|The National Steeplechase Association spring season ended on a dramatic note on Saturday as the sport’s brightest star stood out on its biggest stage.|
By Tod Marks
|When you’ve reeled off nine straight victories over 25 months, it’s a big deal. When you do so with relative ease in stakes competition, fans start comparing you to some of the sport’s elite. When you descend from one of racing’s most renowned stables, those outside of your sport begin to take notice.|
Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision hasn’t lost a hurdle race since May 11, 2019, when the Jack Fisher-trainee was just transitioning from his flat racing career. On Saturday, the seven-year-old Phipps-bred son of Hard Spun equaled the streak of Will Farish’s Thrice Worthy, who won nine straight between April 1981 and May 1982.
That’s a number that has eluded some of the all-time greats. Good Night Shirt’s streak reached seven — though, incredibly, six were in Grade 1 stakes; McDynamo’s skein topped out at six, while Lonesome Glory took five, and Flatterer four. Of course, Snap Decision has an awful lot to prove before approximating the status of those legends, but he’s off to a nice start.
Snap Decision and jockey Graham Watters faced five rivals in the G1 $100,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois, the most formidable of whom — Footpad — fell early, and made his task infinitely easier. With the race reduced in distance from 3 miles to 2 3/4 because of concerns over hot weather when the race date was changed from mid-May to late June, Snap Decision stalked Armata Stable’s New Member along the inside, bid into far turn, took over entering that bend, and held sway, in the words of Equibase’s chart caller.
Held sway, indeed. At the wire, Snap Decision was three and a half lengths ahead of Irv Naylor’s Amschel, who ran well, but was no match. Naylor’s Bedrock was third. Snap Decision took the lead as he pleased, and Watters looked back at the field at the top of the stretch. Though he was clear at the last, Watters worked the reins to rouse his mount, then cruised across the wire.
|“Queen” for the day|
Snap Decision’s victory was one of many stellar performances on the seven-race card at Percy Warner Park, including another impressive outing by electrifying newcomer, Buttonwood Farm’s The Mean Queen.
The Mean Queen garnered international attention earlier this spring when she became the first winner for a U.S.-based conditioner in an Irish hurdle race. Afterwards, the trainer, Keri Brion, brought The Queen stateside, where she quickly established herself as a horse to watch with an eight-length blowout win against males in an allowance hurdle at Great Meadow.
On Saturday, The Mean Queen became a stakes winner and ran her career record to three wins in five starts with two seconds after taking the $25,000 Margaret Currey Henley for fillies and mares under Tom Garner.
Toting co-highweight of 151 pounds, the five-year-old daughter of Doyen stalked in fourth and fifth in the 10-horse field, made her move on the far turn, and drew clear in the upper stretch. At the wire, The Mean Queen was three and a half lengths clear of Joseph Fowler’s Down Royal. Kathy Neilson’s Bercasa, who trailed by 17 lengths after 1 1/2 miles, rallied for third, about six lengths behind the winner.
|Hail to the ‘Chief’|
Irv Naylor got off to a quick start at Iroquois, taking the first two on the card. Mighty Mark captured the opener, followed by a hard-fought win by Chief Justice in a three-way photo in the $50,000 Green Pastures novice stakes.
With Jamie Bargary riding for Cyril Murphy, Chief Justice was never far back in the 2 1/4 mile race, taking the lead in the stretch and holding off a hard-charging Baltimore Bucko to win by a head. Master Gunner, who unleashed a powerful drive, too, was a neck behind in third. It was another 15 lengths back to fourth-place finisher Fast Car.
It was Bargary’s third victory in 25 mounts since coming over from Europe this spring.
The start was Chief Justice’s eighth — all in stakes competition — since coming to the U.S. from the UK in 2019. It also was his first victory. He was a five-time winner in Europe, including a victory at the Grand National Festival at Aintree in 2019.
|In other action: Mighty Mark remains perfect|
Irv Naylor’s Mighty Mark, a five-year-old son of Temple City, kept his perfect record intact this spring, stepping up from the claiming ranks to score in the $20,000 Bright Hour handicap for horses rated at 115 or less. It was his third straight victory. Mighty Mark began 2021 with claiming victories at Willowdale and Great Meadow.
With regular rider Skylar McKenna in the saddle for trainer Kathy Neilson, Mighty Mark sat just off the pace for much of the 2 3/4 mile contest, then drew clear by four lengths over Del Rio Chasers’ Mr. Sarinana.
The win was McKenna’s sixth of the spring, good enough for fourth place among all jockeys. It was also Neilson’s sixth of the season. She remains in second place, behind Jack Fisher.
|Princeville prevails in thrilling stretch duel in Sloan|
After competing in his native New Zealand for three years, Princeville came to the U.S., where he made six starts in maiden hurdle events. In the first division of the $20,000 George and John Sloan Sr. maiden, Fearnought Farms’ seven-year-old finally enjoyed his breakthrough moment.
Never farther back than second throughout the 2 1/4 mile contest, Princeville and jockey Barry Foley charged over the last in tandem with Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams’ Market Bubble, collaring his foe to get up by a nose. Doug Fout trained the winner. The International Venture’s Howya Tuppence, who has put in strong efforts in each of his three career starts, was a close third under Dan Nevin.
Nevin, a young Irish rider, is returning home after a whirlwind three-month stint in the U.S., where he was three for 17, including a tremendous victory in the historic Maryland Hunt Cup aboard Vintage Vinnie in his very first mount.
|What a “Find”|
In only his second career start, The Rann Family’s Keri’s Find bested seven rivals by one and a quarter lengths in the second division of the $20,000 Sloan maiden hurdle.
Parker Hendriks, riding for trainer Keri Brion — the horse’s namesake — led early, drifted back to fourth, then launched a renewed bid in the upper stretch to overtake Apple Equipment’s Plenty in the Tank at the last fence.
The Rann Family is new to the NSA circuit, but owns Mill Farm Stud in Lincolnshire, England. Phillip Rann heard Brion’s interview on Racing TV when Irv Naylor’s French Light ran at Clonmel Race Course earlier this year, and was intrigued, so he reached out to her.
“We talked for a bit and he said he’d like to build a relationship and send over some horses to race in America,” Brion said. “So, he thought he’d buy one and see how it went.”
Rann asked Brion to find him a “fun horse for not much money” and she purchased the son of Presenting in Ireland. Barely 15.3 hands, Rann named him Keri’s Find, which embarrassed the trainer. Around the barn, the four-year-old is known as “Scooter,” but as Brion said, he proved himself to be a “little pocket rocket.”
|Storm Team storms to victory in Houghland|
An accomplished runner over hurdles — including a victory in the 2019 AFLAC Supreme Novice Stakes at Callaway Gardens — Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams’ Storm Team switched to timber last year, and promptly broke his maiden at Middleburg Spring.
After a couple of tough outings in stakes competition, the son of Candy Ride turned to the allowance ranks this season and reeled off two seconds, to Mystic Strike at Radnor and Motivational at the Queens Cup. At Iroquois, the seven-year-old went wire-to-wire in the 3-mile, $20,000 Mason Houghland timber allowance under Graham Watters, in a field that included former Eclipse-Award winning jumper Zanjabeel, Virginia Gold Cup runner-up Tomgarrow, and recent winners Rakhaa, Hafajay, and Motivational. Like Watters, the victory for Fisher was one of two on the card.
Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow, who was ninth after 2 1/2 miles, rallied at the far turn to finish second, beaten three lengths. The rest of the field was far behind.
The full results can be found here: www.nationalsteeplechase.com/results
To watch replays of all the races, visit www.nationalsteeplechase.com.