Le Chevalier Turns Back Time in Grand National

Michael A. Smith’s Le Chevalier, ridden by McLane Hendriks, won the 118th running of the Grand National timber stakes for trainer Julie Gomena. Tod Marks photo

By Tod Marks

Talk about a throwback feeling. On Saturday at the Grand National Races in the heart of Maryland timber racing country, it seemed as if it was 2016, 2018, or even 2019.

After last year’s event was cancelled due to Covid, fans were allowed to attend the races in Butler at 50 percent capacity, and the crowd was in a festive mood, while the star of the show was a 12-year-old whose glory days came years ago.

Michael A. Smith’s Le Chevalier has had a long, productive career, his crowning moments coming in the prestigious New Jersey Hunt Cup at the 2016 Far Hills Races and the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup Stakes at Virginia Fall two years later. On Saturday, the son of Broken Vow captured the featured $30,000 Grand National, the middle leg of the Maryland timber triple, taking command after 2 3/4 miles and drawing clear of Charlie Fenwick’s up-and-coming Royal Ruse by six lengths. McLane Hendriks rode the winner for trainer Julie Gomena. The victory raised Le Chevalier’s career earnings to $176,000, reaffirming his status as a solid and steady runner who has hit the board in 17 of his 33 lifetime starts.

It was a big day for Kathy Neilson, too. The NSA stalwart, who has a rich family legacy in equine sports dating back to the late 1800s, has been in the top 10 National Steeplechase Association trainers for 15 years. When Nancy A. Reed’s Awesome Adrian crossed the wire first in the $15,000 Benjamin H. Murray Memorial, it marked the Pennsylvania horsewoman’s 200th career training victory.

Neilson, an accomplished jockey before switching roles, cut her training teeth under Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard from 1991 to 1997. She saddled several horses on her own in 1991 and then again in 1996, and recorded her first victory when her stable began to grow in 1997. That first winner came at Fair Hill, where she saddled Double Dater — a horse she also owned — in a timber allowance. Double Dater gave Kathy her first stakes score, as well, in the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup in the fall of that year.

During her career, Neilson has trained both flat runners and jumpers, conditioning stakes winners over timber as well as hurdles. Her top horses include multiple stakes winner Young Dubliner, with whom she won the Maryland Hunt Cup, as well as Grade 1 winner Trebizond, Super Saturday, Mulahen, Raise A Storm, River Bed, Brinton Bridge, and Toughkenamon, winner of the Temple Gwathmey.

Awesome Adrian was one of two winners of the day for jockey Eddie Keating. The Irishman is off to a swift start this spring and now has three sanctioned scores, one more than Skylar McKenna and McLane Hendriks.

Keating, who enjoyed four trips to the winner’s circle at the Elkridge-Harford Point to Point earlier this month and racked up two more at Sunday’s Loudoun Point to Point in Virginia, took the finale on Saturday’s three-race Grand National card with Riverdee Stable’s Include It in the Western Run Plate II timber allowance for amateur riders/owners. 

Include It, trained by Todd Wyatt, dueled Jeffrey Amling & Merriefield Farm’s My Afleet, with Brett Owings, in the late stages of the 3 ¼-mile contest, gaining the advantage with a big jump at the last and drawing off by 4 ¼ lengths from My Afleet who bobbled at the final fence.

Click here for the full results: https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/GN-Results.pdf