Stakes hurdlers clash at Middleburg

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Snap Decision seeks his third Temple Gwathmey win in four years, but concedes 10-20 pounds to his foes. Tod Marks photo

The big boys come out to play Saturday with the $75,000 Temple Gwathmey highlighting a nine-race card at Middleburg Spring over the historic Glenwood Park course in Virginia and Maryland timber toppers going out again at the Grand National in Butler. Both meets are live-streamed on the NSA website.

Last week at Tryon, Go Poke The Beat wired the handicap hurdle for trainer Leslie Young, jockey Jamie Bargary and the Go Poke The Bear syndicate (no bears were poked in this race). The horse outran Rocket One to win for the third time in six jump starts. Young also won the maiden with newcomer Tufton Avenue as the Irish-bred and Gerard Galligan held off Smart Uncle late. Jockey Sean McDermott doubled on the day, taking the waiver maiden claimer with Jimmy Dan for Jack Fisher, Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing. The Kitten’s Joy gelding was running for $12,500 on the flat in November. McDermott was the winning trainer and jockey with Icandothat, a homebred for Vivian Rall, in the conditioned claimer. The son of Divining Rod and the Outflanker mare Calliope picked up his second win in five hurdle starts.

Our Friend flies a fence alongside Royal Ruse in the My Lady’s Manor timber stakes. Douglas Lees photo

At My Lady’s Manor, Our Friend turned back a late charge from Include It to win the Manor itself by a neck for Armata Stable, Joe Davies and Teddy Davies. Road To Oz was 11 lengths back in third. The Irish-bred, in blinkers and using Lasix for the first time, collected his first win since May 2022 and his third timber win. Hard Spun 6-year-old Hard Strike won the allowance timber for Keystone Thoroughbreds, Todd McKenna and jockey Andrew Burke Ott after opening the season with a maiden win at Cheshire. The winner is a half-brother to $1.5 million earner Ivar, a Grade 1 flat winner in the U.S. and Brazil. Druid’s Alter won the maiden timber for Michael Lund Petersen’s Hyggelig Haven, trainer Willie Dowling and jockey Dan Nevin. A few hours later, Petersen won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom with the Bob Baffert-trained Adare Manor. Merriefield Stable’s Wagner won his timber debut for trainer Blythe Miller Davies and jockey Freddie Procter. The 9-year-old Irish-bred is a veteran of multiple British point-to-point and chase wins and handled the new fences while outfinishing Don’t Shout late. McKenna completed a double when Upland Partners’ Rhythmia won the finale, an allowance timber for apprentice jockeys. Ott rode the winner, who scored by 10 over Vintage Vinnie.

In the TIHR handicappers’ race, Joe came up with four winners last week (Jimmy Dan, Hard Strike, Wagner and Rhythmia). Sean had two (Jimmy Dan and Wagner). Tom was blanked. From 30 races on the season, Joe leads the way with 10 winners, followed by Sean with eight and Tom with three.

Middleburg Spring Races. Glenwood Park might be one of the coolest places to watch a horse race in the world. Hillside viewing with ancient boulders and gnarled trees, a box area once graced by John F. Kennedy, the course in a natural bowl with the Blue Ridge mountains way off in the distance.

This is the 104th running of Middleburg Spring. Take a breath and watch it all unfold. Post time for the first is 1 p.m.

First race. Middleburg Spring Racing Association training flat going 1 1/2 miles. This thing would have a $105,000 purse at Kentucky Downs. Eleven give it a go. Seismic Wave won a stakes on the turf for Juddmonte and Bill Mott, but was third of three last week at Tryon. Doug Fout pretty much always wins a race on this card and brings Elusive, a Colonial Downs maiden winner last year. Godolphin-breds Blue Nile and Field Marshal launch new careers. Half-brothers Webb and Kiyomori represent Greg Hawkins and Todd Wyatt.

  • Joe: Elusive, Blue Nile, Field Marshal.
  • Sean: Elusive, Kiyomori, Seismic Wave.
  • Tom: New Appointment, Kiyomori, Seismic Wave.

Second race. $50,000 Warrior Canine Connection allowance (NW2) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. This was a deep race with a big field of early entries, but scratched down to six. Still, major Irish flat horse High Definition makes his American jump debut. He finished second in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh in 2022 and won once in four Irish hurdle tries. Now he’s with Leslie Young. The Galileo gelding will get tested by a solid group. Press Pause aired over the course last fall. Outperform won in November. Bickley has been running over jumps since 2021. Pure Courage beat Abaan at Colonial last summer and placed against winners twice. Rampoldi Plan dazzled last spring.

  • Joe: High Definition, Pure Courage, Bickley.
  • Sean: High Definition, Press Pause, Pure Courage. 
  • Tom: High Definition, Bickley, Outperform.

Third race. $30,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes going 3 1/4 miles. Only four runners, but they’re the right four if they’re not going to the bigger fences in Maryland. Schoodic returns at 14. He’s won his last two and makes his 48th start over jumps while looking for his 16th win. Cracker Factory was second to the favorite twice last year. Lap Of The Gods has won his last two. Family Tree chased Lap Of The Gods home last time.

  • Joe: Schoodic, Cracker Factory, Family Tree.
  • Sean: Schoodic, Cracker Factory, Lap Of The Gods.
  • Tom: Schoodic, Cracker Factory, Lap Of The Gods.

Fourth race. $75,000 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle Handicap going 2 1/2 miles. Technically a Grade 2, which is just silly, the race dating to 1924 has been won by legends and drew a standout group this time. Snap Decision (162 pounds) tries to win it for the third time in four years, but he’ll have to concede 10-20 pounds to eight rivals. He won with 156 in 2021 and 158 last year, and was second with 158 in 2022.. Fellow 10-year-old Noah And The Ark (152) returns, looking for his eighth win over jumps. He won last year’s American Grand National at 18-1. Zabeel Champion (148) won twice last fall, and gets rewarded with a tougher assignment. Time might be the least important factor in jump-race handicapping, but his 2 5/8 miles at Far Hills last fall were faster than Noah And The Ark’s in the Grand National. Awakened (146) won the Sheppard at Saratoga last summer. He couldn’t handle Snap Decision (while getting 12 pounds; it’s 16 this time) in October. Ten-year-old Sebastopol (146) makes his American debut after winning seven times over jumps in Britain. Lightweights (at 142 each) Scorpion’s Revenge, Cool Jet and The Hero Next Door look to leap into the next division. The Hero Next Door, the only one with a jump start this year, could get loose on the lead. He won the allowance over the course last year. Who takes him on first? Fascinating race. Afterward, we’ll have a better idea who the top stakes-division players are. Of course, they have options in May with the $150,000 Commonwealth Cup Handicap at 2 1/8 miles May 4 and the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois at 3 miles a week later. Saturday’s field of eight includes five from Jack Fisher’s barn.

  • Joe: Snap Decision, The Hero Next Door, Awakened.
  • Sean: Snap Decision, Noah And The Ark, Awakened.
  • Tom: Awakened, Snap Decision, Zabeel Champion.

Fifth race. $30,000 Ptarmigan filly/mare maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Nine distaffers take a swing at this. Split In Two looks to bounce back from a third at Old Dominion. Camcha was second there. They were both going to be hard-pressed to beat Easy Squeeze, who fell at the last while surging. Marie Laveau makes her debut for Cyril Murphy. My Forever Annie won an Irish point-to-point in November, cost $127,000 in December and makes her U.S. debut. Split in Two ($114,000) was in the same sale.

  • Joe: Camcha, Split In Two, My Forever Annie.
  • Sean: Camcha, Honeymooner, Split In Two.
  • Tom: Marie Laveau, Split In Two, Fox In The Park.

Sixth race. $30,000 Virginia Equine Alliance maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Four first-timers in a field of six. The other two haven’t finished their last two. Get tied on. Price Talk won six races and $380,649 on the flat. Tiz A Giant won two and earned $141,218. Irish-bred newcomers Delete and Pride Of Erin will be worth watching.

  • Joe: Tiz A Giant, Delete, Price Talk.
  • Sean: Tiz A Giant, I Can Only Imagine, Pride Of Erin. 
  • Tom: Tiz A Giant, Price Talk, Pride Of Erin.

Seventh race. $30,000 Virginia Equine Alliance maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Eight go in this maiden, and they’re a little more orderly on paper anyway even if half of them are first-timers. High Deff has placed five times. Boffo Kid was fourth at Great Meadow in October. World Factor ran well on the flat last year. Kitten Mischief won twice on the flat last year. His dam earned $507,665 and won two Grade 3 stakes.

  • Joe: Kitten Mischief, World Factor, Ready To Wear.
  • Sean: Kitten Mischief, High Deff, Ready To Wear.
  • Tom: Boffo Kid, World Factor, Ready To Wear.

Eighth race. $20,000 James Wiley starter maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. This one, restricted to horses who started for $20,000 or less (flat or jump) overfilled. Evie’s Prince was third in last two. Greylover keeps getting close and was 2 1/2 lengths clear of Evie’s Prince at Aiken.

  • Joe: Greylover, Evie’s Prince, King Tsunami.
  • Sean: King Tsunami, Greylover, Evie’s Prince.
  • Tom: Greylover, King Tsunami, Evie’s Prince.

Ninth race. $20,000 Alfred Hunt Steeplechase going 2 5/8 miles. Classified as an open timber, the course jumps a  little bit of everything and makes a hairpin turn. Who’s ready? Fashion Line won it in October. Fast Vision did so in April. Storm Team should enjoy it. Court Ruler always shows up. Eye Of Gunfighter ran 21 times last year (flat and jump). He tries something even more different this time.

  • Joe: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Fast Vision.
  • Sean: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Fashion Line.
  • Tom: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Eye Of Gunfighter.

Grand National. Not to be confused with the Grade 1 hurdle stakes – that’s the American Grand National – at Far Hills in October, this is a Maryland timber race meet and an annually a key prep for the Maryland Hunt Cup or some other big assignment. Run for the 121st time, the card features four races and will be run over a slightly different course than usual. The fences are still plenty stiff. Post time for the first race is 2:30 p.m.

First race. $35,000 Grand National timber stakes going 3 1/4 miles. It might play a bit more tactical with some adjustment to the course, run over private farms in Butler, Md. Six tackle the feature, topped by last year’s Hunt Cup winner Withoutmoreado. He exits a distant fourth at Cheshire and was a better fourth in this race last year. Road To Oz, the 2022 winner, gets right back to work after a third at My Lady’s Manor last week. Shootist finished third in this last year and won the allowance here in 2022. Awesome Adrian finished second in 2022 and is plenty capable off two runs this year. He makes his 33rd start over jumps.

  • Joe: Road To Oz, Shootist, Withoutmoreado.
  •  Sean: Road To Oz, Shootist, Awesome Adrian.
  • Tom: Road To Oz, Withoutmoreado, Great Road.

Second race. $15,000 maiden timber going 3 miles. Just four line up. Island Nation was third at the Manor. The Butler Yates hasn’t finished his last two, but was second here last year. Take Profit turns to timber after running over hurdles in 2022.

  • Joe: The Butler Yates, The Ballybreen Fox, Island Nation.
  • Sean: Island Nation, The Butler Yates, Take Profit.
  • Tom: Island Nation, Take Profit, The Butler Yates.

Third race. $20,000 Benjamin “Laddie” Murray Memorial allowance (NW2) timber going 3 1/4 miles. Six tangle in this and most eyes will be on Wagner, who won his U.S. (and timber) debut last week at the Manor. The English point-to-point/chase veteran figured out the new fences there. Can he do it again? Brooklyn Speights was second last fall. Blackhall just missed when second here last year. Mr. Fine Threads looked good winning at Genesee Valley in October. Queens Empire makes his seventh timber start and was third at the Manor. Rocket Star Red packs plenty of experience including three placings over the cours.

  • Joe: Mr. Fine Threads, Queens Empire, Brooklyn Speights.
  • Sean: Mr. Fine Threads, Queens Empire, Brooklyn Speights.
  • Tom: Wagner, Queens Empire, Mr. Fine Threads.

Fourth race. $15,000 Western Run Plate allowance timber going 3 miles. Restricted to apprentice jockeys the finale drew five. Bogey’s Image looked like a promising hurdle horse in 2021, but was purchased for timber. He won impressively here last year, but will get tested by another relative newcomer in Master Seville and last year’s winner Chosen Mate.

  • Joe: Bogey’s Image, Master Seville, Chosen Mate.
  • Sean: Bogey’s Image, Master Seville, Paddy’s Crown.
  • Tom: Bogey’s Image, Master Seville, Paddy’s Crown.