The circuit’s penultimate weekend lands in South Carolina Saturday where nothing short of a championship will be on the line when the 40th Colonial Cup is run in Camden. The Grade I, $100,000 test anchors a card that features five hurdle races and a training flat totaling $190,000. No fewer than five championship contenders will square off in the 2 3/4-mile Colonial Cup, with the winner almost assured of claiming the Eclipse Award as outstanding steeplechase horse.
The Colonial Cup marks the sixth Grade I race for open stakes runners this season and the previous five have done little in terms of sorting out the division. Pierrot Lunaire (Iroquois), Mixed Up (A.P. Smithwick), Spy In The Sky (Turf Writers), Red Letter Day (Lonesome Glory) and Your Sum Man (Grand National) have taken turns trading punches and win circle photos throughout the year. Saturday they square off over Springdale Race Course’s natural brush fences in a final effort to determine the pecking order of the division, while six others meet the starter hoping to throw their hat into the championship ring.
Your Sum Man (Ross Geraghty to ride, 156 pounds) rates top billing, if for no other reason than he’s the most recent of the Grade I winners and the $150,000 first place check he earned in Far Hills’ Grand National thrust him to the top of the money won list. Trained by Tom Voss for The Fields Stable, the 7-year-old burst on the scene in the October 17 Grand National, when he made his first U.S. start a winning one in the season’s biggest test to date.
In typical Far Hills fashion, the turf was soft for the Grand National and horses handled the course or they didn’t. Your Sum Man, just 1-for-9 over jumps in his native Ireland leading into the Grand National, clearly relished the going. The 7-year-old rated in fifth early under Geraghty, moved to the lead at the final fence and proved a game winner over fellow Irish import General Ledger. Voss knows Saturday’s race course, along with Camden’s natural brush fences, offer a different set of circumstances but he’s confident in Your Sum Man’s ability to adapt.
“Different day, different ground, same horse,” Voss said. “I don’t know how he’ll handle everything, but he’s jumped big fences before and he came out of that race great. I can’t leave him in the barn.”
Pierrot Lunaire (Jeff Murphy, 156) preceded Your Sum Man’s exploits when he won his first U.S. start in Nashville’s Iroquois this May for the late Calvin Houghland. The Bruce Miller-trained 5-year-old took the 3-mile test over soft ground and ended Good Night Shirt’s dominance over the division with a 3-length win. Pierrot Lunaire was given the summer off and returned with a non-threatening fifth in the Grand National. Miller prepped the son of War Chant in a training flat at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup November 1 and though he was encouraged by Pierrot Lunaire’s narrow victory he knows the Colonial Cup can be a daunting task.
“He’s not as seasoned as some of the others, the fences will be a little different. I’ll be apprehensive until we school him down there,” Miller said. I was disappointed (with the Grand National), but I was happy with the flat race at the Hunt Cup and he came out o it well.”
Jonathan Sheppard will start three in the Colonial Cup, led by Bill Pape’s Mixed Up (Danielle Hodsdon, 156). The 10-year-old was his old self during the spring and summer, which was highlighted by a powerful win in the Smithwick at Saratoga August 6 but little has gone right since then. Sheppard wavered on running in the Turf Writers and entered at the last minute, only to see Mixed Up run fifth, beaten 50 lengths. He threw in another clunker in the Lonesome Glory, finishing last of seven behind Red Letter Day and Sheppard forged on to Far Hills, only to scratch when the rains hit the week of the race. Freshened since, Mixed Up will attempt to score an improbable championship when he tries to negotiate 2 3/4 miles in the Colonial Cup.
“He’s nice and healthy and sound and working well so I see no reason not to run him,” Sheppard said. “Certainly the distance is a question mark but he should get a better set up than he got at Belmont. It’s an interesting race in that there are no real standouts, so we feel like he deserves the chance to try and win it.”
Sheppard also starts Sweet Shani (Xavier Aizpuru, 150 pounds), the only mare in the field, for the Estate of Houghland. Though the 9-year-old is winless since coming to the U.S. in 2007, she has shown on several occasions the class and ability to compete against the boys. Sweet Shani was second in the Grand National in 2007, and in 2008 was second by a neck in the Royal Chase and third in the Iroquois. After missing 17 months Sweet Shani returned and was in contention before finishing seventh in the Grand National and then just-missed to Confined in the Crown Royal against fillies at Callaway Gardens November 7.
“I think the run at Callaway was an important result because we needed to know if she was ready to move on to the Colonial Cup or not,” Sheppard said. “She’s a horse with a lot of quality that deserves to win one of these big races after coming close quite often in the past so hopefully that will happen on Saturday.”
Three Carat (Robbie Walsh, 156) rounds out the Sheppard trio. Now 9, the son of Storm Broker has the back class to be a factor in the Colonial Cup (he was a close second to Good Night Shirt in 2007) but needs a form reversal after pulling up late in the Grand National. Three Carat prepped for the Colonial Cup with a third in a 3 1/8-mile amateur highweight at Callaway November 7, a run Sheppard indicated would serve him well on the cutback in distance.
Greg Hawkins’ Red Letter Day (Bernie Dalton, 156) used his strong gallop to go flag-to-wire in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park and again figures to be the one to catch at Camden. The 6-year-old had been a fringe player for Janet Elliot over the past two years prior to the Lonesome Glory but backed that performance up with a fine fourth in the Grand National after making the early running.
Randleston Farm’s Spy In The Sky (Paddy Young, 156) enters the Colonial Cup in career form after taking the Turf Writers in August, running a close fourth in the Lonesome Glory and then winning an allowance flat at Aqueduct November 5. The Jimmy Day-trained 5-year-old has been a throwback of sorts this season, running three times over hurdles in the spring, followed by a pair of flats starts this summer and then three more hurdle runs prior to his Aqueduct win. The miles have seemingly only made him stronger and after nine starts this season he heads south in career form.
Tax Ruling (Willie Dowling, 156) ran the best of the American contingent in the Grand National when he checked in third for Irv Naylor and Desmond Fogarty. The long-striding son of Dynaformer impressed at Far Hills, in what was his first start against open stakes performers and should find himself in a close-up tracking position just off of Red Letter Day.
Miller also sends out Sally Radcliffe’s Best Attack (Jody Petty, 156), who looks to secure his first win since taking the National Hunt Cup over novice foes at Radnor in My 2007. After finishing on the board in several open Grade I’s (including a third here) in 2008, Best Attack has struggled to find his form in 2009. The 8-year-old has yet to finish on the board and enters off a sixth in the Grand National.
Longshots Chess Board (Willie McCarthy, 156), who enters off a distant second to Slip Away in Montpelier’s Noel Laing November 7 and Zozimus, who took an optional claimer on the Laing undercard, round out the field for the 40th running of the Colonial Cup.