Jonathan Sheppard’s longtime assistant runs one, two, and three in the inaugural running of Wednesday’s hurdle stake named after the legendary Hall of Fame trainer.
By Tod Marks
To run a horse at Saratoga is a big deal; to have a winner is something special. But when you capture the meet’s two historic grade one steeplechases, and take the win, place, and show spots in one of them, it’s a colossal feat. Something worthy of the master himself.
Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Bucko, one of Keri Brion’s four entries and the winner of the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick in July, took the lead at the start of the demanding 2 ⅜-mile contest over a yielding turf course, and led every step of the way over all nine hurdles under Richard Condon.
The eight-horse field was bunched up for most of the going, never appearing to be spread out by more than 10 or so lengths from front to back. But when the long grind over the flat began at the top of the backside turning for home, Baltimore Bucko’s Buttonwood Farm stablemate, The Mean Queen, the 4-5 favorite under Tom Garner, made her move on the outside, and the pair matched strides until the final furlong when the five-year-old mare took command and drew off to a 4 ¾-length score.
The victory was the fifth in seven starts, and could have been the sixth had The Mean Queen not tossed Garner in deep stretch with a big lead in the Jonathan Kiser novice stakes earlier in the meet. What’s more remarkable is that The Mean Queen hadn’t ever run in a single race until last November.
Baltimore Bucko, the 156-pound high weight (nine more than The Mean Queen), dug in gamely to hold off a third stablemate, Irv Naylor’s French Light, ridden by Jamie Bargary.
The 80th edition of the race formerly known as the New York Turf Writers Cup was contested as the Jonathan Sheppard, who retired in January, for the first time. It honors American steeplechasing’s most renown figure who won the Turf Writers Cup 15 times and trained at least one winner at the Spa every summer for 47 years.
Video replay from NYRA: https://youtu.be/nmmClOm9N4o