Sean McDermott had to make a decision at Shawan Downs in September. The veteran jockey chose Two’s Company among three timber horses entered by Jack Fisher. It was the right decision as the Irish-bred won the $25,000 timber feature.
Two weeks later at the Virginia Fall Races Oct. 8, McDermott had it easy in the National Sporting Library Museum Cup, returning on Two’s Company, the only runner from Fisher’s deep barn in the $40,000 stakes.
Two’s Company handled the rest, drawing away to an easy 6 ¾-length win over former timber champion Grinding Speed and front-runner Puller.
Owned by Bruton Street-US, Two’s Company earned his fifth timber win since emigrating from Ireland in 2015. Settled and smooth, Two’s Company made it look easy over yielding turf.
“He settled great today, in Shawan, it took me a circuit and a half to get him to actually pop a fence, he just loves jumping, he was standing off a bit far, but today he relaxed and popped early, he’s a very brave horse, he came up at the second-to-last, maybe in two years time there will butterflies in my mouth but he was long, he didn’t need to do it but he loves doing it.”
Rolling to the second-to-last, McDermott switched outside Puller, Canyon Road, Grinding Speed and Pured It, flew the second panel and powered to contention. Up the hill over the last, Two’s Company slid between Puller and Canyon Road to win in a canter.
“Another ex-Irish point-to-point horse, he has stamina, his wind is clear, that ground is soft but it’s not heavy, it’s quite loose so he can get his feet out of it, he can enjoy it, he’s got a little turn of foot to quicken off it where the others don’t,” McDermott said. “The ground might have affected the opposition more than him, I won’t get carried away, the Gold Cup is where we need him.”
The International Gold and its $90,000 purse Oct. 22 is the fall goal for Two’s Company and every timber stakes horse in training. The 7-year-old son of Soviet Star finished second in the Virginia Gold Cup this spring.
“Hopefully, he’ll go home a fresh horse,” McDermott said. “He ran great there in the spring, it was deeper type of ground and he actually didn’t handle it. He made one bad mistake, I let him drop right out and sat, just forgot about the rest of them for a mile and rode my own race. He ran on to be second, that’s his honesty.”
– Jay Griswold barreled off the rocks at Glenwood Park.
“My heart’s pounding,” Griswold said, tapping his chest. “My heart’s pounding.”
Rodriquez made Griswold’s heart thump, staving off Surf Classic and Syros in a front-running maiden timber win. Trained by Willie Dowling and ridden by Mark Beecher, the 9-year-old son of High Chaparral jumped efficiently, overcoming a mistake at the third-to-last to win by three quarters of a length. Racing in Maryland’s state flag for Kipling Hall (Griswold is a partner), Rodriguez won for the first time since taking a handicap hurdle at Roscommon in 2013.
A winner of five races and failing to finish nine races in his 46-start career before Saturday, Rodriguez is gradually learning the timber game.
“He came to us last summer, the boys wanted to run him over timber but it’s hard to start a timber horse in the fall, he ran half decent at Far Hills but he lost Bernie (Dalton), then he didn’t run well, we put him away, took him back slowly and started doing timber,” Dowling said. “I have Beecher doing lessons with me in the ring, when he sees them schooling, it’s a lot easier to say, ‘Hey, Mark, I’m running this maiden…’ He got on him and wanted to ride him at Shawan.”
Second at Shawan, Rodriguez improved two weeks later.
“They bought him to be a timber horse, those old horses don’t have any conditions, they have to go to timber,” Dowling said. “He had a few falls in Ireland so he’s probably not the most natural jumper, but he’s getting the hang of it. He’s got experience, I know they loved him when they had him Ireland. He’s an old class horse.”
– And that makes four.
Saluda Sam showed his affinity for the Alfred Hunt Course yet again, wiring four rivals in the steeplethon. Like always, jockey Willie McCarthy put the veteran on the lead and used definitiveness to put his rivals on the back foot throughout the 2 5/8-mile race. Owned by Irv Naylor and trained by Billy Meister, the 11-year-old chestnut held off Lemony Bay by a neck to record his fourth win at Middleburg and his eighth steeplechase win.
“He is the king. You all doubted him, you say he’s getting too old, he’s not what he used to be, it’s great to get him back in the winner’s circle, he’s given me a lot of good times, that horse,” McCarthy said from the jocks’ room apron at the end of the day. “He’s shoving on, his days in the winner’s circle are probably numbered so it was lovely to get one today. He’s far superior at the fences, he might not have the most ability in the race but his jumping and his turning is unbelievable.”
McCarthy and Saluda Sam teamed up for their first win at Middleburg in 2013. The lessons have been learned.
“If you sat on him, he’d just go in and fiddle it. One of the reasons I’ve gotten on so well with him is because I send him on in there, once he sees what you’re seeing, he goes for it, but if you sit there, he’d just pop everything,” McCarthy said. “I squeeze, squeeze, squeeze a long way out, if it’s there, good, if it’s not, hold and squeeze. I’ve had so many good days on him, the day he retires, I’m not sure I can even ride in these races because he’s so good. Gallant effort. We were in sync.”
Like Sonny and Cher.
“He’s gotten a lot more settled, he used to be an orangutan to go down and put the saddle on him, he’s gotten a lot wiser as he’s gotten older. He was always good jumping around this course, even when he was a bit erratic running,” McCarthy said. “He’s better over the course, he has won over Great Meadow, but there’s just a little too much speed over those last two hurdles, but he likes getting a nice jump at that hedge and run to that short corner, that’s what wins those races here.
Saluda Sam contributed to a triple on the day for Meister who swept the timber races at Genesee Valley.
– Second Amendment nailed Kingofalldiamonds in the final strides to win the opener, the Bon Nouvel Hurdle. Back on the hunt meet circuit, where he had produced two solid efforts this spring, the son of National Anthem settled on the inside in the back of the full field, gradually worked his way through the field, landed over the last hurdle with 5 lengths still to find on Kingofalldiamonds and used every inch of the stretch to collect his second career hurdle victory.
Owned by Welcome Here Farm, trained by Elizabeth Merryman and ridden by Gerard Galligan, the Pennsylvania-bred broke his maiden on the flat last spring and over hurdles last fall.
– Formidable Heart put an experience edge to good use in the first division of the maiden, loping on the lead, jumping smoothly and cruising to a nearly 10-length win over Surprising Soul, who overcame a blunder with a circuit to go, and Giza who picked up third.
Trained by Neil Morris for Thomas Hulfish, Formidable Heart hadn’t run over hurdles since last fall. Kieran Norris rode the son of Dynaformer.
– Jack Fisher was shocked after the second division of the maiden hurdle when his entry went 1-2 in the $20,000 maiden. The leading trainer was surprised that first-time starter True To Form out battled Other Cheek. Ridden by Jeff Murphy, True To Form won his hurdle debut for Rather Be Racing, making their own debut in steeplechasing. Claimed from Centennial Farm for $16,000 at Laurel Park this summer, the son of Dynaformer was meant to be going for a school.
“What part of going for a school didn’t you understand?” Fisher joked after the race.
Murphy laughed longer.
“He ran off with me,” the Irish veteran said. “I couldn’t do anything about it.”
– Doc Cebu upset the maiden claimer for Charlie Fenwick, Jack Fisher and Willie McCarthy. The 6-year-old son of Hard Spun, offered in the steeplechase sale this spring, drew off in his hurdle debut to score by 2 ¼ lengths over Longing To Travel and Green Lazer. A four-time winner from 29 starts, mostly on the Maryland circuit, Doc Cebu made his final flat start for a $4,500 claiming price at Charles Town last fall.
– All The Way Jose took the training flat race over Hisaabaat and Tempt Me Alex. Seven out of the 11 runners were entered at Far Hills seven days later. All The Way Jose, the 2014 novice champion will skip Far Hills and aim at the Zeke Ferguson Oct. 22.
– Crypto’s Holiday nosed out Balistes in the finale, the Virginia-bred or sired training flat. Owned by Maggie Bryant and trained by Doug Fout, the 3-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday was beaten a head in a maiden special weight at Delaware Park this summer.