Catching up at Charleston

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Been a while. I’ve started many of these with those words, usually, following them with a vow to write more, write better. Not sure it’s ever happened.

The steeplechase season has wound down, a fun day at Charleston closing it out. Not exactly the Colonial Cup, but an important card, rewarding horses and horsemen who stayed the course. With a four-month break every winter, winter money is important and Charleston provided as much as it could. Thank you, Toby Edwards and your team.  

Down Royal avenged the ransacking she endured at Far Hills to win the 3-year-old feature, Riverdee’s sixth win of the year. There is nothing like putting away a jumper in November and thinking about April. Beyond thinking, yearning. Alas, we stay calm, as Steve Asmussen said about Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner early in his career, “You temper your enthusiasm as much as you can because of the multitudes, the billions of things that can happen with a racehorse.

Amen, brother.

Alex Leventhal and L’Aigle Royal won the Ann Barker SOTA Apprentice Rider race. A concept SOTA created for the 2017 season, we hosted two races this year, offering opportunities to horses and jockeys who had been pushing water up a hill. Leventhal replaced water with two bottles of whiskey, two silver plates, two crystal vases, a check for $6,000 and a memory forever. Oh there was water, when a gaggle of pros doused the amateur with a cooler of ice. Welcome to the club, Alex.

As for Ann Barker, she was a steeplechase enthusiast through and through, writing about the sport for the Daily Racing Form, the Chronicle of the Horse and anywhere else she could. She died in 2011. The race was a good way to salute a woman who loved this crazy game we play.

Beyond Down Royal and L’Aigle Royal…

Ricky and Wendy Hendriks completed a stellar year as Say No Maux won the maiden claimer. No trainer simplifies a maiden claimer like Hendriks. Ross Geraghty gunned the 4-year-old to the lead, blitzed the first quarter-mile, then slowed it down and won in a canter.

Veteran Manchurian High toyed with five rivals in the maiden hurdle, owned and trained by Forrest Kelly, the 9-year-old pushed his career earnings to over $500,000. Kelly watched the chestnut gelding from the metal scaffolding (complete with dripped concrete) and implored Lia McGuirk, who had her head in her hands, to watch. “Come on, Lia, you’ve got to see this.” McGuirk, shank dangling from her shoulder, shook her head, boring holes in the metal floor. She didn’t look up until Manchurian High had scampered clear – safely and securely.

By the end of the day, McGuirk won her own race, guiding On Tenterhooks to an easy score in the training flat race. She watched all of that one.