Morris, McDermott Shine on Colonial Finale

Irv Naylor's Choo Choo, with Graham Watters in the irons, gave trainer Neil Morris his seventh win over jumps for the year. Photo by Coady Photography

By Tod Marks

The 12-race summer steeplechase season at Colonial Downs came to a close today with a pair of $30,000 maiden hurdle events, each at two miles over the verdant New Kent, Va., turf course.

In the opener, Irv Naylor’s Choo Choo, a six-year-old son of English Channel and veteran of two dozen starts on the flat, mostly out West, stalked the pace set by Ballybristol Farm’s Cause for Pardon, rallied at the top of the stretch, drawing clear by two-and-a-quarter lengths under Graham Watters. It was the gelding’s second try over fences. Del Rio Chasers’ Step to the Bar, with Bernie Dalton, circled the seven-horse field on the final turn and put in a sustained rally to finish second.

Choo Choo, who was bred in Kentucky by Calumet Farm, is trained by Neil Morris, who quietly but spectacularly was a five-time winner at Colonial this summer, four of which came over hurdles. Morris has inched his way toward the top of the National Steeplechase Association trainer leaderboard, with seven victories in 2021. That ties him with Leslie Young and Kathy Neilson, and places him one behind Jack Fisher and Keri Brion. 

South Branch Equine’s Compass Zone gave Sean McDermott his first NSA victory as a trainer. ©Coady Photography

In the second division, South Branch Equine’s Compass Zone gave Sean McDermott his first NSA victory as a trainer. Leaving nothing to chance, McDermott also piloted the winner two a two-length tally over Ballybristol Farm’s The Flasche. After the race, McDermott said it was gratifying to both train and ride the winner after “too many seconds.”

A seven-year-old son of Hard Spun, Compass Zone dueled The Flasche for the lead from the get-go, and drew off by two lengths under strong urging by McDermott. The Flasche, with Tom Garner in the saddle, battled gamely to hold the place spot by three quarters of a length over Buttonwood Farm’s Lizzy, who rallied coming out of the final turn. For Compass Zone, it was his sixth straight top-three finish dating back to last October.

McDermott has been training both flat runners and jumpers over the past two seasons, and has 10 in-the-money finishes in 25 starts as a conditioner. As a jockey, the veteran has been a fixture on the NSA circuit since 2013, earning his first victory in his fifth mount, aboard Jonathan Sheppard’s Barnstorming in the Michael G. Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga. Overall, McDermott has 78 wins, 100 seconds, and 80 thirds in 588 mounts, with earnings of $3.4 million.

The full results can be found here:

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