Monday Special: Catching up from the weekend

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Call this a Monday Special, a recap of the past weekend with hopefully a little detail, some news you can use and even a short look at the week ahead. Can the TIHR team keep up with it? That’s the real question. Regardless, we’ll try to keep you in the loop and a little better informed with a companion to the Saturday Special weekend racing menu.

Jumping Around
Grinding Speed finally got his Manor. On his third try, the Maryland-bred timber horse took down the $30,000 timber stakes in Monkton, Md. Saturday with a late-running triumph over Senior Senator and Tax Ruling. Trained by Alicia Murphy for Mike Wharton the winner collected his fourth timber stakes score and further solidified his role as the favorite for the $90,000 Virginia Gold Cup May 2.

“This guy is true blue,” said Murphy. “He is awesome, he is awesome. Last year we were third here, we fell here, this is our first triumph here. It’s sweet. He has an amazing way of going, probably the number one thing that makes him so good is Mark Beecher. He’s amazing. His jumping, he’s so elastic, but I’ve seen what happens when other people ride him. I think he could do the (Maryland) Hunt Cup, but when you have a chance to win a $90,000 race that he’s proven in, why jeopardize that?”

Grinding Speed finished third in last year’s Manor after falling in the late stages of 2013. Mark Beecher rode the 9-year-old son of Grindstone, who was bred by Alan, Mark, Mitchell and Madeline Kline. Grinding Speed won once (in 2009) in seven flat starts, won his second lifetime start over hurdles (2011) and has now collected six timber wins in 15 starts to push his career earnings to $178,190.

Trainer Jack Fisher and young jockey Connor Hankin starred at the Manor, winning both halves of the maiden timber with Irish-breds Two’s Company and Ballylifen. Both horses are owned by the Bruton Street-US group headed by Hankin’s father Mike.

Equinox Stable’s Snow Blizzard, another Irish-bred, won the finale – an amateur/apprentice timber – while giving jockey Bethany Baumgardner her first NSA win. Nancy Knox trained the winner.

The TIHR handicappers continued their slow starts as Joe and Sean both tabbed Grinding Speed while Tom was blanked. If you’re keeping score, and we may stop, Joe and Sean are tied with four wins on the year – after four weeks of racing. Tom is one behind. It’s all got to change this weekend as three meets go postward – Atlanta, Middleburg and the Grand National.

Two of the four Manor winners did not race on Lasix, continuing something of a trend on the 2015 jump season – six of the 17 jump winners this year raced without the anti-bleeding medication.

Barnstorming circles the auction ring Saturday. Tod Marks photo
– The inaugural Go Jump Racing steeplechase sale took place Sunday at Shawan Downs in Maryland and featured an owner symposium/discussion with Dogwood Stable’s Cot Campbell, Grinding Speed’s owner Mike Wharton and Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. They spoke in front of roughly 200 people, who watched schooling demonstrations and a sale of prospects to close the event.

Highlight of the sale was a $30,000 bid for a 50-percent lease of stakes hurdler Barnstorming offered by Sheppard. Sherry Fenwick, Mary Charlotte Parr, Pedie Killebrew and Ben Lucas teamed up to buy the share and will campaign the 9-year-old son of Thunder Gulch with Sheppard. Barnstorming placed in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup and New York Turf Writers Cup last year while earning $63,500. He is slated to run in the $150,000 Iroquois in Nashville May 9.

Lucas, a longtime steeplechase fan, has never owned a racehorse until now.

“My father loved the horses, mostly flat track so I grew up in that household,” Lucas said. “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m retired now and this is one of the things on my bucket list. I’ve been a spectator for 60 years. That’s what we did and I got into a small syndicate which made it even less painful financially. We’re really looking forward to it.”

For more from the Manor and the symposium/sale, see Tod Marks Photos website and the National Steeplechase Association recap.

Divining Rod (left) charges toward the front at the top of the stretch in Saturday’s Coolmore Lexington Stakes. Keeneland photo
Big things at Keeneland
Lael Stable might be back on the Triple Crown trail with Divining Rod, who put his experience to good use in winning the last Kentucky Derby prep – the $250,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes – Saturday. Trained by Arnaud and Leigh Delacour, the homebred son of Tapit relaxed behind Fame And Power and Donworth early, moved out from behind horses on the turn and drew off late.

Third in the Tampa Bay Derby March 7, Divining Rod won for the second time in five career starts and made himself a Derby candidate. Co-owner and breeder Roy Jackson said he would decline that ticket, but you might see Divining Rod at Pimlico for the Preakness in mid-May.

Arnaud Delacour said the horse seemed fine and would go to the track for some exercise Tuesday and ship home to Fair Hill Training Center Friday. While he didn’t call it a surprise, Delacour was happy to see his horse improve in the Lexington off a tired third in the Tampa Bay Derby in March.

“I was very happy with the Sam Davis (a second Jan. 31) and not so much the Tampa Derby,” Delacour said. “The pace scenario did not set up very well for him and he did not relax. In the Lexington, that’s the kind of race we were expecting him to run.”

Delacour agreed with the decision to skip the Derby, but will consider the Preakness.

“After the Tampa Derby, I was very skeptical about stretching him, but I was happy with the Lexington,” the trainer said. “He relaxed. It’s always a little bit of a question mark until they do it. We made the rider change, which helped. No offense to Luis Garcia, but at Keeneland if you can get Julien Leparoux you can’t do much better than that in terms of judging the pace.”

The Grade 3 win was the second graded stakes victory for Delacour and his wife Leigh as trainers.

“That’s our biggest win, not only the biggest win but the most exposure as far as doing it,” said Arnaud, a former assistant to Christophe Clement. “When he ran the first time, right after, I was talking about the Sam Davis. Then it was the Tampa Derby, then the Lexington or something, and now we’re talking about even bigger races. A lot of times we dream a horse might improve to get to that level and he’s almost there.”

– Also Saturday at Keeneland, Ball Dancing won the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley for trainer Chad Brown and owners Will Farish and Steve Mooney. The daughter of Exchange Rate turned back Filimbi and won by 2 1/2 lengths to improve to 4-for-9 in her career. After racng in France, she won the Grade 2 Sands Point and finished second (to Crown Queen) in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth last year. She opened 2015 with a second (to Stephanie’s Kitten) in the Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs.

Sunday at Keeneland, Miss Ella continued her climb up the 3-year-old filly ranks with a win in the Grade 2 Beaumont Stakes for trainer Graham Motion and owner Jack Swain. The daughter of Exchange Rate rolled to a 2 1/2-length win under Rajiv Maragh, while improving to 2-for-2 after breaking her maiden at Gulfstream Park March 11.

As Motion put it Monday morning at Fair Hill, “There’s nothing like winning a graded stakes to make all the pressure go away.”

Rewind Button
– Since we’re playing catch-up, let’s rewind even further. Valiant Boy, the star Arabian we covered leading up to his adventures in Texas (which didn’t happen because of weather and airplane problems) and Dubai (he was second in the $1 million Kahayla Classic March 28) is back in the U.S. He returned last week, via Chicago, along with fellow Fair Hill resident Main Sequence (who was seventh in the Dubai Sheema Classic).

Merryman went to California to accept a little hardware for her gray dynamo, who was named the 2014 Arabian Horse of the Year at the 28th annual Darley USA Awards in Los Angeles. The 7-year-old French import, owned by Shaikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al Nahyan won all four starts in 2014. Campaigned by Guy Neivens in the U.S., Valiant Boy also won the older horse championship. Delaware-based Lynn Ashby won the leading trainer prize.

Valiant Boy went back to the farm for a break until mid-May, when he will return to Fair Hill with eyes on a start on the turf at Goodwood Racecourse in England Aug. 1. 

Main Sequence was jogging in a back field at Fair Hill, along with Daring Dancer at Quadrivium, Monday morning. Trainer Graham Motion is mapping out a summer campaign, with eyes on a repeat in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer (now worth $1 million) at Saratoga in late August.