Steeplechase Preview: Gold Cup, Aiken keep season jumping

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Get right back on the horse. After a Saturday of championship races at the richest stop on the circuit last week at Far Hills, the steeplechase crowd goes racing in Virginia and South Carolina Saturday.

In the former, the International Gold Cup Races produced a jam-packed, nine-race card of timber, hurdle and flat (yes flat) races. Post time for the first of nine is high noon so get on the road early to Great Meadow. There is once again pari-mutuel wagering at the meet (sorry, nothing on the ADWs or simulcast scene – yet) so it’ll pay to do some homework. It’s also great to see Virginia purse money getting spent on Thoroughbred racing with the inclusion of four flat races and the renewal of the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson hurdle stakes. And a word about the Ferguson, it drew a great field and highlights the depth of the hurdle division if you really work at it. The Gary Baker restricted stakes at Virginia Fall Oct. 4, this race and next week’s Noel Laing really make sense for the racing program.

Down the highway in South Carolina, Aiken’s annual fall meet gets hit hard by the Gold Cup and will have small fields in a five-race card, but it’s still a good day out and the featured optional claimer looks like a solid race.

The TIHR handicappers take a swing at both cards, though the battle is almost over and the race is getting late. The boys all had Demonstrative last week at Far Hills with Tom also nabbing All The Way Jose and Sean coming up with Perfect Union. Sean leads with 51 winners, to 47 for Tom and 44 for Joe. Joe needs to turn into Peyton Manning and starting tossing bombs to get back in the race.

First race is at noon so hurry up with the breakfast will ya, and get on the highway. The meet is at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., just off I-66. It’s a beautiful spot and it’s fantastic to see it getting some use. Gold cup website.

First Race. Maiden hurdle going 2 1/2 miles. Always an interesting race because of the Great Meadow course configuration, the distance and the jumping questions asked. Ten make the program, headed by 2-1 Jake’s Mandate and 3-1 Overwhelming.

Sean: Hooping, Overwhelming, Jake’s Mandate.
Joe: Jake’s Mandate, Overwhelming, Hooping.
Tom: Overwhelming, Plated, Jake’s Mandate.

Second Race. $50,000 Zeke Ferguson hurdle stakes going 2 1/2 miles. This has been run at Colonial Downs for years and has been won by the likes of champions Flat Top, Good Night Shirt and Slip Away. Very different race at Great Meadow and a classy field signed up for the 17th running.

Sean: All Together, Bob Le Beau, Able Deputy.
Joe: All Together, Bob Le Beau, Able Deputy.
Tom: All Together, Bob Le Beau, Casual Creeper.

Third Race. The first of five flat races on the card adds depth and some fun, while also serving as something as a test for horsemen’s interest. Judging from the full slate of entries, this is a concept with a future. The horses go 7 furlongs here and it’s a good group.

Sean: Short Shrift, Cork County, Monument Hill.
Joe: Short Shrift, Monument Hill, Cork County.
Tom: Monument Hill, Cork County, Short Shrift.

Fourth Race. Another 7-furlong test on the turf. Keep in mind that these will play a little longer than races of similar length at the racetrack, just because of the roll to the course and long stretches. Not nearly as deep a race as the third.

Sean: Powder Mountain, Grand Old Game, Soul Gleam.
Joe: Grand Old Game, Slews Best Quality, Powder Mountain.
Tom: Grand Old Game, Slews Best Quality, Northern Bay.

Fifth Race. Back to the jumps, and the timber course for a rare allowance race. Non-winners of two go 3 1/4 miles in an appetizer for the featured Gold Cup to come. A competitive gang of seven shows up.

Sean: Country Cousin, Wildcatter, Don’t Tell Sailor.
Joe: Wildcatter, Country Cousin, Drift Society.
Tom: Certain Swagger, Country Cousin, Super Saturday.

Sixth Race. Here’s the big one. Timber stakes horses compete for a $60,000 purse going 3 1/2 miles in the International Gold Cup. Just five turn up, but expect a showdown. The field includes 2012 race winner Grinding Speed.

Sean: Grinding Speed, Dakota Slew, Straight To It.
Joe: Dakota Slew, Grinding Speed, Straight To It.
Tom: Grinding Speed, Dakota Slew, Straight To It.

Seventh Race. And we’re back to the flat, this time going 1 1/8 miles. Ten line up in this one. Interesting group, though the next wound up far tougher than this one.

Sean: Cognashene, Atherton, Aridus.
Joe: Aridus, Atherton, Got What.
Tom: Aridus, Cognashene, Evening Taps.

Eighth Race. The same conditions as the seventh brought out a dozen entries and some hard hitters led by recent Grade 3 runner-up Daddy’s Kid.

Sean: Coturnix, Kingofalldiamonds, Daddy’s Kid.
Joe: Kingofalldiamonds, Daddy’s Kid, Airgead.
Tom: Daddy’s Kid, Manacor, Kingofalldiamonds.

Ninth Race. The finale goes 1 1/4 miles and features Virginia-bred or Virginia-sired runners for a nice $25,000 purse. Eleven face the starter’s flag.

Sean: Hard Enough, Marq Your Bible, Mr. Starr’s Report.
Joe: Hard Enough, Woverton, Prima Facie.
Tom: Hard Enough, Marq Your Bible, Wolverton.


Also on Saturday, the jumpers go southbound to Aiken, S.C. and a five-race card. If jump fans had a magic wand, they’d fix all the date conflicts but oh well…Post time at Aiken is 1 p.m. It’s another fun day of racing. If you ever get a chance, get there in the spring (March) or fall. Aiken Fall website.

First Race. $20,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/4 miles. Good place for first timers and this one drew three in an expected field of five (Tiz Nasty waiting for next week, we hear).

Sean: Mandola, Tahoe Lake, Tiz Nasty.
Joe: Mandola, Maserati, Tahoe Lake.
Tom: Mandola, Tahoe Lake, Tiz Nasty.

Second Race. $10,000 maiden claiming hurdle also at 2 1/4 miles. Aiken can be fast, flat and furious and anothe field of five goes to the post including Green Lazer, whose lone real start came in Russia (in 2011). The son of Powerscourt, bred in Kentucky, did prep at Shawan Downs on the flat for trainer Leslie Young.

Sean: Hallam, Portamento, Green Lazer.
Joe: Hallam, Yes It’s Showtime, Portamento.
Tom: Hallam, Papa Carlos, Portamento.

Third Race. $20,000 filly/mare maiden hurdles at 2 1/4 miles. Five again go postward, led by the brilliantly named Holy Cow (by Flashy Bull out of It’s Time To Fly).

Sean: Holy Cow, Delphinus, Deep Run.
Joe: Holy Cow, Deep Run, Delphinus.
Tom: Holy Cow, Delphinus, Ice Needle.

Fourth Race. $25,000 optional claiming hurdle feature at 2 1/4 miles. Five runners (that’s not a limit, we swear) featuring coll old pro Sir Dynamite, who seeks his fourth jump win. He was third in this last year and won over the course in March 2013. 

Sean: Balance The Budget, Mr.Universo, Sir Dynamite.
Joe: Mr. Universo, Sir Dynamite, Balance The Budget.
Tom: Balance The Budget, Sir Dynamite, Mr.Universo.

Fifth Race. Training flat going 1 1/4 miles. Time for Cat Feathers and Top Strike to prep for bigger tasks.

Sean: Top Striker, Complete Dyno, Cat Feathers.
Joe: Top Striker, Complete Dyno, Cat Feathers.
Tom: Top Striker, Cat Feathers, Dymas.