Last Stop

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Off to Camden in a few hours for the Colonial Cup. Prime Prospector runs in the Hobkirk Hill. Promised Destiny runs on the flat. The former aims for his third win of the year, while stepping up against the likes of All Together and other more established horses. The latter aims for his third win of the year as well, taking a spin at a mile and a half on the flat, a distance we’ve been seeking since we bought the son of Arch. He takes on Chester Cup winner Address Unknown. I sent the past performances to a client, he replied with two words, “Interesting group.” Indeed.

The Colonial Cup, as always, serves as the finale to the season. For some, it’s the crescendo. For others, it’s simply the end. Steeplechasing, for better or worse, offers an off season. A time to recharge and regroup. It’s a long season, a long road. The Colonial Cup is the destination. Get there safe and get out safe and it’s been a good year.

The last year I rode, 2000, I had a fall at Far Hills. I knew I couldn’t complete that card but knew I needed to complete my career at Camden. It was the only solace. In American steeplechasing, it’s where you finish your career, where you walk away. It holds a special place for a lot of people, whether they won there, retired there or simply rode there. With good horses on a demanding course without a hill or dale to slow the speed, Springdale puts a lump in the throat of anybody who’s played there. 

Some of my best and worst memories in racing, sometimes in the same day and the same race, have come at Camden.

In the spring, it’s the Carolina Cup. In the fall, it’s the Colonial Cup. Both big races, the spring stakes starts a season, pads a career. The fall stakes ends a season, makes a career.

Castleworth in the Carolina Cup. I was 21, in college, figuring I’d ride him for fifth and make $150 worth of beer money. I had watched a film of Make Azilian winning the Hobkirk Hill the year before, I mean watched it and watched it and watched it. After a thousand viewings, I noticed Castleworth lose his jockey at the last fence down the back, he was going well at the time, I called for the ride because of that VHS tape. He was meant to carry 130, I dieted hard, sat in a sauna the night before as Joe and Peter Walsh laughed at me for riding a no hoper and got within the 10-pound limit of overweight. He was electric, winning for fun. Richard Valentine, assistant for trainer Rusty Carrier at the time, took me to the start aboard King Spruce. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I pulled up in the corner of Springdale.

To Ridley in the Carolina Cup. I was 26, halfway through my career, it needed to happen, it was meant to happen. I felt like I owed Jack Fisher and Mr. and Mrs. Dixon a big one. The horse was a machine. I won two that day, fell in the last and wound up in the hospital with a concussion. I remembered I won the Carolina Cup when I saw a replay of the race on the TV in my hospital room, I had no memory of it before that. After being released that night, Toby Edwards gave me his dinner at the restaurant on Broad Street.

Rowdy Irishman in the Colonial Cup. The best and worst in the 1997 Colonial Cup. In the best race I ever rode (not the best race I ever rode), Rowdy plugged away for two and three quarter miles, inside Gus Brown on Leandro for the entire trip, I was off the bridle as we turned down the back and he kept plugging, plugging, plugging. He was a bicycle, keep peddling, he’d keep going. Turning for home, every jockey in the race (Kiser, Kingsley, C. Miller, Thornton…) thought they were on the winner. We touched down at the last, I got through on the inside of Master McGrath and tasted my first Colonial Cup. Then Lonesome Glory – the best I ever rode against – sensed the challenge, saw his bay head and spurted, just a neck, but it was sealed. The champ had him measured, a half length in the books, a lifetime in my heart.

I never did win the Colonial Cup.