Showdown at Middleburg: Picks & Preview

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Ahh, the first Saturday in May is here. Feels early, and a little strange, because it is. The Kentucky Derby will get all the attention, but there’s a pretty fair card of jump races at Middleburg Spring in Middleburg, Va., too.

Due to some pandemic shuffling and time-buying, Middleburg moves back two weeks to run on what is traditionally the Virginia Gold Cup’s day. Seven races make up the card, which starts at 1 p.m. and is headlined by the $75,000 Temple Gwathmey Handicap over hurdles. By definition a Grade 2, the race deserves to be higher because of its history – first run in 1924 and won by some of the sport’s all-time best – and its success in drawing top-class fields. Three recent Eclipse Award winners (Moscato, Scorpiancer and Rawnaq) are among the last five winners and this year’s renewal attracted another strong group led by Footpad and Snap Decision. Plus, we’ve got maidens, timber horses, the Alfred Hunt cross-country race and so on.

The TIHR handicappers take a moment from all their Derby handicapping to suss out some jump winners. It’s been slow going, though Tom Law (who has never seen a timber race in person) came up with Maryland Hunt Cup winner Vintage Vinnie last week. Everybody had Gostisbehere at Queen’s Cup, but the rest of the card proved to be as impossible as the weather. It’s a three-way tie with two winners each. 

You can watch the livestream on the NSA website.

First race. $15,000 filly/mare maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Speed Alert was second at Foxfield last fall and goes out for Middleburg specialist Doug Fout (he always wins on his home course) and owner Peggy Steinman. Flammetta won three times on the flat, as did Tap Dance Star. Samurai Song won twice. Nice to see six homebreds show up over jumps, too.

Tom: Speed Alert, Tap Dance Star, Samurai Song.
Sean: Flammetta, Tap Dance Star, Samurai Song.
Joe: Flammetta, Speed Alert, Tap Dance Star.

Second race. $30,000 allowance (NW2) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Short field for the spring as just six run, but that must be a product of last year’s light schedule. Fewer maiden winners mean fewer allowance horses the next year. Lemonade Thursday won over the course last fall and was good enough to try graded company on the flat. Mr. Bridger also won at Glenwood last fall (same day as Lemonade Thursday). Repeat Repeat has run some solid races with seconds to Galway Kid, Brianbakescookies and Cite after winning his hurdle debut in April 2019.

Tom: Lemonade Thursday, Repeat Repeat, Animal Kingston.
Sean: Lemonade Thursday, Repeat Repeat, Animal Kingston.
Joe: Lemonade Thursday, Repeat Repeat, Mr. Bridger.

Third race. $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes going 3 1/4 miles. After slipping on the flat at My Lady’s Manor and pulling up after his jockey’s stirrup leather broke at the Grand National, Mystic Strike tries again. He was second over the course, to eventual timber champion Curve Of Stones, last fall. Timber veteran Super Saturday comes off a win, while newcomers Zanjabeel (a champion over hurdles), Jaleo (a Grade 1 hurdle starter in 2019), Road To Oz and Tomgarrow look to step forward. The latter two come off maiden timber wins.

Tom: Super Saturday, Jaleo, Zanjabeel.
Sean: Mystic Strike, Tomgarrow, Super Saturday.
Joe: Road To Oz, Mystic Strike, Tomgarrow.

Fourth race. $75,000 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap stakes going 2 1/2 miles. Showdown. Footpad, all but a millionaire overseas with major wins at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown among his 11 career wins for Willie Mullins, finally makes his American debut. Last year’s campaign got wiped out for owner Sonny Via and trainer Jack Fisher as his spring target the Iroquois was canceled and there were no fall stakes. So he’s back, off a point-to-point spin at Loudoun. Before that, his most recent start had come in January 2020. The 9-year-old shoulders 162 pounds, 6-22 more than six rivals. Sean McDermott takes the ride. In the other corner stands Snap Decision and his seven-race winning streak. Trained by Fisher for Bruton Street-US, the 7-year-old Hard Spun gelding won a maiden hurdle at Monmouth Park on July 4, 2019 and has added a Saratoga allowance, a Belmont Park novice stakes, a Far Hill novice stakes, a Great Meadow open stakes and two more Saratoga novice takes to the scorecard. Those last two wins came with 162 and 165 pounds aboard. His nine-start jump career started with seconds at the Queen’s Cup and the Iroquois, after winning twice on the flat for Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey. Graham Watters takes the ride, off a point-to-point prep at Loudoun. The favorites aren’t the only horses in the race. Galway Kid has won half of his six jump starts, and tries Snap Decision twice at Saratoga (second and third). Keri Brion trains the 6-year-old, who won a handicap hurdle in October, for Hudson River Farm. Ross Geraghty takes the ride at 144. Irish-bred Razoul makes his U.S. debut for Del Rio Chasers and Kate Dalton after winning three in Ireland and gaining a hurdle rating of 130. Bernie Dalton rides at 144. Amschel won at Montpelier in 2019 and three times in Ireland. Cracker Factory won four times in England and placed twice last fall. Noah And The Ark also won four times before coming to the States.

Tom: Snap Decision, Footpad, Galway Kid.
Sean: Snap Decision, Razoul, Footpad.
Joe: Snap Decision, Galway Kid, Footpad.

Fifth race. $20,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Nine signed up for this including Princeville (second twice last year), Bickley (disqualified from a win over the course in October), the Fout-trained Be Somebody (second and third twice each in 10 starts), Eryx (second last fall at Great Meadow), dual flat winner Riendo and newcomers Make A Stand, Team Tim, Air Lift and Do The Floss.

Tom: Make A Stand, Eryx, Be Somebody.
Sean: Do The Floss, Princeville, Make A Stand.
Joe: Eryx, Bickley, Make A Stand.

Sixth race. $20,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Eight maidens go here, in a race that doesn’t look as deep as the other division (or not as experienced anyway). Sherkali was second at Colonial last summer and tries to duplicate stablemate Kilronan’s victory at the Queen’s Cup for Arch Kingsley. Withoutdestination and Ziggle Pops look like interesting first-timers for Todd Wyatt and Jack Fisher, respectively. Mr. Singh’s flat form includes a Grade 3 win in England and he was third over jumps in 2018.

Tom: Ziggle Pops, Sherkali, Withoutdestination.
Sean: Withoutdestination, Sherkali, Ziggle Pops.
Joe: Withoutdestination, Sherkali, Ziggle Pops.

Seventh race. $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Ten in the body with Be Somebody (who would be pretty tough) on the also-eligible list. Lost Story got close three times in 2019, but missed last year. Yankee Doodle Boy was second twice last fall. Hero’s Return won three on the flat before joining Mark Beecher squad for hurdling. Neil Morris, whose maiden claimers are usually tough, brings Argentic.

Tom: Lost Story, Yankee Doodle Boy, Step To The Bar.
Sean: Lost Story, Hero’s Return, Yankee Doodle Boy.
Joe: Hero’s Return, Lost Story, Yankee Doodle Boy.

Eighth race. $20,000 open steeplethon, cross-country race, whatever you want to call it going 2 5/8 miles over the Alfred Hunt Course. Invocation won over the course twice last year, but will have to have his running shoes on as hurdle stakes winner Gibralfaro drops into this rather than take on Footpad and Snap Decision in the Gwathmey. They’re the standouts in a field of five.

Tom: Invocation, Gibralfaro, Duc de Meran.
Sean: Invocation, Gibralfaro. Elucidation.
Joe: Invocation, Gibralfaro, Duc de Meran.