Michael A. Smith’s Mercoeur drew clear to a two-length victory in Montpelier’s $35,000 Noel Laing Handicap on Saturday and provided jockey Darren Nagle some breathing room atop the National Steeplechase Assocation’s jockey standings.
French-bred Mercoeur, trained by Leslie Young, came home ahead of stablemate Andi’amu, who had laid down the early pace in the 2 1/2-mile race over the Virginia course’s natural brush fences. Kieran Norris, the 2016 jockey champion, was aboard Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, also a French-bred.
Robert A. Kinsley’s Lyonell finished third, 6 1/4 lengths farther back, in a field of six. Mercoeur, most recently fourth to rising star Zanjabeel in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle on Oct. 21, ran the Noel Laing distance in 4:34.20 on turf rated as soft.
Nagle also won the previous race, the $25,000 Montpelier Cup for fillies and mares, aboard Amy Taylor Rowe’s Lady Blanco, also trained by Young. He had entered the Montpelier card with a one-race advantage over Sean McDermott, who rode one winner at the Steeplechase at Callaway. McDermott has a sizable advantage in the race for the money-won title, which he won last year.