Jimmy Day entered maiden winner Triple Dip in the Noel Laing Stakes with some optimism. The trainer figured his horse belonged, despite just five lifetime hurdle starts.
Then Day saw the entries.
“Going a distance, he’s not your average allowance horse, so I thought he could run well, but when I picked the program up I was a little more worried,” he said. “Preemptive Strike has done nothing wrong this year and there were a few others in there. I figured my horse was tight, but I would have been happy with second or third. That would have been a very good effort in that field.”
The $40,000 stakes, over the brush course, lured a solid field of eight on the 74th Montpelier card Nov. 1. Mon Villez eyed his fourth consecutive win in the race. Stalwart stakes veteran Preemptive Strike showed up again. Grade II winner Orison tried to get back on track. Irish visitor Dalucci got some class relief.
But Triple Dip, one of two 142-pound lightweights, won a three-horse tussle with Orison and Preemptive Strike in the stretch to score by a nose for Day and owner Joe Henderson. The winner (Liam McVicar) covered the 2 1/2 miles in 5:10 2/5, with Orison (Matt McCarron) second and Preemptive Strike (Jody Petty) third.
As expected, Preemptive Strike went to the front, controlling the race with solid jumping and a relentless gallop. Dalucci set up shop in second, with Isti Bee, Mon Villez and Triple Dip next. Orison and Motel Affair settled out the back. The pace quickened in the downhill run to the 10th of 11 jumps as Dalucci (Bernie Dalton) took over from Preemptive Strike. Briefly. Preemptive Strike re-rallied and got back in front with a huge leap at the last as the closers launched bids into the tight final turn. Triple Dip struck first, but carried Orison with him up the rail as three horses hit the wire together. Preemptive Strike never wavered, but lost by a half-length.
“There were three of them and I couldn’t tell anything early in the stretch,” said Day, who watched on a television in the horsemen’s tent. “For about 50 yards, the camera goes off the horses and then comes back to a shot directly on the wire. I saw he had it, not by much but he had it. He was pretty brave when he needed to be.”
With no video proof, McVicar was not so sure about the result.
“He got in front of one on his outside (Preemptive Strike) and then the other one came (Orison),” said the jockey. “He really had to fight, but he’s as tough as they come. I didn’t know I’d won until they called it. It was more horse than jockey I’ll tell you that.”
McVicar played a role as well. The jockey sat well off the early lead, resisted the temptation to hurry when Dalucci struck the front and dropped to the inside of Preemptive Strike after the last. His horse responded with a quality move late in a long race.
After two tries over jumps as a 3-year-old in 2006 (including a second at Far Hills), Triple Dip won a 2 1/2-mile maiden at the Virginia Gold Cup in May 2007, and broke his flat maiden that summer. He didn’t run again until last year’s Noel Laing (where he was a well-beaten sixth), before returning this fall with a third on the flat at Morven Park. Day pointed for an optional claimer at Great Meadow, but Triple Dip lost McVicar when a horse fell in front of them early.
That foul-up left the door open for a Montpelier start, but not before Day sent Triple Dip for one more tightener – a second to Zozimus at the Oak Ridge Point-to-Point Oct. 26.
“We’ve always thought he was a nice horse,” said McVicar. “It’s been little problem after little problem since then.”
Day, who added blinkers for Oak Ridge and Montpelier, said Triple Dip injured his pelvis last year after a foxhunt interrupted a morning gallop – costing him several months of training.
“He’s an easy horse to get back, but he needed a race or two to be at his best and that showed here,” said Day. “He really wants that distance, more if he can get it.”