By Tod Marks
Whether you were there in person or watching the live stream, Thursday’s $150,000 Lonesome Glory hurdle stakes at Belmont Park was a race fans will be talking about for a long time. The showdown between the quirky, but freakishly talented mare and steeplechasing’s most formidable star lived up to the pre-race hype as the pair left the rest of the seven-horse field in the dust to hook up in a spirited stretch duel.
Sent off at 4-5 favoritism, Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision, the starting 164-pound highweight riding a record-tying nine race win streak that began more than two years ago, was content to lag at the back of the pack under Graham Watters as the starter dropped the flag.
Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well, a Saratoga novice stakes winner, grabbed the lead from the start of the 2 ½-mile contest under Tom Garner, with Irv Naylor’s Amschel, and Barry Foley, following closely in second. Buttonwood Farm’s The Mean Queen, sent off as the 3-2 second choice and toting 157 pounds including jockey Richie Condon, settled into third. Bodes Well continued to control the pace, leading by as little as a length and as much as six to eight lengths as the field traveled over the capacious Belmont oval the first lap and a half. Throughout most of the going, the rest of the field remained very closely bunched, with only about six lengths separating them as Bodes Well showed the way.
As the horses rounded the clubhouse turn and headed up the backside the final time, The Mean Queen got a bit anxious to move up. Watters soon asked Snap Decision for some acceleration, too, as he moved up alongside The Mean Queen, about a length behind on her outside.
At this point, Garner and Bodes Well, who appeared to be running easily, had a fairly comfortable five-length cushion, which they increased to about eight lengths entering the far turn. That’s when the two favorites got into gear, digging into Bodes Well’s lead.
Coming out of the turn and straightening for home, the pair quickly separated themselves from the stragglers, took aim at Bodes Well and, in the words of NYRA racecaller Frank Mirahmadi “gobbled” him up.
And that’s when Mirahmadi uttered the words everyone was thinking: “And here’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”
With The Mean Queen on the inside and Snap Decision on the outside, the duo battled head to head, as Mirahmadi proclaimed, “what a race this is one is.” Finally, with about a sixteenth of a mile to go, the five-year-old Irish mare, who began her career just 10 months earlier, pulled away by two lengths under strong urging.
Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean was nine lengths behind Snap Decision in third; Irv Naylor’s Amschel was fourth.
The victory was The Mean Queens’ second straight grade one, following the Jonathan Sheppard last month. Snap Decision owns one G1 this season, the prestigious Iroquois in Nashville in June; he also captured the G2 Temple Gwathmey at the Middleburg Spring Races in Virginia.
Since 1971, the only female to win the Eclipse Award for champion steeplechaser is Life’s Illusion, back in 1975.
What’s next for this dynamic duo?
The morning after the race, Keri Brion, who trains the winner, said, “she seems great, so I think we’ll give everyone what they want and have another rematch at Far Hills (NJ) in the grade one,” referring to the Grand National on Oct. 16. “I was toying with the novice or mares’ race, but as long as she is training well and is doing as well as she was before the Lonesome Glory, we’ll go to the grade one.”
After that, The Mean Queen will get some time off, and the team is tentatively contemplating a run at the Dublin racing festival in Ireland in February and then onto the world’s biggest jump-racing stage, the Cheltenham Festival in England in March.
Bruton Street’s Michael Hankin, owner of Snap Decision, applauded the winning connections. “The Mean Queen is a very impressive horse. Well done to Keri and her team.”
And in the Entenmann…
Leslie Kopp’s Ritzy A.P., trained by Neil Morris and ridden by Graham Watters, captured his first stake in only his fourth career start over hurdles in Thursday’s $75,000 William Entenmann Novice Stakes at Belmont.
The seven-year-old son of English Channel (and grandson of A.P. Indy) broke his maiden by daylight at Colonial Downs in July and finished fourth in his allowance debut, at Saratoga, on Aug. 4, prior to his breakout performance in the Entenmann.
Sent off as the $4.50-1 third choice, Ritzy A.P. was well placed throughout, and started making up ground on leader Booby Trap nearing the final turn. He took command nearing the eighth pole, and drew clear by 7 1/4 lengths under a light drive.
Ritzy A.P. made the transition to jump racing after a successful career on the flat, where the Calumet-bred hit the board multiple times in graded stakes competition and earned more than $300,000.
But the race was not without tragedy. Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Bucko, winner of the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga in July, suffered a fatal injury while taking a jump early in the race. Perfect Tapatino also went down in the mishap, and was retrieved by a NYRA outrider. His jockey, Barry Foley, was OK, as was Baltimore Bucko’s rider, Richie Condon.
Afterwards, trainer Keri Brion posted this tribute on Facebook: “Thank you Baby Bucko. Your time here was cut way too short but you will always be my first Grade 1 winner. You brought me and your owners and my whole staff so much joy. The barn favorite to ride, and the biggest heart in the barn. I will miss seeing that face when I look out the door from my office.”