Picks & Preview for Iroquois, Willowdale jump meets

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Snap Decision won last year’s Iroquois for his ninth straight victory and returns for the 2023 renewal seeking a record third score in the 3-mile event. Tod Marks photo

The end of the National Steeplechase Association’s spring slate is right around the corner and the jumpers double up Saturday, heading to Nashville’s Percy Warner Park for the 82nd Iroquois Steeplechase and to Kennett Square, Pa., for the Willowdale Races.

The Iroquois card features seven races – three stakes – worth $445,000, the richest meet of the spring season. Snap Decision goes for a record third straight victory in the featured $200,000, Grade 1 Calvin Houghland Iroquois, taking on international invader Scaramanga from trainer Willie Mullins’ deep stable and plenty of other familiar foes in the 3-mile test.

The Iroquois card also features the $75,000 Green Pastures novice hurdle and the $50,000 Margaret Currey Henley filly and mare hurdle.

Post time is 1 p.m. (central, so 2 p.m. eastern) and you can watch the live stream at the on the National Steeplechase Association website.

Six races are on the slate at Willowdale, including the $35,000 Buttonwood/Sycamore Farm Willowdale timber stakes.

The TIHR team ducked and dived last weekend. Joe nabbed Storm Team, Welshman and McTigue at Virginia Gold Cup while Sean tabbed Rampoldi Plan and Storm Team. Tom countered with Storm Team. And, yes, Sean and Tom had Hoffman. A missed flag might decide it all. For the season, Tom and Joe are tied at 20 with Sean two back.

The Iroquois Steeplechase at Percy Warner Park. Nashville, Tenn. Post time 1 p.m. CT.

Race 1. The Bright Hour. 120 Handicap Hurdle. $35,000. 2 3/4 miles. 1:00. Central Time.
Wow, what an opener. The handicap hurdle division is bursting at the entry box. Eighteen pounds separates highweights Fightinirishtabit and Ziggle Pops with lightweight Captain Middleton in the 2 ¾-mile handicap. In between, it’s the jambalaya of jump racing.

Ziggle Pops slid into the 115 division and won his return at Queen’s Cup. Wicked West makes his U.S. debut after a solid career over hurdles and fences in England. Solomoon makes his U.S. debut after winning once in England. Fightinirishtabit has hopscotched his way to three handicap hurdle wins in 2022-23. Animal Kingston ran hard in the Tryon feature. Seizing The Dream is 2-for-3. Go Poke The Bear trounced rivals in his hurdle debut at Queen’s Cup. Ping Pong Champ crushed 110 foes at Foxfield. Captain Middleton represents the locals. Hooroo crushed 110 rivals at Foxfield. Jimmy P won over soft turf at Foxfield in the fall.

Darts meet dart board.

  • Sean: Ziggle Pops, Wicked West, Jimmy P.
  • Tom: Ziggle Pops, Fightinirishtabit, Ping Pong Champ.
  • Joe: Ziggle Pops, Wicked West, Animal Kingston.

Race 2. The George & John Sloan Sr. Maiden Hurdle. $30,000. 2 1/4 miles.
Great work by the Iroquois Steeplechase to offer two divisions of the maiden hurdle. Always a class race, this year’s editions look deep as ever. L’Imperator has produced two thirds in solid starts thus far. Import Geordie Dreamer won at Middleburg Hunt Point to Point. Pure Courage has earned checks in his three hurdle starts. Piccadilly represents a return to jump racing for the Farish family (look up Thrice Worthy while you’re wondering).

  • Sean: L’Imperator, Geordie Dreamer, Pure Courage.
  • Tom: Piccadilly, L’Imperator, Pure Courage.
  • Joe: L’Imperator, Pure Courage, Geordie Dreamer.

Race 3. The George & John Sloan Sr. Maiden Hurdle. $30,000. 2 1/4 miles.
Imonlysaying chased Met In Miami in his hurdle debut at Camden. Barbados did everything but win in his American debut at Queen’s Cup. I Am Fortunata rolls in from Ireland. Riendo produces every start.

  • Sean: Barbados, I Am Fortunata, Imonlysaying.
  • Tom: I Am Fortunata, Barbados, Riendo.
  • Joe: Barbados, Imonlysaying, I Am Fortunata.

Race 4. The Green Pastures. Novice Hurdle Stakes. $75,000. 2 1/4 miles.
Short but tough field in the novice stakes. Freddy Flintshire returned with a flourish at Queen’s Cup. The Hero Next Door has been flawless in two starts. Proven Innocent searches for his 4-year-old form (and comes off Lasix; he had trouble with the heat after an ugly fourth at the Queen’s Cup). Going Country lost his jockey early last week and rerouted here. Cool Jet led early before succumbing to Freddy Flintshire’s rally at Queen’s Cup.

  • Sean: Freddy Flintshire, The Hero Next Door, Cool Jet.
  • Tom: Freddy Flintshire, Cool Jet, The Hero Next Door.
  • Joe: The Hero Next Door, Freddy Flintshire, Proven Innocent.

Race 5. The Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Grade 1. Hurdle Stakes. $200,000. 3 miles.
The big one. Snap Decision seeks his third straight Iroquois victory. The 9-year-old faces arguably his toughest field in his third try. Rain this week doesn’t help. Losing regular pilot Graham Watters to a fractured vertebrae doesn’t help. Still, he’s the one the rest need to topple in the 3-mile classic. First run in 1941, the Iroquois has had 20 double winners, one three-time winner (Uncle Edwin) but no horse has won three in a row.

Read more about the jockey change.

Mortlach makes his American debut after a seven-win stint in England. Scorpion’s Revenge steps into his first graded try off a solid effort at Foxfield. Ask Paddington picked up big checks behind Snap Decision, Noah And The Ark and Hewick last year. Redicean shows up every day. City Dreamer, ditto. Noah And The Ark shocked Snap Decision at Belmont Park last year and was second to Hewick last fall. Scaramanga rolls into town for the world-conquering Willie Mullins and Paul Townend. Sean McDermott, who won two Iroquois with Scorpiancer and rode Snap Decision to three wins (in three tries) in 2020, gets back aboard the 12-time winner. Soft turf probably plays a role as Nashville got an inch of rain Thursday into Friday with more expected overnight into Saturday. That helps the European-breds, hurts Snap Decision (the one American-bred in the race).

  • Sean: Scaramanga, Snap Decision, Noah And The Ark.
  • Tom: Snap Decision, Scaramanga, City Dreamer.
  • Joe: Snap Decision, Scaramanga, Noah And The Ark.

Race 6. The Margaret Currey Henley. Filly & Mare Hurdle Stakes. $50,000. 2 1/4 miles.
Ah, the Henleys. How we miss Mr. and Mrs. Henley. They owned champion Highland Bud, Moonstruck, Cheering News, Iroquois winner Alvaro, a slew of other quality steeplechasers. Eight fillies and mares clash in the third stakes of the afternoon. Fits The Jill won on firm ground at Old Dominion. Right Tempo and Fox In The Park finished 1-2 at Middleburg. Cainudothetwist just missed behind Ziggle Pops at Queen’s Cup. Met In Miami was impressive at Camden. Molly Fantasy was strong in the fall.

  • Sean: Right Tempo, Molly Fantasy, Fits The Jill.
  • Tom: Cainudothetwist, Fits The Jill, Right Tempo.
  • Joe: Molly Fantasy, Fits The Jill, Right Tempo.

Race 7. The Mason Houghland Memorial. Allowance Timber. $25,000. 3 miles.
The finale. A tough group of five line up for the timber. Court Ruler and Chosen Mate have been strong on the front end this season while Family Tree rallied from the back at Foxfield.

  • Sean: Court Ruler, Family Tree, Chosen Mate.
  • Tom: Court Ruler, Family Tree, Queens Empire.
  • Joe: Family Tree, Chosen Mate, Queens Empire.

Willowdale Steeplechase. Kennett Square, Pa. Post time 1 p.m. ET.

Race 1. The Liam Magee. Apprentice Rider Hurdle. $10,000. 2 1/4 miles. 1:00.
Named for a legendary friend of steeplechasing, the apprentice race attracted a solid group of seven over its natural hedges. Baltimore Kid exits a tough third in the 115 handicap at Queen’s Cup. Fast Vision tries to rebound from a fall at Foxfield. Booby Trap gets a class relief.

  • Sean: Baltimore Kid, Fast Vision, Booby Trap.
  • Tom: Fast Vision, Booby Trap, Baltimore Kid.
  • Joe: Booby Trap, Fast Vision, Left Blank.

Race 2. The Folly. Maiden Claiming Hurdle. $15,000. 2 1/4 miles. 1:30.
Eye Of Gunfighter makes his eighth start from 5 1/2 furlongs to 2 1/4 miles this year at his seventh venue  – Aqueduct, Laurel (twice), Penn National, Charles Town, Tryon, Foxfield. Favorite Greylover could improve from his runner-up effort at Foxfield. Undercover Rowdy nearly won at Camden and went too hard, too early at Foxfield. Thomond Park tries for the 12th time.

  • Sean: Greylover, Undercover Rowdy, Thomond Park.
  • Tom: Greylover, Thomond Park, Undercover Rowdy.
  • Joe: Greylover, Undercover Rowdy, Eye Of Gunfighter.

Race 3. The Rose Tree Cup. 110 Ratings Handicap Hurdle. $20,000. 2 1/4 miles. 2:00.
Another eclectic over-stuffed handicap hurdle race on the weekend. Take your pick here, they run the gamut. Rhebus Road prepped with a win over the Winterthur turf Sunday. Oscar Winner impressed in his debut at Foxfield. Fearsome sports back class. Keep digging, you’ll find something to like about the dozen who have combined to make 128 starts over jumps.

  • Sean: Rhebus Road, Durragh, Fearsome.
  • Tom: Fearsome, Durragh, New Appointment.
  • Joe: Oscar Winner, Rhebus Road, Fearsome.

Race 4. The Buttonwood/Sycamore Farm Willowdale Steeplechase. Timber Stakes. $35,000. 3 1/4 miles. 2:30.
The feature drew just four but it’s another solid race with Grand National winner Monbeg Stream leading the way. Renegade River chased Monbeg Stream that day. Great Road beat allowance foes on the same day. Flaming Sword has chased behemoths Court Ruler, Andi’amu, Storm Team, Vintage Vinnie and Schoodic in his long career.

  • Sean: Monbeg Stream, Renegade River, Great Road.
  • Tom: Monbeg Stream, Renegade River, Great Road.
  • Joe: Monbeg Stream, Great Road, Renegade River.

Race 5. The Landhope Cup. Maiden Timber. $15,000. 3 miles. 3:00.
To Be Or Not To Be ran hard against next-out winner Fashion Line at the Manor. Island Nation ran hard against Family Tree at Foxfield. Irish-bred The Butler Yeats returns in six days. Brooklyn Speights exits a game effort in the steeplethon last weekend.

  • Sean: To Be Or Not To Be, Island Nation, The Butler Yeats.
  • Tom: Island Nation, To Be Or Not To Be, Market Bubble.
  • Joe: To Be Or Not To Be, Market Bubble, Island Nation.

Race 6. The Marshall W. Jenney Memorial Foxhunter’s Chase. Apprentice Rider Timber. $10,000. 3 miles. 3:30.
One of the best stories in steeplechasing was when Marshall Jenney rode a favorite at Fair Hill. After Jenney got the favorite beat, the robust amateur was trying to explain it to his trainer when a fan leaned over the outside rail and yelled, “Who do you think you are? The fat-man’s Braulio Baeza?” Jenney laughed long and hard over that one.

Apprentice riders find an opportunity in the finale. Just three line up but actually a tough three. Our Friend is undefeated when finishing. Awesome Adrian has plied his trade long and strong through 27 starts over fences. Huyana adds brawn to the broth.

  • Sean: Awesome Adrian, Our Friend, Huyana.
  • Tom: Awesome Adrian, Our Friend, Huyana.
  • Joe: Awesome Adrian, Our Friend, Huyana.