Virginia Gold Cup, Winterthur Picks & Preview

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Welcome to May. If you’re like the team here at TIHR, this week is when your friends ask you for Kentucky Derby opinions. It’s the nation’s most famous race for a reason. That reason may or may not be because your friends pay attention to it before getting on with the rest of their spring/summer.

Leave that to Tom Law, who’s at Churchill Downs today for his 25th Derby, and the team in another post. Here, we’re diving into the first two steeplechase meets of May. Saturday turns to the Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow in The Plains. This is the meet’s 99th running, and one of the best with the traditional timber feature plus a new Grade 1 hurdle stakes on a nine-race card. Sunday goes to Delaware for the all-timber Winterthur Races, just “Point-to-Point” to the locals.

Blackhall prevails in the Maryland Hunt Cup. Douglas Lees photo

Last weekend, Blackhall upset the Maryland Hunt Cup to give owner Kinross Farm a long-awaited victory in the timber classic. The Irish-bred led a four-horse charge down the stretch to win by a neck over Shootist, with Goodoldtimes a half-length back in third and Vintage Vinnie another length behind in fourth. Seeking his third win in the race at age 15, Vintage Vinnie led throughout, survived a mistake at the 10th fence, took the field into the last fence, but couldn’t hold off the closers. Joe Davies trained the winner, a maiden in 15 prior starts under rules, and legged up English amateur Charlie Marshall. They came in off a second at the Grand National meet. Last year’s winner Withoutmoreado lost his rider at the ninth fence. Davies won his seventh as a trainer, adding Blackhall to Senior Senator (2016, 2018, 2019), Vintage Vinnie (2021 and 2022) and Derwins Prospector (2017).

Who’s Counting (left) jumps alongside Gold Charm in the Good Night Shirt at Foxfield. Tod Marks photo

Down the road at Foxfield in Virginia, Total Joy won the $75,000 Daniel Van Clief novice hurdle stakes by 4 lengths over Leslie Young stablemate Go Poke The Bear. Paddy O’Hanlon rode the winner, who won twice last year, for owner Noble Stable. South Branch Equine homebred Who’s Counting won the Good Night Shirt handicap hurdle (130) – his fourth win in nine jump starts for trainer/jockey Sean McDermott. The son of Vancouver has added three flat wins and padded his lifetime bankroll to $243,171. Young ran one-two in the 115 handicap with Oscar Winner (Brian Barry up) and Artistic Choice. The Pennsylvania-bred improved to 3-for-10 over jumps. Baltimore Kid (O’Hanlon) won the 110 handicap hurdle by 6 lengths for trainer Todd Wyatt. Hard Spun gelding Hidden Path (Harrison Beswick) graduated the maiden ranks with a neck victory in the maiden for trainer Ricky Hendriks. Third at Camden in March, he edged Irelands Call by a neck. Auchincruive and apprentice Evan Dwan won the opener, a maiden claiming hurdle, for trainer Keri Brion and owner/breeder Norman Lewis. Animal Kingston (Beswick) won the maiden timber for trainer Neil Morris.

On the TIHR scoreboard, Joe and Sean came up with three winners each (Auchincruive and Who’s Counting for both; Joe added Animal Kingston and Sean added Baltimore Kid). Tom was blanked. Staring at 13 races this weekend, Joe leads with 22 wins from 51 races. Sean has 19. Tom has eight.

Virginia Gold Cup. First post is 1 p.m. for a nine-race card that offers something for everybody – world-class tailgating and racing and everything in between. Watch it on the NSA livestream. You can bet on site and at twinspires.com (but not other ADWs, which is still weird).

First race. $40,000 maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Everybody wants to run at the Gold Cup. This drew a full field of 10 as Northern Rye draws in off the also-eligible list and Sir John Monash scratches. There are four first-timers and another four making their second starts. Godolphin-breds Blue Nile and Field Marshal are shift careers after selling at Fasig-Tipton. Price Talk and Mischief Afoot bring solid flat form. Same with Royne. Kelmscott has been third three times. Price Talk was second at Middleburg. Known for breeding stamina into flat horses, Chuck Fipke bred Ready For The Lady. He won three times for Roger Attfield on the flat and makes hurdle debut for Arch Kingsley, who gets them ready early.

  • Joe: Price Talk, Ready For The Lady, Field Marshal.
  • Sean: Price Talk, Field Marshal, Ready For The Lady.
  • Tom: Nobel Speaker, Kelmscott, Price Talk.

Second race. $20,000 starter/optional claiming maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Another field of 10. They all qualify for the starter condition ($25,000 or less, flat or jump) except High Deff, who is in for the $25,000 tag. Greylover carries three seconds and three thirds into his 10th jump start. Fingal was second at Foxfield. Carloun was third at Aiken, and drops in class.

  • Joe: Fingal, Lord Donegal, Carloun.
  • Sean: Carloun, Greylover, Box Officer Warrior.
  • Tom: Greylover, Fingal, Dizzy Kitty.
Court Ruler looks for his fourth consecutive win in the Steeplethon. Tod Marks photo

Third race. $20,000 Steeplethon cross-country timber going 3 miles. Four runners in the race that runs through the pond. Court Ruler rides a three-race winning streak and is a gaudy 9-for-19 (with six seconds) over jumps. Pay no attention to the “blinkers on” note. He wore them at Middleburg. Main rival Storm Team (also skeeing his 10th jump win) was third at Middleburg, but won this last year. Crealion makes his American debut off six wins overseas. He handled soft ground in France. How much rain is coming over the mountain? Our Friend won the My Lady’s Manor timber and shifts gears after finishing fourth over the course in October.

  • Joe: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Our Friend.
  • Sean: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Our Friend. 
  • Tom: Court Ruler, Storm Team, Our Friend.

Fourth race. $45,000 allowance (non-winners of two) hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Cue the showdown music. Nine classy hurdlers clash, seven coming off wins. Foxy Walk, a $179,000 purchase last May, aired at Callaway in November. Evie’s Prince won the starter maiden at Middleburg. Casamo won at Montpelier in November. Lightning Rod won at Camden, over Hidden Path, in March. Hold Hard scored at Old Dominion in April. Tiz A Giant won his debut by 16 lengths in April. Cibolian ran in graded stakes on the flat and won over hurdles last summer. Pure Courage tries winners for the fourth time (he’s been third twice and second once) while adding blinkers. Deep race that will produce some Saratoga runners. Merry Maker won this last year and wound up an Eclipse Award winner.

  • Joe: Tiz A Giant, Foxy Walk, Pure Courage.
  • Sean: Lightning Rod, Tiz A Giant, Foxy Walk.
  • Tom: Tiz A Giant, Lightning Rod, Cibolian.
Awakened carries the highweight assignment in Saturday’s Commonwealth Cup. Tod Marks photo

Fifth race. $150,000 Commonwealth Cup (Gr. 1) hurdle stakes going 2 1/8 miles. The stakes schedule got a big boost with three Grade 1 stakes in 2024 – this one, the Beverly R. Steinman at Saratoga next month and the return of the Colonial Cup in November. With Snap Decision eyeing next week’s $200,000 Iroquois, this race drew a field of eight. Third to Snap Decision in his last two, Awakened carries the 158-pound highweight. West Newton comes in off a win at Aiken, and was second (one spot ahead of Awakened) over the course last fall. The Kitten’s Joy gelding could be in front early. Novice L’Imperator chased Abaan home in his last two and was second to Merry Maker in September. Maiden winner Rampoldi Plan gets in light (144) and was second last time to High Definition. Who’s Counting looks for his biggest score a week after the Foxfield win. Likewise, Go Poke The Bear tries the quick turnaround off a second at Foxfield. Welshman won this race last spring, when it was called the David Semmes and worth $100,000. Gordon’s Jet was second in that race.

  • Joe: Welshman, Awakened, Who’s Counting.
  • Sean: Awakened, West Newton, L’Imperator. 
  • Tom: Awakened, West Newton, Welshman.

Sixth race. $75,000 Virginia Gold Cup timber stakes going 4 miles. A five-runner race with storylines for 30. Schoodic, 14, rides a three-race winning streak and is 16-for-48 over jumps including a win in this in – wait for it – 2021. When people question the durability of the American Thoroughbred, show then Schoodic. By Tiznow out of the Grade 3-winning Hennessy mare Aunt Henny, the flashy bay made three starts on the flat as a 2-year-old, switched to hurdles the next year and won twice, added four more hurdle wins (three stakes) and placed in a Grade 1 before switching to timber and piling up 10 more wins. He’s earned $582,760 over jumps. All that being all that, he better bring his track shoes. Awesome Adrian exits a win in the Grand National. Bogey’s Image (a baby at age 7) has won two by daylight over timber. Rhythmia has won three of his last four. And Include It finished a late-running second, beaten a neck after winning his first four over timber, going 3 miles in the My Lady’s Manor April 13. Fun race.

  • Joe: Schoodic, Include It, Bogey’s Image.
  • Sean: Schoodic, Rhythmia, Include It.
  • Tom: Schoodic, Include It, Awesome Adrian.

Seventh race. $50,000 Speedy Smithwick Memorial hurdle stakes for 4-year-olds going 2 1/8 miles. Seven line up in this including filly/mare maiden winner Haint Blue and last year’s top 3-year-old Lightning Ridge. Second at Old Dominion and Tryon, respectively, Clifton Down and Smart Uncle could break through.

  • Joe: Smart Uncle, Lightning Ridge, Clifton Down.
  • Sean: Haint Blue, Smart Uncle, Clifton Down. 
  • Tom: Lightning Ridge, Haint Blue, Smart Uncle.

Eighth race. $20,000 starter/optional claiming maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. With the scratch of favorite Travesuras, six take a swing at this. Yup Ya Boy Ya might make you say yes in his U.S. debut. Department Of War, a Joe Allen-bred War Front, makes his first start. Kitten Around (Flintshire alert) was second last fall at Aiken and fourth at Old Dominion.

  • Joe: Kitten Around, King Tsunami, Ishihara.
  • Sean: Kitten Around, Giantsbane, Yup Ya Boy Ya. 
  • Tom: King Tsunami, Ishihara, Kitten Around.

Ninth race. $20,000 starter/optional claiming maiden hurdle going 2 1/8 miles. Here we go again. This one includes nine, with all but Penicillin Success making the starter qualification. Second three times, Westerland makes his 16th start over jumps. By American Pharoah out of Hessonite, Juulstone was supposed to do something else. Boffo Kid exits a solid second at Middleburg.

  • Joe: Little G T, Boffo Kid, Penicillin Success.
  • Sean: Boffo Kid, Little G T, Exuma.
  • Tom: Boffo Kid, Penicillin Success, Little G T.

Winterthur Races. Exhale. After all that action, plus whatever goes on at Churchill Downs, Delaware steps into the calendar with its annual spring extravaganza on the grounds of the Winterthur Museum and Gardens just north of Wilmington. You’ll see fancy hats, high-school shenanigans (use good judgment kids), old-school sports cars, even older-school carriages, and some horse races on a course that’s basically a figure-eight. Turns (right and left) matter at Winterthur. The card goes four deep with three over timber and a training flat.

First race. $20,000 maiden timber going 3 1/4 miles. Seven face the starter, topped by Theda’s Boy off a solid second at My Lady’s Manor and a third at Cheshire. He’ll be happy to not face Hard Strike (who won both of those). Leslie Young seconds out newcomers De Grey Guy and Old Style Humor. Island Nation was second to The Butler Yates at the Grand National.

  • Joe: De Grey Guy, Theda’s Boy, Island Nation.
  • Sean: De Grey Guy, Island Nation, Theda’s Boy.
  • Tom: Island Nation, Theda’s Boy, Glencorrib Sky.

Second race. $25,000 allowance (NW2) timber going 3 1/4 miles. Five run in the second half of the daily double. Maiden runner Hard Game was second at Foxfield, where the race ended a lap too soon but was declared official because they all did it (no, you can’t make this stuff up). Druid’s Altar won at the Manor. Fast Vision’s timber win came over the cross-country course at Middleburg.

  • Joe: Druid’s Altar, Hard Game, Fast Vision.
  • Sean: Druid’s Altar, Hard Game, Fast Vision.
  • Tom: Druid’s Altar, Hard Game, Fast Vision.

Third race. $15,000 allowance (NW of a stakes in 2023-24) timber for apprentice jockeys going 3 1/4 miles. Just three contest this one. Elusive Exclusive has won twice. Fashion Line won over the course last year. Huyana won here in 2021 and was third at the Manor.

  • Joe: Fashion Line, Elusive Exclusive, Huyana.
  • Sean: Elusive Exclusive, Huyana, Fashion Line.
  • Tom: Elusive Exclusive, Fashion Line, Huyana.

Fourth race. Training flat for amateur or apprentice jockeys going 1 1/2 miles. Four go in the finale, by which time the better cheddar dip and champagne will be gone. Right Tempo and Freddie Procter (36 U.S. riding wins) meets Prophets Voice and Virginia Korrell (five), Go Take Charge and Phoebe Fisher (zero) and L’Avvocato and Hunter Holme (zero). Frankel gelding L’Avvocato, bred in France, cost $206,000 as a yearling. Go Take Charge was second on the turf at Laurel in November.

  • Joe: Right Tempo, Prophets Voice, L’Avvocato.
  • Sean: Right Tempo, Prophet’s Voice, Go Take Charge.
  • Tom: L’Avvocato, Right Tempo, Prophets Voice.