By Tod Marks
Saturday’s eight-race card at Shawan Downs in Cockeysville, Md., was a reminder of what makes steeplechase racing at the hunt meets a day of glorious family fun. Fans picnicking under the bright blue autumn sky in a picture-perfect setting of rolling hills and trees, kids enjoying the stick-pony races, and the non-stop excitement of top-flight athletes competing for purse money and prestige.
The $100,000 card consisted of four 2 mile hurdle events, a pair of timber races at 3 ⅛ miles, and two flat training races at 1 ⅜ miles.
In the opener, a $15,000 hurdle for 3-year-olds, The Fields Stable sent out Circus, a gelded son of Runhappy, to win at first asking, defeating six rivals under Eddie Keating by 7 1/4 length for trainer Elizabeth Voss. Running like a veteran, Circus, exiting a three-race career on the flat, jumped professionally and drew off over Ashwell Stable LLC’s Cup of Aiken, who was making her first career start, for trainer Leslie Young and jockey Gerard Galligan. Cup of Aiken is a daughter of Brilliant Match. Both Brilliant Match, winner of the 2014 Mrs. Walter Jeffords Stakes at Saratoga, and Cup of Aiken were Jonathan Sheppard homebreds.
Here’s lookin’ at you, kid
Bogey’s Image, a 4-year-old Maryland-bred, broke his maiden in his fourth career start, taking the second race, a $15,000 open maiden hurdle, by 4 1/4 lengths for trainer-rider Sean McDermott.
Owned by Daniel Colhoun, Achsah O’Donovan, and Harvey Goolsby, Bogey’s Image made his first start at the Steeplechase of Charleston last November, followed by two 2021 races, at Radnor and Colonial Downs. On Saturday, with a little more experience under his belt, Bogey’s Image put it all together.
After stalking Irv Naylor’s O Dionysus, the race leader, for about 1 3/4 miles, Bogey’s Image took command with two fences to go and prevailed in a driving finish. William Marlow’s Hail Michigan, ridden by Teddy Davies and trained by his dad, Joe, finished second.
Step to the Bar makes his first win an historic one
After a close second at Colonial Downs on Aug. 30, Del Rio Chasers’ Step to the Bar, trained by Kate Dalton and ridden by her husband, Bernie, broke through to score in the second division of the $15,000 open maiden hurdle.
After racing near the back of the eight-horse field for about 1 1/2 miles, the 5-year-old Louisiana-bred closed strongly under the veteran reinsman, dueling Riverdee Stable’s Queens Empire over the last fence, and drawing clear by 2 1/4 lengths.
The victory was the 100th on the National Steeplechase Association circuit for Dalton, who earned his first one in 2004. In his long career, Dalton has ridden in 922 races, and has 133 seconds and 134 thirds to go along with his victories. Among his many top runners are G1 winners Pierrot Lunaire, Diplomat, Red Letter Day, Italian Wedding, and Bon Fleur, along with other stable stars Cat Feathers, Belisarius, African Oil, Down Royal, and Orchid Princess.
The win also was a first for Del Rio Chasers, a syndicate consisting of NSA stalwart Gigi Lazenby and more than a dozen friends.
West Newton triumphs in $25,000 handicap
Since coming over from the UK two years ago, Upland Flats Racing’s West Newton has made nine starts over jumps, in maiden claiming, maiden special weights, and allowance events.
Still looking for his first victory as the 2021 season began, the 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy has now put together three straight impressive performances, starting with a 10-length maiden triumph at Colonial Downs in Virginia on Aug. 2, followed by a third-place finish at 11-1 — beaten just 3 3/4 lengths — by Booby Trap in a Saratoga allowance on Sept. 2.
At Shawan, jockey Skylar McKenna was content to let her charge sit back in fifth of six for 1 ½ miles, advanced to third with a quarter mile to go, and drew off powerfully to score by 8 1/2 lengths for trainer Ricky Hendriks in the handicap for horses rated at 120 or lower.
Schoodic runs down Tomgarrow in $20,000 timber allowance
At a time when many horses have been retired or lost a step or two, Dolly Fisher’s scintillating Schoodic is still going strong.
The 11-year-old son of Tiznow won for the thirteenth time in his magnificent 46-race career, inching nearer to the half-million-dollar mark in earnings for Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher.
With Connor Hankin aboard, the eight-time stakes winner over both hurdles and timber, was patiently rated in the middle of the five-horse field throughout most of the race.
Entering the stretch, in fact, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow, who was victorious over the Shawan timber course last year, looked like a winner, with a commanding advantage over both Schoodic and his stablemate Storm Team. At the final fence, Tomgarrow was in front by a wide margin, but tired badly as Schoodic dug in and overtook his rival near the wire, scoring by 1 3/4 lengths.
Elusive Exclusive posts come-from-behind score in timber maiden
Making his first U.S. start after coming over from Ireland, Black and Blue Stables’ Elusive Exclusive rated well in the field of nine, moved into fifth position after 2 1/2 miles, and drew within a length of the leader, Jeremy Batoff’s Elucidation, entering the stretch.
With Tom Garner aboard for trainer Leslie Young, Elusive Exclusive closed strongly after the final fence to catch Elucidation and draw clear by 3 lengths. It was the 8-year-old son of Elusive Pimpernel’s first victory in 27 tries.
Hawkins, Elliot score with Mekong on the flat
In the first of the two training races, 14 went to the post, and at the wire it was Greg Hawkins’ Mekong the winner, under Skylar McKenna, by a length over Debbie Kachel’s Pony Up, with Courtney Dankanich in the saddle.
Mekong, a 5-year-old son of Jump Start and Hawkins’ The Grey Express, who captured the 2013 Mrs. Walter Jeffords Stakes at Saratoga for the owner and trainer Janet Elliot, took the lead at the start and never looked back.
Iranistan’s little brother makes his mark
In the finale on the flat, fans got the chance to witness the NSA debut of Sleight of Hand, a 3-year-old half brother to stakes winner Iranistan. After a seven-race career — and four in-the-money finishes — at Remington, Lonestar, and Oaklawn parks, Sleight of Hand joined Ed Swyer’s Hudson River Farm and trainer Keri Brion less than three weeks ago.
In the a dramatic finish, Sleight of Hand, under Parker Hendriks, outdueled S. Rebecca Shepherd’s Ahnaf, and Gerard Galligan, by a half length, with Greg Hawkins’ Saigon, the younger half sister to Mekong, who took the preceding flat race at Shawan, a close third.
Both Iranistan, 7, and Sleight of Hand are out of the Kentucky-bred mare Miss Vindictive, who enjoyed modest success on the NYRA circuit for trainer John Hertler in 2010 and 2011 in maiden and claiming ranks.
Full results on the NSA website: nationalsteeplechase.com/results/