Back on the horse. Back on the road. Back on the keyboard.
A week after the biggest race meet on the steeplechase circuit, horses and people turn their attention to another major stop – Saturday’s International Gold Cup meeting at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va. It’s the companion to the spring Virginia Gold Cup meet, and offers opportunities for several divisions.
If you’re looking for Far Hills follow-up, check it out here. The Irish thrived in the going, but Abaan and Noah And The Ark (he’s Irish-bred, but an American) stood up for the Yanks. The TIHR handicappers found a few winners – three for Sean (Kyogo, Say Goodbye, McLovin), two for Joe (Say Goodbye and McLovin) and one for Tom (Say Goodbye). Joe leads the fall challenge with eight wins, two more than Sean with Tom lurking off the pace with four.
Post time at Great Meadow is noon. You can bet on site (and online) and watch the livestream via the NSA website.
First race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Getting late for the maidens but it’s great to see full fields. The opener drew a field of eight. Flat owner/breeder Larry Johnson goes jumping with Mr Jefferson, who was tackling stakes company on the flat last year. He was beaten a long way in his debut at Virginia Fall, but could improve. Imperial Assassin was third in that race, adds blinkers and makes his fifth hurdle start. Quick Master makes his second start for Jack Fisher. Field Marshal was meant for more. Reassured nearly won at Colonial Downs this summer.
- Joe: Quick Master, Mr Jefferson, Imperial Assassin.
- Sean: Quick Master, Imperial Assassin, Reassured.
- Tom: Quick Master, Field Marshal, Imperial Assassin.
Second race. $30,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Ten more maidens. Leslie Young unveils Irelands Call, an English-bred 4-year-old by Jack Hobbs who cost $124,089 at the Tattersalls Cheltenham sale in May. He won an Irish point-to-point in May. Doug Fout brings Hold Hard, third behind Chosen Judge last time. Look North has finished second twice and third once in his last three. High Deff has run well enough to warrant a look. A little deeper than the first race.
- Joe: Hold Hard, Look North, Irelands Call.
- Sean: Irelands Call, Look North, High Deff.
- Tom: Look North, High Deff, Parquetry.
Third race. $30,000 Steeplethon cross-country timber going 3 miles. Three exit the same race at Genesee – won by Salamanca School over Our Friend and Mercoeur. Two others – Fashion Line and Storm Team were first and third in the Virginia Fall cross-country race. Don’t Shout finished second to Salamanca School at Shawan Downs. Who handles the distance and the varied jumping tests.
- Joe: Storm Team, Salamanca School, Fashion Line.
- Sean: Salamanca School, Storm Team, Fashion Line.
- Tom: Storm Team, Fashion Line, Salamanca School.
Fourth race. $35,000 allowance (NW2) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Anybody could win this. Kiyomori kept plugging to win the maiden win at Virginia Fall and ought to move forward. Barbados won the Nashville maiden and finished third in the Lonesome Glory at Aqueduct. Rampoldi Plan won the spring maiden over this course by 8 1/4 lengths. Neotropic has finished behind The Hero Next Door and Merry Maker at this condition. Master McGrath looked good at Colonial Downs. Pure Courage also won at Colonial and was a solid third at this level at Shawan. For The Parish was second in that Shawan race (a neck ahead of Pure Courage) won by stablemate Total Joy.
- Joe: Kiyomori, For The Parish, Barbados.
- Sean: Rampoldi Plan, Barbados, Pure Courage.
- Tom: For The Parish, Barbados, Pure Courage.
Fifth race. $75,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial hurdle handicap going 2 1/8 miles. It’s a week after the $250,000 American Grand National so will always operate in a bit of a shadow, but this turned into a serious race. Six line up, topped by 162-pound highweight and morning-line favorite Snap Decision. He pulled up with four (not two) fences to go in the Grand National and was never really a factor in going he didn’t appreciate. He never jumped the way he can, never looked comfortable. Can he find his form? If he does, he’ll trot up. If he doesn’t, well… The 9-year-old’s once pristine record has been tarnished a little lately, but his runs in the Gwathmey (a win) and the Iroquois (a second to Irish horse Scaramanga) this spring would hold up to anybody’s race this year. His chief rivals probably come from the barn as Fisher entered two others. Grade 1 winner Awakened went to Far Hills, but was scratched. He’s been 1-2-3 in all four starts this year and could toss his halter into the Eclipse Award conversation with a win. Welshman won over this course and distance in the spring – defeating future Grade 1 winner Belfast Banter among others – but struggled home ninth at Saratoga. If you ignore his racetrack runs, he’s 4-for-6 with a second including wins in three of his last four. Caramelised burst on to the U.S. scene with a win over Welshman in the Carolina Cup in April, but has struggled since. Parliament Hill makes his U.S. debut. He won three in Britain. West Newton looks like a pace factor and if everybody starts looking at the bigger names could steal away for leading jockey Harrison Beswick.
- Joe: Snap Decision, Welshman, Awakened.
- Sean: Snap Decision, Awakened, Welshman.
- Tom: Awakened, Snap Decision, Welshman.
Sixth race. $75,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes going 3 1/2 miles. The Virginia Gold Cup gets all the attention – bigger purse, bigger crowd, another half-mile – but its fall partner is no slouch. The race dates to 1930 when it was run at Grasslands in Tennessee. That race was 4 1/2 miles over 25 fences and was compared to the English Grand National, complete with a Canal Turn. The King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, donated a trophy and 17 horses showed up including three from England. The 1929 Maryland Hunt Cup winner Alligator won after falling at the 24th fence and being remounted by rider Charlie Plumb, the father of Olympic equestrian Mike Plumb. The International Gold Cup’s history weaved to Pennsylvania’s Rolling Rock course, where it was run over brush in conjunction with the Temple Gwathmey for a while, before landing at Great Meadow as a timber race in 1984. This year’s version only attracted four runners. Schoodic, whose steeplechase career began with a 3-year-old hurdle win at Far Hills in 2013. Ten years later, he’s still going strong and has won 14 races to go with 10 seconds and seven thirds while piling up $519,760. He won the spring hurdle stakes at Great Meadow in 2017. He won this race in 2019, added the Virginia Gold Cup the next year. Trained by Fisher for his parents Johnny and Dolly, the son of Tiznow shook off some rust with a second at Shawan, then won the timber stakes at Virgina Fall. Cracker Factory and Stooshie, second and third in that race, return and will be formidable along with Shawan winner Elusive Exclusive. Will be a fascinating tactical race.
- Joe: Schoodic, Elusive Exclusive, Cracker Factory.
- Sean: Schoodic, Cracker Factory, Elusive Exclusive.
- Tom: Schoodic, Elusive Exclusive, Cracker Factory.
Seventh race. $30,000 Handicap hurdle for horses rated 115 and below going 2 1/8 miles. No horse is hotter than Eye Of Gunfighter, who finally broke through the maiden ranks – in his 13th try – at Foxfield. He followed up by winning a 115 handicap two weeks later while rated 107. Now he gets back in the ring as the highweight at 158 pounds. South Mountain and Ping Pong Champ return as the main rivals. The Fisher trainees have finished together second and third in back-to-back starts at Shawan (behind Rocket One) and Virginia Fall (behind Eye Of Gunfighter). They get a big shift in the weights this time. He’ll Do showed little at Foxfield, but probably needed that as he won back-to-back handicaps last year. Step To The Bar has only won at Shawan (twice) in 16 starts over jumps. Ancient Times finished second after taking a long lead at Colonial in August.
- Joe: South Mountain, Ping Pong Champ, Eye Of Gunfighter.
- Sean: South Mountain, Ping Pong Champ, Step To The Bar.
- Tom: South Mountain, Ping Pong Champ, Eye Of Gunfighter.
Eighth race. $20,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Ten more maidens go in the finale. Greylover, Auction Kingdom and Icandothat have been close this fall. Auction Kingdom drops out of a neck loss in a starter maiden. Icandothat finished 5 lengths clear of Greylover at Foxfield.
- Joe: Auction Kingdom, Greylover, Icandothat.
- Sean: Icandothat, Auction Kingdom, Greylover.
- Tom: Auction Kingdom, Icandothat, Thaleeq.