Second Amendment comes through at Shawan

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Two days. Fourteen races. One-hundred-and-four horses. The National Steeplechase Association’s autumn season started with a rush over the weekend with race meets at Shawan Downs outside Baltimore and Foxfield near Charlottesville, Va. Winners came from all angles and in races on the flat, over hurdles and over timber – the latter for the first time since Fair Hill in May.

Shawan got things started with an eight-race card Saturday, Sept. 23. Welcome Here Farm’s veteran Second Amendment took the hurdle feature, a $25,000 handicap, for trainer Lizzie Merryman. The gray 7-year-old made most of the running inside Strongbox, and gave up the lead twice in the final stages – first when Cognashene jumped to the front on the backside the last time and next when Indy’s Legacy challenged along the hedge on the final turn. Indy’s Legacy drifted out coming to the second-last, Second Amendment went to the inside for Darren Nagle, reclaimed the advantage coming to the last and saw off Personal Start by 1 1/4 lengths at the wire. Indy’s Legacy stayed for third in the nine-horse field.

The tactics were all Nagle’s idea.

“We talked beforehand and Darren felt very strongly that he should be close to the pace because it’s a flat 2 miles, he probably wants softer ground, more hills and more distance,” said Merryman. “I feel like sometimes when we try to take him out of his game of sitting back and making a run, it doesn’t always work, but Darren was absolutely right. He let him have his way and looked like he was having fun.”

Bred in Pennsylvania by owner Nina Gardner, Second Amendment collected his third hurdle win to go with a flat score at Pimlico in 2015. The flat career ended late that year and he won a maiden hurdle at Charleston in November. Last year, he scored in a 115 handicap (the same level as Shawan) at Virginia Fall and was beaten a neck at the 120 level at the Colonial Cup in November. His spring 2017 campaign included a fifth behind Fantastic Song at Charleston, a fourth to Orchestra Leader at Foxfield and another fourth in an apprentice-jockey hurdle at Fair Hill.

After Fair Hill, Merryman sent her horse back to Gardner’s farm – and some TLC from farm manager Karen Hokanson – for a break and he returned as good as ever.

“Karen loves him, takes great care of him, he’s pampered, he comes back looking fresh and great and ready to go,” said Merryman, who is based at Fair Hill Training Center. “We had a nice half of July and August weather-wise where we could get a lot done on the hills and the turf. We got so much rain it was kind of ideal for prepping them for early fall. Usually the ground’s hard and you have to spend too much time on the racetrack.”

Second Amendment, by Gardner’s English-bred stallion National Anthem and out of the Press Card mare Bullet Card, pushed his career earnings to $87,732 and will aim for a 120 handicap hurdle at Virginia Fall Oct. 14.

Over timber, Kiplin Hall’s Rodriguez upset multiple stakes winner Cornhusker in the $25,000 open race at Shawan. Ridden by Nagle, who answered early wins on the day by champion-jockey rivals Jack Doyle (two) and Sean McDermott with back-to-back wins.

Bred in Ireland, Rodriguez finished second in a maiden timber over the course last fall and won his next start at Virginia Fall. This year, the 10-year-old High Chaparral gelding pulled up at the Grand National and was third at Winterthur. Off since May (like all the timber horses), he ignored Class Indian’s massive early lead while racing in front of the rest of the pack, inherited the lead for real when Class Indian tired, then outfinished Cornhusker in the stretch to win by a half-length. Worried Man rallied for third. Rodriguez won twice over hurdles and once over chase fences with Charlie Swan in Ireland, and was purchased by American George Mahoney at Doncaster in 2014 and sent to trainer Willie Dowling. Four hurdle starts in 2015 led to a timber conversion.

Dowling was optimistic his horse was ready for his first start in more than four months, but wasn’t so sure about taking on multiple stakes winner Cornhusker.

“My horses usually take a run, but looking at him he looks pretty lean all the time and he’s a horse who runs well fresh so it wasn’t a shock, it was a shock that when he got headed that he battled off again, that was a nice surprise,” said the trainer. “I thought Cornhusker was home and hosed once he passed him, I was delighted to have run as well as he had, but it just seems like he stays galloping.”

Rodriguez races for Marylanders George Tydings and Jay Griswold, so the hometown win was appreciated. Dowling’s stable of mainly timber horses collected its fourth win of 2017.

“That’s as big as winning anything,” Dowling said of the win at Shawan. “If he doesn’t win another race this season, it’s been a great year. The key is he likes good ground and he’s got confidence now jumping these smaller courses, he’s a winner at Middleburg, it’s hard not to go there in three weeks. It’s exciting times to have a couple of winners from a small stable.”

Maiden hurdlers got the day started with First Friday (Doyle) taking the $20,000 opener for Peggy Steinman and trainer Doug Fout. Restricted to 3-year-olds, the race lured seven – all with eyes on a $50,000 opportunity at Far Hills Oct. 21. Bred in Kentucky by Steinman, First Friday caught pacesetter Flash Jackson in the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths. Flash Jackson stayed for second with Snuggling third.

The first three are homebreds for Steinman, Ann Jackson and Hudson River Farm/Jonathan Sheppard.

Thirteen older maidens filled the entry box, earning a split into two races worth $25,000 each. Gill Johnston’s Hanno (Sean McDermott) reeled in Cuba Libre, who built a big lead early, to win by a nose for trainer Jack Fisher in the day’s second race. Enjoy The Show finished third. The winner came into the race off three hurdle losses, including a second for a $25,000 tag at Radnor, this year. Bred in Kentucky by Trish Moseley, he’s meandered to the winner’s circle – winning once in 16 starts in England for Moseley and trainer Ed Dunlop before joining Johnston’s string as a hurdle prospect. The 6-year-old son of Henrythenavigator is a half-brother to Proctor’s Ledge, who won two graded stakes on the turf for Moseley this summer at Saratoga.

One race later, Doyle picked up his second win on the card with Aflutter for Sheppard and Hudson River Farm. The 7-year-old son of Birdstone came from deep in the seven-horse field to win by a length over Albus with Set To Music third. The winner ran twice on the flat as a 3-year-old, tried hurdling and won on the flat at 4, missed his 5-year-old season and ran twice over jumps last fall. This year, the half-brother to hurdle stakes winner Parker’s Project – and to first-race runner Snuggling – placed in two spring maiden hurdles and finished second against winners at Saratoga.

Maiden timber winner Where’s The Beef completed a double for Welcome Here Farm when he scored by a half-length over Enuff Alex who in turn had a half-length on Only Charity in the 3 1/8-mile race. The winner led throughout for jockey Mark Beecher and trainer Ivan Dowling, and just lasted to win for the first time since taking a novice hurdle stakes in 2013.

Like the maiden hurdlers, the maiden timber horses filled two races as Back’s Bad Boy scored one race after Where’s The Beef – scoring by 2 lengths over Cocodimama and Dye Fore. Keith Dalton rode the winner for Ivy Hill Stable and trainer Alicia Murphy. The winner, a 6-year-old son of Oratory, was bred in Pennsylvania by Country Life Farm and Thomas Finacchio.

The Fields Stable’s Lyonell (Doyle) tuned up for bigger things with a training flat win for trainer Elizabeth Voss. Others in the finale included the Voss-trained Barnacle Bill who was third and stakes horse Jamarjo.

Additional reporting by Sean Clancy.