New year, same goal for Hendriks barn

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Trainer Ricky Hendriks’ bid for a National Steeplechase Association championship came up just short last year as Jack Fisher made off with a 22-21 win and the earnings crown by about $50,000.

Well, the 2019 season starts Saturday and Hendriks looks to make an early impact with eight runners including six in the day’s four jump races. The trainer and girlfriend/assistant Eve Ledyard spent the offseason filling the barn with prospects and making plans to maximize the stable’s firepower.

“We’re going to give it another shot,” Hendriks said with a laugh Thursday morning. “Last year was so good. We won three of the six Grade 1’s, won an Eclipse Award and it was unbelievable. It’s been pretty non-stop though. Right after Charleston (the last meet of the 2018 season), I got on a plane and flew to Lexington to look at horses.”

All to take aim at 12-time champion Fisher, and reload the barn for new and existing clients.

The Hendriks stable rented 10 stalls at Springdale Training Center in Camden, S.C. and rotated horses there from the Pennsylvania base. Jockey Ross Geraghty handled the southern string, while Hendriks and Ledyard steered the northern group. Champion Zanjabeel remains on the shelf, recovering from a tendon injury, but Grade 1 winner Optimus Prime leads a strong roster along with Caldbeck, Clarcam, The Game Changer and a slew of newcomers. After yielding much of that division to Fisher in 2018, Hendriks even stocks a few timber horses this year.

Saturday, he runs Durango Dan, Blackhawk’s Sis and You’re No Better in the maiden hurdle. The latter finished third behind Caldbeck at Charleston in November, while the others have yet to start over hurdles.

“You’re No Better is really training well and is really well-bred,” Hendiks said of the English-bred son of High Chaparral owned by Armata Stable. “He ran well at Charelston and we’ll get a bit of a line on Caldbeck after Saturday too.”

Durango Dan, a Giant’s Causeway 5-year-old owned by Hendriks’ mother Wendy, won twice on the flat in Kentucky and made two starts for the barn at Presque Isle Downs last year. Minnesota-bred mare Blackhawk’s Sis completes the three-way entry. They’ll have to contend with Sam-Son Farm homebred Aldous Snow, a graded stakes winner of $755,589 on the flat. Neil Morris trains the 10-year-old, who was third in his hurdle debut at Aiken last fall.

Saturday’s feature, a $30,000 handicap hurdle, lured eight including highweight Bobabout from the Irv Naylor/Cyril Murphy barn. The 6-year-old won twice in Ireland in 2017 and was second behind Surprising Soul in the National Hunt Cup at Radnor last year. Dapper Dan looks to get back to his best form for Morris, off a flat prep win at the Warrenton Point-to-Point March 16. The 7-year-old Pleasantly Perfect gelding won two in 2017, but didn’t finish either of his two starts last year. Oskar Denarius finished third at this level last fall, behind the streaking Invocation, while Hendriks entered 2018 winners Barhanpour and Indigo Heart. Saratoga winner Kensington Court makes his first start since 2017 for Julie Gomena.

Fisher doesn’t run a horse at Aiken, but will be along soon enough based on several runners (including Ice It, Hinterland, Cite, Special Skills, Storm Team and Whitman’s Poetry) at Warrenton and his usual deep barn.

Hendriks will be ready.

“We’re going pedal to the metal,” he said. “We’ve got three for the never-won-two at Camden (March 30), some timber horses coming and we’ll see how it all turns out.”

Hendriks said Optimus Prime will aim for Middleburg’s Temple Gwathmey April 20 and/or the David Semmes at Great Meadow May 4.

“I actually got to ride him myself yesterday, because Eve went to Camden,” said Hendriks. “I was nervous. My hands were at 2 and 10 (o’clock) but I got it done. He seems good. We’ve got Middleburg circled right now.”

Caldbeck won twice as a 3-year-old last year, and could be ready for a breakthrough 4-year-old campaign though Hendriks will try to be patient.

“I gave him a little extra time off and he’s just about half fit I would say,” said the trainer. “I don’t know why, but I felt like he needed a little bit of a break. He ran on flat a bit (in Ireland), and once over jumps there before we got him. He does everything very easily. He’s a good jumper, that’s one of his stronger traits. He’s 2-for-2 so hasn’t done anything wrong.”

You’ll have to wait a bit to see two-time defending jockey champion Darren Nagle in action, as he is sidelined with a broken right leg. Nagle got kicked while riding out for trainer Jack Fisher and will miss several weeks.

“That’s not good,” he said Friday. “It could always be worse, but I suppose you shouldn’t get kicked riding out. That’s the frustrating part of it. There’s no point crying about it. It’s not going to change. I’ve just got to deal with it.”

Nagle, who had surgery to insert a rod in his leg, said the injury is stable and healing. He hopes to be back in action by Middleburg April 20.

Irishman Jack Doyle went home for the winter, like he normally does, and managed to pick up a few rides. He won a hurdle race aboard Annie Odds (at 33-1) at Clonmel in February and steered Kaiser Black home first in a Grade 3 novice chase at Naas March 10. The latter, trained by Doyle’s father Pat, started his 2019 campaign with a good second to La Bague Au Roi in a Grade 1 novice chase at Leopardstown in February. After leading for much of the year, Doyle finished second to Nagle in the 2018 standings (17 wins to 16). Doyle has been a consistent force in the top five since moving his tack over full-time in 2015 and has been second twice.

Like Doyle, McDermott rode in Ireland during the American offseason and picked up a handicap hurdle win at Fairyhouse for trainer Thomas Mullins in February. Ross Geraghty saw action over the Christmas holidays, riding three including a pair against McDermott at Down Royal on Boxing Day.

Sean Flanagan, who spent parts of a few seasons here with Jack Fisher, was in the midst of a solid season in Ireland with 47 winners.

New – Watch Online
NSA racing will be available online via the NSA Network, a video channel devoted exclusively to steeplechase racing on the Plaid Horse Network. The high-definition product starts with Saturday’s Aiken Steeplechase from South Carolina. The live-streaming broadcast from the National Steeplechase Association’s season-opening meet also will be the sport’s first studio-based show, with commentary supporting the high-definition images from Aiken, S.C. Created by TPH Productions, the NSA Network will offer live-streaming and on-demand video of all 2019 race meets. Each race meet has its own channel, which contains archived video and other information.

The NSA Network will be available on a wide variety of devices, including mobile, desktop or laptop computers, and television on Apple TV or advanced TVs with internet browsers. The Plaid Horse Network app is now available free on the Apple app store. The studio broadcast of the Aiken Spring races will encompass the entire six-race program. First post time is 1 p.m., and the featured fifth race will be the $30,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup handicap hurdle.

Twenty-four (yes, 24) horses passed the early nomination stage for the Maryland Hunt Cup. The historic timber race celebrates its 125th anniversary this year and will be run on April 27. Senior Senator, winner of two of the last three runnings, aims to become the ninth horse to win the race three times . . . Hendriks said 2018 Grand National winner Jury Duty could return from Ireland for the Grade 1 Iroquois in May.

Aiken entries.

Aiken steeplechase website.