head when third at Monmouth Park last out, Jamarjo has never been worse than third in 10 jump races.

“Touch wood, he’s been very consistent,” said Leslie Young. “He’s one that we just try to pick our spots the best we can. We try to do that with all of them really, but it’s worked with him. When (racing secretary) Bill Gallo said there weren’t many aiming for the race, we nominated. Thankfully we got some rain. Why not take a shot in a Grade 1 when you’re getting weight?

Leading steeplechase owner Naylor also runs veteran Charminster, who finished fourth in last year’s Lonesome Glory for trainer Cyril Murphy. The 10-year-old Irish-bred won a Grade 3 in May and most recently placed fifth in the New York Turf Writers at Saratoga. Carol Ann Sloan rides at 5-1.

Rosbrian Farm and trainer Ricky Hendriks entered two recent imports, Irish-breds Swansea Mile (Bernie Dalton, 8-1) and Hisaabaat (Ross Geraghty, 6-1). The former, a 6-year-old son of Dylan Thomas, has won three times over hurdles in England and Ireland, including back-to-back scores at Bellewstown and Killarney last summer. Hisaabaat makes his first start since August 2015, but competed in top-class races at Cheltenhmm, Leopardstown, Galway, Punchestown and The Curragh for trainer Dermot Weld. The 8-year-old won a Grade 1 hurdle as a 4-year-old and was good enough on the flat to finish fourth (beaten 1 1/2 lengths) by Clondaw Warrior in 2014.

Armata Stable’s Rudyard K (Jack Doyle, 15-1) exits a third in a $70,000 handicap hurdle at Saratoga and could improve off that effort as he didn’t’ finish either of his previous two runs – a fall at Radnor in May and a lost rider in the Smithwick. In April, the 7-year-old son of Kipling finished third – a length behind runner-up Scorpiancer – in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey. Gill Johnston’s Awesome Pearl (Kieran Norris, 20-1) makes his second start of the year for trainer Richard Valentine.

The second race on a 10-race card, the Lonesome Glory goes at 2 p.m. The $75,000 William Entenmann Memorial opens the Belmont card at 1:30. The novice hurdle stakes also drew a field of eight headed by two from Fisher – 5-2 morning-line favorite Ice It and 3-1 second choice Special Skills.

Watch Alice Mills box via YouTube video below. 

Steeplechase Selections for Belmont Park

After fiddling around at Saratoga – we picked all nine jump races there, we just didn’t publish our picks as frequently as we should have – the TIHR handicappers are back for the fall season of jump racing which starts Thursday at Belmont Park. Tune in to the feed to hear Joe Clancy’s analysis along with hosts Andy Serling and Jason Blewitt. Talking Horses starts at 12:15 p.m.

First Race. 1:30 p.m. $75,000 Bill Entenmann Memorial novice hurdle stakes going 2 1/4 miles. Field of eight including three Saratoga winners. Leading trainer Jack Fisher holds the cards with major players Ice It and Special Skills. Hardrock Eleven comes off a win at Saratoga Sept. 1. Detroit Blues beat Hardrock Eleven at Saratoga Aug. 17. They’re all pretty live. 

Joe: Special Skills, Ice It, Detroit Blues.
Sean: Ice It, Special Skills, Share Out. 
Tom: Ice It, Share Out, Special Skills. 

Second Race. 2:01 p.m. $150,000 Loneosme Glory Grade 1 hurdle stakes going 2 1/2 miles. Another field of eight without a clear standout. Scorpiancer is the favorite, but he’s winless this year. Can he fire his best off two starts at Saratoga? Jamarjo is fresh and ultra-consistent. Schoodic seems to labor with new racetrack configurations (no fence in stretch). Swansea Mile and Hisaabaat make their U.S. debuts for Rosbrian and Ricky Hendriks. Awesome Pearl looks for an upset. Charminster does nothing wrong, but he’s 10 years old. Somebody will win their first open Grade 1. 
Joe: Rudyard K, Jamarjo, Scorpiancer.
Tom: Scorpiancer, Rudyard K, Schoodic.
Sean: Rudyard K, Jamarjo, Swansea Mile.