And a maiden shall lead them. As of Sept. 25, Moscato – an English-bred 6-year-old who started 2017 as a maiden over hurdles – is the leading steeplechaser in the country with $156,000 in earnings. He’s won four times, and finished second twice, in six starts. And after winning last week’s William Entenmann Memorial novice stakes at Belmont Park, he’s got people thinking.
“Don’t be afraid to cross-enter him,” Moscato’s jockey Sean McDermott told trainer Jack Fisher after the Entenmann. McDermott was talking about rich opportunities at the Far Hills Races Oct. 21. Moscato, owned by Bruton Street-US, could run in the $125,000 Foxbrook for novices or the $400,000 Grand National against open company at the New Jersey meet. McDermott’s not lobbying either way, just confident in his horse.
“Distance is important, he’s a solid build of a horse, weight isn’t an issue,” said the jockey. “I think a few talents coming from across the water will help make the decision.”
Yes, therein lies the rub. Moscato may indeed be better than any American jumper still racing in 2017. He may not be better than a potential English or Irish raider looking to land the Grand National prize and Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and perhaps some others are mulling tries. The Emma Lavelle-trained Casino Markets finished fourth in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont, and will take a crack at the Grand National next.
One thing’s for sure, the American contingent is ready for someone to emerge. Spring star Scorpiancer (2-for-2 with wins in the Iroquois and Temple Gwathmey) is out with a tendon injury. We’ll be lucky to see him in 2018. Diplomat (who won the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers in August) will miss the rest of this year with an ankle issue. Grade 1 winners Swansea Mile and All The Way Jose are pointing for the Grand National, but have questions to answer. Mr. Hot Stuff, Hinterland and so forth did not inspire confidence when thumped by All The Way Jose in the Lonesome Glory last week.
Moscato, who leads all steeplechasers in earnings and races won this year, would sew up an Eclipse Award with a Grand National win – as would Swansea Mile and All The Way Jose. Any other winner, and it’s a dart board. The last (and maybe the only) horse to win a steeplechase championship while starting the year as a maiden? Four-time champion and Hall of Famer Flatterer as a 4-year-old in 1983. Big shoes to fill.
The $75,000 Entenmann win (Sept. 21) looked similar to Moscato’s score in Saratoga’s M.G. Walsh Memorial and actually may have been better. The gray son of Hernando started off seventh of eight early as several horses followed pacesetter Kensington Court to the front. Moscato found a spot, still well off the front, in fourth until attacking on the final turn. He went outside a tiring Kensington Court, but inside everyone else to emerge with a slim lead at the top of the stretch. New Member, another Fisher trainee, pounced there for jockey Danny Mullins but was turned aside. Moscato pulled away to win by 3 1/2 lengths as the 4-5 favorite. Mutasaawy was 8 1/4 lengths back in third.
McDermott was somewhat surprised by the early tempo, and pleased with his horse’s reaction to it.
“Looking at the card, you’d think Kensington Court goes on,” said the jockey. “He’s a very nice horse, but he’s coming off a very long break and you would think maybe the new Irish horse (Lachares) would go on, but I didn’t expect five of them to go on. I broke from the flag pretty quick but I just found myself in fourth, fifth, sixth position I guess. I thought at that pace I better give him light at his hurdles and give up a length on the bend rather than get caught in behind horses because I just thought going that quick, something was going to make a mistake. He was off the bridle for a mile-and-a-half which he hasn’t been over here.”
When McDermott asked, Moscato came on the bridle like a late-for-dinner Doberman. The winner saw out the 2 1/4 miles with plenty of late push.
“He’s a 3-mile horse in reality,” said McDermott. “He’s a great set of lungs on him. Clear-winded horses are very rare. Moscato is in tune to this now. He’s learned how to race off a good gallop and hurdle really well. His hurdling improved again today. Experience is worth its weight in gold.”
Bred by K. Rausing, Moscato raced in distance turf races in England. For trainer Mark Prescott, he won five times going 2 miles (frequently at or near the front) and finished fourth in the classy Northumberland Plate and Ascot Stakes. Purchased by Bruton Street and moved to trainer Oliver Sherwood, Moscato went hurdling and finished second twice last fall.
Imported with an eye toward 2017, Moscato finished second in his American debut at Charleston and then won two in a row – a maiden at the Queen’s Cup and an allowance at the Iroquois. Second in the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes at Saratoga July 26, Moscato rebounded to win the Walsh and the Entenmann.
After Thursday’s win, he also helped McDermott turn a rare double – winning on and falling off the same mount. Moscato crossed the line ahead of loose horse No Wunder, who’d lost Jack Doyle early but kept up with the field. Past the wire, No Wunder ranged alongside and headed for the outer rail of the turf course. Moscato thought about following, slowed to a canter, went left and right, hit the brakes and sent McDermott sliding to the turf. The jockey held on to the reins, stopped his horse and popped back on for the victorious ride to the winner’s circle.
“It’s a good sign that a horse can still have that in him after a race, there’s still energy in him,” McDermott said with a laugh.
NOTES: Zio Elio clipped heels well after the fifth fence and lost Bernie Dalton, then bumped No Wunder to send Jack Doyle to the turf. Horses and jockeys were all fine . . . Moscato set a new course record of 3:56.56, though the old one (Popular Gigalo’s 4:02.26 in 1999) included more fences and a wider run off the final turn.