Picks & Preview for busy Saturday on the road

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Caramelised seeks his second win of 2023 in Saturday’s Queen’s Cup novice hurdle stakes in North Carolina. Tod Marks photo

Pack the traps, wrap the halters, load up the trucks and trailers and hit the road. Literally, that sentence was typed as “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson played via WXPN’s birthday tribute to the legendary singer/songwriter. Happy 90th birthday, Willie. We should all listen a little more.

The steeplechase circuit hits the road again this weekend – to North Carolina for the Queen’s Cup meet near Charlotte, to Virginia for the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville and to Maryland for the Maryland Hunt Cup. Competition reigns at all three stops, with the added fun of the StableDuel game at Foxfield. It rained all day Friday, with more expected Saturday, in Maryland. There are flood warnings in Charlottesville, though Saturday looks drier. Charlotte was aiming to win the sunshine (OK, partly cloudy) race.

Looking back at last weekend, man, that was some cool stuff. Snap Decision went back to winning with a romp in the $100,000 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg. He has won 12 of 19 starts (with six seconds) and earned $702,900 over jumps – seventh on the all-time list. The half-dozen ahead of him – McDynamo, Good Night Shirt, Lonesome Glory, Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, Victorian Hill. Now that’s company. Snap Decision heads to next month’s Grade 1 Iroquois Steeplechase looking for a third consecutive victory in the 3-mile test.

On the timber side at Middleburg, Andi’amu put on another show as well – outdueling Mystic Strike by a neck. Nothing like a 13-year-old beating a 14-year-old in a photo finish after 3 ¼ miles. Andi’amu has won his last three and been first or second in all 14 timber races he’s finished. Appreciate horses like that.

Irish newcomer The Hero Next Door improved to 2-for-2 in his short career with an allowance hurdle win, while Mission Brief, Right Tempo and Mr. Connecticut graduated the maiden ranks and Fast Vision won the cross-country as trainer Leslie Young won four of the day’s eight races.

Up the road at the Grand National timber meet, Young won the feature with Monbeg Stream, in his first NSA start since last May at Nashville. Bogey’s Image looked like a horse with a future in the maiden timber while Great Road prevailed by a half-length over Blackhall in the allowance and Virginia Korrell teamed up with Chosen Mate to win the apprentice race.

In the TIHR handicappers’ race, Tom picked seven winners (from 12 races, yikes) – Iranistan, Andi’amu, Snap Decision, Fast Vision, Monbeg Stream, Bogey’s Image and Chosen Mate. Joe managed four – Andi’amu, Snap Decision, Fast Vision and Bogey’s Image. Sean had one – Snap Decision. The leaderboard reads Tom 18, Joe 15, Sean 13.

On to the new week. Racing will be livestreamed on the NSA website.

Foxfield. Post time is 12:30 on a six-race card. You can play along via the StableDuel fantasy stable game. Get the app and start picking horses (free advice: check the scratches before you get somewhere with no cell service).

First race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Seven give it a go. Thomond Park has run 10 times over hurdles. Big Red Cardinal and Oscar Winner make their debuts. And everything in between. Undercover Rowdy lost by a head at Camden.

  • Joe: Undercover Rowdy, Greylover, Thomond Park.
  • Sean: Undercover Rowdy, Oscar Winner, Big Red Cardinal.
  • Tom: Undercover Rowdy, Thomand Park, Greylover.

Second race. $25,000 handicap hurdle (110) going 2 1/8 miles. Another field of seven. Captain Middleton makes his third start of the year and improved last time. Same with Hooroo. Durragh must be respected on U.S. debut (despite the 95 English rating). Three O One always seems to get a piece. Junonia needed the last. Senor Seville has run a couple races well enough to win this.

  • Joe: Hooroo, Durragh, Junonia.
  • Sean: Hooroo, Durragh, Senor Seville.
  • Tom: Three O One, Hooroo, Junonia.

Third race. $25,000 handicap hurdle (110) going 2 1/8 miles. The other half of an overfilled race. Good move, Foxfield and NSA. Probably not quite as tough as the second race. Ping Pong Champ figures off a second at Camden. Fearsome gets a 10-pound apprentice allowance with Erin Swope.

  • Joe: Ping Pong Champ, Anticipating, Speed Alert.
  • Sean: Ping Pong Champ, New Appointment, Anticipating.
  • Tom: Ping Pong Champ, Anticipating, New Appointment.

Fourth race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Just five for this, but that’s what happens with two hurdle meets  on the same day and – we say this all the time – the more maiden winners the better. Sa’ad was second at Camden. He’ll need to relax for jockey Barry Foley. For The Parish makes U.S. debut for Leslie Young. This might be Eye Of Gunfighter’s best chance. Maybe he can put his experience edge to use.

  • Joe: Sa’ad, For The Parish, Boffo Kid.
  • Sean: Sa’ad, For The Parish, High Deff.
  • Tom: Sa’ad, High Deff, For The Parish.

Fifth race. $20,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Eight timber newcomers turn up including recent hurdle converts Market Bubble, Family Tree, Project Two, Queens Empire and Island Nation. Who’s ready?

  • Joe: Project Two, Market Bubble, Queens Empire.
  • Sean: Queens Empire, Project Two, Paddy’s Crown.
  • Tom: Queens Empire, Project Two, Market Bubble.

Sixth race. $60,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial handicap hurdle (130) going 2 1/8 miles. Six pros line up in the feature. City Dreamer rates a long look. Winless last year, he chased home Down Royal, Going Country and Song For Someone in stakes placings and won two novice stakes in 2021. He gives away weight to everybody and he’ll get tested by Scorpion’s Revenge, whose last four runs were all good. West Newton won at Aiken. Animal Kingston has won three, one over the course in 2020 and 2021. The Young barn (40 percent this year) counters with Booby Trap and Fast Vision off wins.

  • Joe: City Dreamer, Scorpion’s Revenge, West Newton.
  • Sean: Scorpion’s Revenge, City Dreamer, Fast Vision.
  • Tom: City Dreamer, Scorpion’s Revenge, West Newton.

Queen’s Cup. Post time for the five-race card is 1:30. If you ever get the chance, attend this race meet. In Mineral Springs southeast of Charlotte, the venue holds its own with any on the circuit and the racing manages to be competitive even if it’s part of a crowded time on the schedule. We know all the reasons why, but a fall meet would be something special down there.

First race. $25,000 handicap hurdle (115) going 2 ½ miles. Love the little bit of extended distance here. It’ll be all about pace – got that, jockeys? – and who handles the trip. Cross Border has all the flat form. Can he overcome a lack of jump experience? Tease And Seize is capable of better than he’s shown. Left Blank won a maiden by disqualification last fall. The Sevilles have made a strong transition to jump racing. Soramond should like the trip. She’s run one really good race in the U.S. and one really bad one. Cainudothetwist’s 13 starts tower over the field. Baltimore Kid gets some class relief. Ziggle Pops gets off the bench.

  • Joe: Tease And Seize, Baltimore Kid, Cross Border.
  • Sean: Baltimore Kid, Merry Maker, Left Blank. 
  • Tom: Cross Border, Ziggle Pops, Frontline Citizen.

Second race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Big field of eight including three first-timers – Look North, Adventurous Gent and Royne. Finding Freedom was second at Aiken. Barbados has some Irish form (a second and a third over hurdles, two wins and eight seconds on the flat). Eternal Story has been second twice over hurdles (once in Ireland, once over this course last year). Pure Courage was second and third in two starts last year.  Solid group.

  • Joe: Finding Freedom, Barbados, Pure Courage.
  • Sean: Eternal Story, Pure Courage, Finding Freedom.
  • Tom: Pure Courage, Look North, Barbados.

Third race. $50,000 Queen’s Cup novice hurdle stakes going 2 3/8 miles. Caramelised looked good in his Carolina Cup win April 1. He gets another test today while adding three pounds. Step To The Bar was third there and needs to find 8 ½ lengths. Cool Jet had two solid maiden starts last year, plus two English maiden hurdle tries. High Mounte ripped to a handicap win at Aiken, and steps up. Freddy Flintshire has done nothing wrong in his five jump starts. Proven Innocent won three races in his first season last year. Another strong race.

  • Joe: Proven Innocent, Caramelised, Freddy Flintshire.
  • Sean: Caramelised, Proven Innocent, Freddy Flintshire. 
  • Tom: Proven Innocent, Cool Jet, Caramelised.

Fourth race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 miles. This one drew eight runners, six making their first starts over jumps. Webb’s six prior runs will serve him well, though he flattened out last time. Trainer Janet Elliot ads blinkers to the 5-year-old English Channel gelding. Lacey Underall goes out for all the Caddyshack fans.

  • Joe: Webb, Fingal, Go Poke The Bear.
  • Sean: Aftermath, Fingal, Webb. 
  • Tom: Webb, Fingal, Kenya Road.

Fifth race. Training flat, going 1 ¼ miles. Homebreds, homebreds, homebreds. All six runners were bred by their connections (in New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and France). Bourbon Strait and Bourbon Diversion are half-siblings for Carrington Holdings. Snow Geese is out of hurdle winner Cat Feathers. Aerial Assualt, bred by Greg and Caroline Bentley, is the only winner of the group.

  • Joe: Aerial Assault, Kiyomori, Bourbon Diversion.
  • Sean: Bourbon Strait, Bourbon Diversion, Aerial Assault.
  • Tom: Snow Geese, Haint Blue, Bourbon Strait.

Maryland Hunt Cup. Post time is 4 p.m. It’s the oldest and most famous steeplechase in the country. First run in 1894, it’s been won by legends. Vintage Vinnie tries to join Blockade (1938-40) and Winton (1942, 1946, 1947; World War II cost him three years) as the only horses to win three in a row. Seven others – Senior Senator, Cancottage, Jay Trump, Mountain Dew, Pine Pep, Garry Owen and Princeton – have won three. The course record setter in each of the past two years, Vintage Vinnie finished second at My Lady’s Manor and will team up with jockey Dan Nevin (aboard in 2022) after Teddy Davies went to the sidelines with a collarbone injury. At 14, the Irish-bred has drawn some “Has he lost a step?” rumblings this spring but he won the 2022 race by 96 lengths and scored by 54 last year. There are plenty of steps to spare and he’s beaten most of Saturday’s foes with only Hunt Cup rookies Shootist and Hill Tie yet to race the favorite. Steady rain Friday and Saturday will slow things down and test the jumping. Royal Ruse handles soft ground and starts for the third weekend in a row. Rocket Star Red was second last year and a good third in the allowance at the Grand National. Blackhall was second in that race and fifth in the Hunt Cup last year. He, Goodoldtimes (third last year) and Withoutmoreado should like the soft going. Shootist chased Monbeg Stream home in a fast Grand National last week, and has won twice over timber. Can he handle the bigger fences? Trainer Joe Davies (Vintage Vinnie and Blackhall) has won the race six years in a row.

  • Joe: Vintage Vinnie, Royal Ruse, Blackhall.
  • Sean: Vintage Vinnie, Royal Ruse, Withoutmoreado.
  • Tom: Vintage Vinnie, Blackhall, Rocket Star Red.