Inaugural Sheppard Stakes Draws Intriguing Field

Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Bucko, Tom Garner, up, won the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga in July. Photo by Tod Marks

By Tod Marks

Take four of the runners who competed in the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga last month, the winner and runnerup from the $75,000 Jonathan Kiser novice stakes, along with the horse that looked like a sure thing until an ‘oops’ moment in the stretch, then mix in an up-and-coming young jumper along with a European newcomer making his NSA debut, and you’ve got the makings of a thrilling way to honor trainer Jonathan Sheppard in Wednesday’s first running of a grade-one race named in his honor.

It’s only fitting that one of the most prestigious jewels in American steeplechasing now carries the name of its most revered and accomplished ambassador. The $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard, at 2 ⅜ miles, was previously known as the New York Turf Writers Cup, a race Sheppard dominated a remarkable 15 times. Overall, it’s the 80th running of the historic event.

Sheppard-protégé and longtime assistant Keri Brion will saddle half the Sheppard field, including three her boss conditioned before his retirement. Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Bucko earned his first stakes score with a six-length tally in the Smithwick on July 22, which came on the heels of a successful winter campaign in Ireland in which the five-year-old hit the board three times. Baltimore Bucko is the 156-pound high weight, giving four to 14 pounds to his seven rivals. Buttonwood’s The Mean Queen, a five-year-old mare, appeared to be on her way to an easy win in the Kiser when she unseated rider Tom Garner in deep stretch. Garner is the regular rider of both, and will be aboard The Mean Queen, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, for the Sheppard. Richard Condon will ride her stablemate.

When The Mean Queen faltered, Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well, who sat in second, was ready to pounce, rolling to a 4 ½-length win over Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer in the Kiser. While Bodes Well isn’t in Wednesday’s field, his trainer, Leslie Young, has entered another solid performer in Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean. The six-year-old finished fourth in the Smithwick, his first start since running second to Rashaan, also trained by Young, in the 2020 Turf Writers Cup, where the duo upset champion Moscato. Gerard Galligan, who rode Bodes Well in the Kiser, has the mount on Redicean. Galligan has captured the last two Spa steeplechases.

Brion’s two other starters are Irv Naylor’s French Light and A Silent Player. French Light enters the race off a career-best performance, a second in the Smithwick, following a demanding winter and spring in Ireland. French Light was second at Clonmel over heavy ground, and put in a determined effort at Punchestown on soft ground to finish second against Cheltenham-quality horses, which took a lot out of him. Last year, A Silent Player began his career with a pair of victories, in a maiden and handicap race. He also finished second to French Light in a Spa allowance in 2020. In the Kiser, his first race since then, he was fifth. Jamie Bargary rides French Light; Barry Foley, A Silent Player.

The aforementioned City Dreamer, who is looking for his first victory since the Marcellus Frost novice stakes at the 2019 Iroquois Races, is back for another try, as is his Riverdee stablemate, Gibralfaro. Both are trained by recent Hall of Fame inductee Jack Fisher. Gibralfaro, an accomplished two-time stakes winner who finished second in the 2019 Turf Writers Cup to eventual Eclipse-Award winner Winston C, is enjoying a productive season, having finished third in the Smithwick, second in the G2 David Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow, and second in an allowance at Middleburg Spring. Parker Hendriks rides City Dreamer; Graham Watters, Gibralfaro.

The wild card in the mix is Del Rio Racers’ Recent Revelations, trained by Ricky Hendriks and ridden by Harrison Beswick. A veteran of 23 starts — and nine top-three finishes — in Ireland, England and Scotland for Gordon Elliott, the six-year-old enjoyed his biggest success in the 2020 Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle (G3) at Cheltenham, finishing fourth under Davy Russell in a 22-horse field. Hendriks acquired Recent Revelations from Elliott, with whom he has a longstanding relationship, in late July, and the horse has been prepping at the trainer’s Pennsylvania farm. Elliott thought the Irish-bred was better suited to American hurdle racing vs. European steeplechase fences, where he struggled. 

So far, Hendriks likes what he sees, and when asked why shoot for the moon in a major stake when Recent Revelations remains eligible for a non-winners of two, he responded, “What the heck; you only live once.”

Whatever the outcome, Recent Revelations is prepared for his U.S. debut on the big stage at Saratoga. He’ll be ridden by Harrison Beswick, who has gotten invaluable advice on how to ride the horse from Russell, a three-time Irish jump-racing champion jockey, two-time victor in the English Grand National, and winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Post time is 1:05 p.m. You can watch the race live via the NSA web site:
The full entries can be found here:

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