Picks & Preview for Charleston, steeplechase finale

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The Insider flies the last on the way to victory at Far Hills.
Tod Marks photo

The end. Here we are, the final National Steeplechase meet of the season goes to the post Sunday with the Charleston Steeplechase at Stono Ferry in Hollywood, S.C. The day starts at 1 p.m. and includes five races – a training flat to get things going and four hurdle races.

Some years, the finale helps decide NSA championships. This is not some years. Parker Hendriks is home and hosed in the jockeys’ race with 25 wins – eight more than his nearest pursuer. Freddie Procter (17), Tom Garner (15), Graham Watters (14) and Jamie Bargary (13) complete the top five.

Among the trainers, Leslie Young’s 36 winners have put that race to bed too. She and Keri Brion (31) each hit the 30-win mark, with Jack Fisher third at 21. Each surpassed 100 starts. Since 1996, only three champion trainers have reached the 30-win mark – Fisher with 37 in 2019 and Sanna Neilson with 32 in 2005.

Brion’s $1,073,950 total leads the trainers by earnings as she’s the second to hit seven figures in a season after Fisher (who has done it five times). Young’s $975,200 put her within reach with a good day at Charleston. Bruton Street-US leads the owners’ race with $432,750, though Irv Naylor’s $421,600 figure puts him in the equation. Each has a runner in Sunday’s third race, worth $18,000 to the winner.

For more, see the NSA Standings.

The TIHR autumn handicapping challenge is still undecided. Joe leads with 17 winners, followed by Sean and Tom with 14 each. Last weekend, Joe came up with five winners – Uncle Jerome, South Mountain, Court Ruler, Seizing The Dream and Mystic Strike. Tom also had five – Uncle Jerome, South Mountain, Court Ruler, Notjudginjustsayin and Mystic Strike. Sean had three – Molly Fantasy, Court Ruler, Mystic Strike.

You can watch Charleston via the NSA livestream and see entries. Post time is 1 p.m.

First race. Training flat going 1 1/2 miles. This looks like Agitare’s race to lose. He ripped around Far Hills to win the John Forbes Memorial and had Group 3 flat form in Ireland. Brion’s assistant Tatiana Sushko takes the ride, which was a bit of an adventure for Bernie Dalton in the win last time. Uncle Jerome won on the dirt at Montpelier last week. Auction Kingdo was good enough to win on the turf at Laurel in July and was third at Aiken.

Joe: Agitare, Auction Kingdom, Uncle Jerome.
Sean: Agitare, Merry Maker, Auction Kingdom.
Tom: Auction Kingdom, Agitare, Merry Maker.

Second race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/16 miles. Last chance for 10 runners. La Hara was third twice at Colonial. Eye Of Gunfighter keeps improving and was second at Montpelier. Hendriks picks up the ride. First-timer He Be Da Bomb tuned up on the flat at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.

Joe: He Be Da Bomb, Eye Of Gunfighter, La Hara.
Sean: He Be Da Bomb, Eye Of Gunfighter, Captain Middleton.
Tom: Captain Middleton, Be Yourself, Eye of Gunfighter.

Third race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/16 miles. Nine line up for this and there are several to watch. Millionaire flat runner Cross Border makes his hurdle debut. Riendo has been second in his last two. Neotropic was third in his debut at Far Hills. Seismic Wave was third at Montpelier, and second twice at Colonial. Lumberjack was third at Aiken in his debut, and adds blinkers.

Joe: Neotropic, Cross Border, Riendo.
Sean: Neotropic, Riendo, Lumberjack.
Tom: Cross Border, Neotropic, Riendo.

Fourth race. $20,000 handicap hurdle (110 and below) going 2 3/8 miles. Class reunion. Shaka, Criticize, Hard Game and Pleasecallmeback exit the same race at Aiken two weeks ago and were second, third, fourth and fifth respectively. They get joined by Salamanca School, who makes his second U.S. start (and second since May) for Young; and Yankee Doodle Boy, who is looking for his late-2021 and early-2022 form for Doug Fout. The newcomers are the only two-time winners in the field. Hendriks and Barry Foley switch mounts from the Aiken race – Hendriks to Hard Game and Foley to Pleasecallmeback. We’re not sure what that means either.

Joe: Shaka, Salamanca School, Pleasecallmeback.
Sean: Shaka, Salamanca School, Pleasecallmeback.
Tom: Shaka, Salamanca School, Hard Game.

Fifth race. $35,000 Alston Cup 3-year-old hurdle stakes going 2 1/16 miles. The final race of the year brings first-year hurdlers together. Nobody has accomplished as much as The Insider, who won twice and finished second in three Irish starts before blitzing overmatched Americans at Far hills by 17 1/4 lengths. Sold to Hudson River Farm and Madaket Stable, the son of Elzaam will be tough to handle again. Brion-trained stablemates Clara Belle and Topic Changer both won their jump debuts at Aiken against older. Flintshire colt (yes colt) Topic Changer handled Beat Le Bon and Lumberjack there and could take a step forward. Hoffman chased The Insider home at Far Hills, and was third at Shawan before that.

Joe: The Insider, Topic Changer, Hoffman.
Sean: The Insider, Topic Changer, Hoffman.
Tom: The Insider, Hoffman, Topic Changer.

Flightline, Life Is Good, Malathaat, Epicenter, Olympiad . . . ALL YEAR LONG.