Picks & Preview for Virginia Gold Cup, Winterthur jump meets

- -
Andi’amu (right) and Mystic Strike thrown down again
in Saturday’s Virginia Gold Cup. Tod Marks photo

It’s Kentucky Derby Day. Everybody knows that and you can certainly follow along with all the goings on at Churchill Downs – if you can keep up – but the steeplechase schedule rolls (jumps?) on with the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow Saturday afternoon and a timber meet at Winterthur in Delaware Sunday.

The seven-race Gold Cup card is packed, has betting (on-site and through Twinspires) and showcases $100,000 stakes over hurdles and on the flat. Post time is 1 p.m. The pace slows down for Winterthur’s four races, three over timber and one on the flat, with a 2 p.m. The locals still call it “Point-to-Point” like it’s the only one in the world and pay way more attention to the tailgate parties in the parking lots than the manes and tails on the course. Both meets get involved in the free-to-play Stable Duel contests too.

Last week, Withoutmoreado pulled an upset in the Maryland Hunt Cup. Irv Naylor’s Irish-bred was always traveling and never let Vintage Vinnie build a big lead, taking over at the 18th fence and fighting off a challenge from Royal Ruse. It was Naylor’s third Hunt Cup win, the second for trainer Kathy Neilson and first for teenaged Irish amateur Conor Tierney.

At Foxfield, West Newton ousted Scorpion’s Revenge by a nose in the featured 130 handicap hurdle for owner Patrick Lewis, trainer Rickey Hendriks and jockey Harry Beswick. Hooroo (Fearnought Farm, Doug Fout, Barry Foley) and Ping Pong Champ (Gill Johnston, Jack Fisher, Graham Watters) won split divisions of the 110 handicap hurdle. Leading trainer Leslie Young won the maiden with For The Parish and the maiden claimer with Oscar Winner, both first timers ridden by Mikey Hamill. Former hurdler Family Tree won the maiden timber for Naylor, trainer Neil Morris and Foley.

At the Queen’s Cup, Young added two more maiden wins – Eternal Story in the maiden hurdle and Go Poke The Bear in the maiden claimer. Owner Lewis added to his big day when Freddy Flintshire roared past everyone late to win the $50,000 Queen’s Cup novice hurdle stakes for trainer Keri Brion and jockey Parker Hendriks. The 5-year-old Flintshire gelding won twice last year and looked even better in his 2023 debut as he outran Cool Jet by 14 1/2 lengths with Caramelised third.

The TIHR team looks to rebound from a tough week, but you know what they say about getting back on the horse. After picking seven winners the week before, Tom came back to Earth with one (Ping Pong Champ at the Queen’s Cup). Sean led the way with three (Hooroo, Ping Pong Champ and Eternal Story). Joe countered with two (Hooroo and Ping Pong Champ). The season series continues to be like a crowded elevator – no space: Tom 19, Joe 17, Sean 16.

Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow Racecourse outside The Plains, Va. Post time 1 p.m.

First race. $40,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Much like the Iroquois maiden next weekend, everybody wants to win the Gold Cup maiden and a dozen entered this. Ten run, led by Rampoldi Plan off a second at Middleburg, Rocket One off a second at Middleburg and several well-meant newcomers. Cibolian tried graded stakes on the flat last year. Flop Shot won a Group 3 in France and got beat 2 lengths in a Grade 2 in California in 2021 while with trainer Chad Brown. Five make their NSA debuts. Agitare exits a fall at Tryon. Girl Dad looks to improve off a fourth at Middleburg. Rewind was fourth at Old Dominion.

  • Joe: Rocket One, Rampoldi Plan, Cibolian.
  • Sean: Rampoldi Plan, Rocket One, Cibolian.
  • Tom: Rocket One, Cibolian, Absam.

Second race. $30,000 cross-country timber going 3 miles. They call it the Steeplethon, and it’s a little bit of everything – timber, hurdle, water crossing, twists and turns. Who can. The extra distance compared to Middleburg’s version offers a different test though – for a change – none of the four exit that race. Storm Team avoids the Virginia Gold Cup. Stooshie opened with a win at Old Dominion. Mercoeur tried this stuff way three years ago and won over the course but otherwise had a hard time with Invocation.

  • Joe: Storm Team, Mercoeur, Stooshie.
  • Sean: Storm Team, Stooshie, Mercoeur.
  • Tom: Storm Team, Stooshie, Mercoeur.

Third race. $45,000 allowance hurdle (NW2) going 2 1/8 miles. Four of the nine exit a similar race at Middleburg. Stablemates Neotropic and South Mountain were second and fourth there. Seismic Wave was fifth. Modus Operandi went through a wing (maybe don’t be on  his inside). Withoutdestination makes his first NSA start since August 2021. He broke his maiden at Middleburg and was going to win this condition at Saratoga before going inside the cones after the last fence. Potus won over the course last fall, then finished a solid third at Tryon. Bee Major is better than his last. Merry Maker won here in 2021. Gearhead won his last NSA start, in 2021. Strong race.

  • Joe: Withoutdestination, Potus, Neotropic.
  • Sean: Neotropic, Potus, Withoutdestination.
  • Tom: Neotropic, Potus, Withoutdestination.

Fourth race. $100,000 David Semmes Memorial hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. A Grade 2 like the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg, only there’s no Snap Decision or Redicean to contend with. Belfast Banter and Going Country were third and fourth there. Gordon’s Jet (four jump wins) and Welshman (three) step up for trainer Jack Fisher. Both make their second starts of 2023, Welshman off a second in the Carolina Cup for novices and Gordon’s Jet off a win in a 120 handicap at Tryon. Fisher was really strong second off the layoff last year so expect both to run even better. Booby Trap closed last year with a win. A winner at the 2021 Cheltenham and Aintree Festival meetings, Belfast Banter was supposed to be this good when he came to the United States in 2022, but hasn’t quite lived up to it. Here’s his chance. Who has a better race in them and can take a step forward?

  • Joe: Welshman, Gordon’s Jet, Belfast Banter.
  • Sean: Gordon’s Jet, Welshman, Belfast Banter.
  • Tom: Gordon’s Jet, Belfast Banter, Welshman.

Fifth race. $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes going 4 miles. They jump 23 fences and there’s nobody better at this right now than Andi’amu. Trained by Leslie Young for Ballybristol Farm, the 13-year-old. Has won his last three and also won this race in 2019 and 2022. At 14, Mystic Strike has a year on the favorite and came up a neck short going 3 1/4 miles at Middleburg. Not sure who the added distance benefits. Mystic Strike’s two other Gold Cup starts didn’t go well.  They get challenged by Cracker Factory, third at Middleburg, Notjudginjustsayin, a scratch at Middleburg and twice a timber winner last year, and Young’s two-time My Lady’s Manor winner Tomgarrow. He was second in the 2021 Gold Cup and won the shorter International Gold Cup over the course in 2021.

  • Joe: Andi’amu, Tomgarrow, Notjudginjustsayin.
  • Sean: Andi’amu, Tomgarrow, Mystic Strike. 
  • Tom: Andi’amu, Tomgarrow, Mystic Strike.

Sixth race. $50,000 Speedy Smithwick Memorial hurdle stakes for 4-year-olds going 2 1/8 miles. The field of seven includes four winners – Topic Changer (twice a winner last year), McTigue (once each in France and England), Hoffman (at Old Dominion in his debut) and Whisky Warrior (at Tryon in his debut). McTigue’s gaudy cv includes a 2-year-old maiden win at Ireland’s Leopardstown in 2021 for trainer Jim Bolger, a ripper of a maiden hurdle win for new trainer Emmett Mullins at England’s Sedgefield in September, a rich French hurdle stakes win at Auteuil in October and an English rating of 142. He was pulled up in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham in March after losing a shoe. Now, the Irish-bred son of Fracas is in the U.S. for Naylor and trainer Cyril Murphy. Don’t sleep on Bourbon Diversion, who prepped on the flat at Charlotte.

  • Joe: McTigue, Whisky Warrior, Hoffman.
  • Sean: Hoffman, McTigue, Praghas Ceart.
  • Tom: Hoffman, McTigue, Praghas Ceart.

Seventh race. $25,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Another full field of 10 with two on the AE list. Richard Valentine runs newcomer Master McGrath, not to be confused with the previous version who won multiple stakes (including a Carolina Cup) for Bill Lickle and trainer Janet Elliot in the 1990s. If he lives up to his namesake, the 5-year-old single flat winner will be tough. Bless Bless was third at Tryon. Hail To The Chief was second twice last year. Tapwood drops into the claiming ranks for the first time and makes his second start of the year. He was third in maiden special company here last fall. Keys Discount, second at Shawan last fall, could have run for double the purse in the Smithwick. Fingal makes his jump debut for Arch Kingsley, whose first-timers are typically ready. Be Yourself figures to be ready. Westerland makes his 14th hurdle start. Nobody else has more than four.

  • Joe: Fingal, Tapwood, Hail To The Chief.
  • Sean: Fingal, Master McGrath, Tapwood.
  • Tom: Be Yourself, Bless Bless, Keys Discount.

Winterthur Races. Sunday in Wilmington, Del. Post time 2 p.m. From. Take a deep breath after Saturday. No Derby, no Gold Cup, just a cozy spring day on the grounds of a historic former du Pont mansion and current museum of American decorative arts and 1,000 acres of public gardens.

First race. $20,000 maiden timber going 3 1/4 miles. Eight tackle this, led by Irish import The Butler Yates coming off a second to classy winner Bogey’s Image at the Grand National. Rhythmia was third there and Druid’s Altar fourth.

  • Joe: The Butler Yates, Rhythmia, Vincent Van Gogo.
  • Sean: The Butler Yates, Rhythmia, Druid’s Altar.
  • Tom: The Butler Yates, Vincent Van Gogo, Shaka.

Second race. $20,000 maiden timber going 3 1/4 miles. This one goes six deep, topped by Lap Of The Gods off a third at Cheshire in March and Cause For Pardon off a third in the cross-country race at Middleburg. He was second, ahead of Lap Of The Gods, at Cheshire. Bob Bar comes out of a fourth in the same Cheshire race.

  • Joe: Cause For Pardon, Lap Of The Gods, Brave Deacon.
  • Sean: Hero’s Return, Lap Of The Gods, Cause For Pardon.
  • Tom: Cause For Pardon, Lap Of The Gods, Hero’s Return.

Third race. $20,000 allowance timber for apprentice jockeys going 3 1/4 miles. Fashion Line won at the Manor. Master Seville looked good while winning at the Manor, not so good when sixth in the Grand National. The class relief will help. Showdown in a field of four.

  • Joe: Master Seville, Fashion Line, Inle.
  • Sean: Master Seville, Fashion Line, Inle.
  • Tom: Master Seville, Fashion Line, Inle.

Fourth race. Training flat for amateur or apprentice jockeys going 1 1/2 miles. Lots of horses getting ready for things. Sleight Of Hand looks interesting, same with Quidditch (who will be chasing the snitch while seeking a win), Rhebus Road, Transit and Eleazar.

  • Joe: Realist, Quidditch, Sleight Of Hand.
  • Sean: Realist, Rhebus Road, Eleazar.
  • Tom: Realist, Sleight Of Hand, Quidditch.