By Tod Marks
This weekend’s Willowdale Races in Kennett Square, Pa., were chock full of inspirational story lines. Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River, an eight-year-old son of Bellamy Road, remained a maiden for five seasons and 25 races, until his breakthrough victory at My Lady’s Manor in April. On Saturday, the Willie Dowling-trainee captured his first stake, the $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase, in a thrilling stretch duel with Dolly Fisher’s highly accomplished Schoodic, prevailing by a neck under Eddie Keating.
Not only did Louisiana-bred win, but he did so in style, going wire to wire in the three-and-a-half mile timber event, having enough left in the tank to hold off Schoodic, who finished strongly under Hadden Frost for newly elected Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher. In another solid performance, Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, with Skylar McKenna aboard, was third, beaten just a neck for the place spot.
After the race, Dowling talked about Renegade River’s turnaround: “He’s 17 hands and has just been taking time to grow into his body. We did kissing spine surgery on him last year and that’s really improved his jumping. My vet, Elizabeth Klebe, has been a great help for him. Also, Eddie Keating rides him with so much confidence. I went into Saturday’s race thinking he could be second to Schoodic. Eddie took it to them right from the start. I’m so happy for (owner) Jay (Griswold) and part-owner Guy Dove. They’re great men for our sport.”
Boucher earns first sanctioned victory
Mell Boucher, the daughter of horsemen Richard and Lilith Boucher, recorded her first National Steeplechase Association win in the second race, a maiden claimer, aboard Kuhn’s Dominion’s Ismusbemyluckyday, trained by her mom.
Boucher and Ismusbemyluckyday stalked pacesetter Lemon Again in second for the first mile and a half, took the lead with two jumps to go, and dug in through the stretch to defeat Irv Naylor’s West Newton, a five-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy making only his third U.S. start. Boucher’s win comes in her ninth sanctioned start on the NSA circuit, according to Equibase.
Other young riders — and their trainer moms — also enjoyed success at Willowdale on Mother’s Day weekend. In the opener, a claiming hurdle race for apprentice jockeys, owner-trainer Kathy Neilson found the winner’s circle with Mighty Mark, ridden by daughter Skylar McKenna. It was the fourth win of the season for both. Neilson is currently the leading trainer while McKenna is third among jockeys in wins.
Meanwhile, it was also a family affair for owner-trainer Sanna Neilson, Kathy’s sister. Sanna saddled He’ll Do to a two-and-three-quarter-length tally over Riverdee Stable’s Gostibehere in the third race, a handicap for horses rated at 110 or less. Son Parker Hendriks was aboard for the win in the highly competitive contest. Three of the eight competitors came into the race off of wins — Gostisbehere, Be Counted, Decisive Triumph — and a fourth, Animal Kingston, ran a huge race at Middleburg a week earlier, finishing a half length behind Repeat Repeat.
Another member of the Hendriks clan, McLane, rode William Russell’s Holiday Mousse to victory in the first division of the Landhope Cup maiden timber for trainer Neil Morris. After making the transition from flat racing, Holiday Mousse won his first two over hurdles in the spring of 2018. He didn’t run in 2019, and competed only once last year before Saturday’s return.
Eddie Keating captured his second race on the card with Riverdee Stable’s Include It, fresh off an allowance score at the Grand National Races last month for trainer Todd Wyatt, with a last-to-first run in the Marshall W. Jenney Memorial Foxhunter’s Chase for apprentice riders. The victory gave Eddie five on the season, one behind Graham Watters.
Watters took the second division of the Landhope Cup with Merriefield Farms and Jeffrey Amling’s My Afleet, who zipped to a 10-length win over Kinross Farm’s Great Road. The win was also trainer Mark Beecher’s third of the spring. In reviewing the overall standings, Watters has had a remarkable season so far. To go along with his six wins, Watters has five seconds and four thirds. That’s 15 of 17 in-the-money finishes.
Full results can be found here: nationalsteeplechase.com/results/