When the 2019 National Steeplechase Association racing season concluded, Bruton Street-US reigned as the leading owner for the second time in three years, Jack Fisher was champion trainer for the eighth straight season, and Michael Mitchell graciously skipped the year’s final meet to end in a tie for the jockey championship with Jack Doyle.
As the pandemic-shortened spring 2020 season wrapped up on Saturday at the Virginia Gold Cup, Bruton Street-US leads the owner ranks, while Fisher and Mitchell had four wins apiece at Great Meadow to grab the top spots on their leader boards. Both also lead by earnings.
Coast-to-coast lockdowns to limit the spread of the new coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes went into effect shortly before the 2020 NSA season opened and forced the cancellation of all but two meets, Middleburg Spring and the Virginia Gold Cup, which were postponed to June from their respective dates in April and May.
Those Virginia meets were offered without spectators and under strict health and safety guidelines. In all, 21 races were offered to provide purse money for steeplechase horsemen after a most difficult spring.
Bruton Street had two wins, and they occurred in the two principal hurdle races, Middleburg’s Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 1) with Moscato on June 13 and Snap Decision in the Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial on Saturday.
Two-time timber champion Doc Cebu took command late in Saturday’s $40,000 Virginia Gold Cup and drew away with authority in the classic signature race of the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup races at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains.
Hudson River Farms’ Codrington College, who had led from the seventh fence to the next to last on the emerald Great Meadow course, finished second, 12 1/4 lengths behind Doc Cebu, and Irv Naylor’s Super Saturday finished third.
Ridden by Michael Mitchell, 2019’s co-champion jockey, Doc Cebu jumped strongly throughout the Virginia Gold Cup’s four miles and delivered a dominant victory for owners Charles Fenwick Jr., Mike Hankin, and Charles Noell.
The timber classic was the second straight stakes victory for the ownership team, which races other horses in the name of Bruton Street-US, which was 2019’s champion owner. A race earlier, Bruton Street’s Snap Decision scored a similarly dominant victory in the David Semmes Memorial over hurdles.
Both winners were saddled by champion trainer Jack Fisher.
The Virginia Gold Cup will present a strong lineup of races on Saturday, with two timber champions and an Eclipse Award winner among the 117 horses remaining eligible for the 10 races at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains.
In-person attendance will be limited to necessary personnel, and the races will be livestreamed beginning at 12:15 p.m. at http://nsa.network.video/. First post time is 12:30 p.m.
Andi’amu and Doc Cebu, timber champions who finished first and second, respectively, in the Middleburg Hunt Cup on June 13, again will test each other and five other opponents in the $40,000 Virginia Gold Cup at four miles.
Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu is defending his 2019 Virginia Gold Cup victory, a brilliant three-length score in which he set all the pace. Thomas Garner, who rode the French-bred to a geared-down 3¾-length win in the Middleburg Hunt Cup, again will ride for trainer Leslie Young.
Doc Cebu, owned by Charles Fenwick Jr., Mike Hankin, and Charles Noell, is one of four entrants from the barn of champion trainer Jack Fisher. In his only start last year, the Hard Spun gelding finished fourth in the Virginia Gold Cup, his first venture at four miles.
Michael Mitchell, the reigning co-champion jockey, has a return call aboard Doc Cebu, the timber champion in 2017 and 2018.
From the Virginia Gold Cup Association:
WARRENTON, Va., June 15, 2020—Having been rescheduled from May 2 to running without spectators on June 27, the Virginia Gold Cup is celebrating its 95th year. The event usually draws around 60,000 participants and its tailgate and hat contests are exceptional.
On Saturday, June 27, the Virginia Gold Cup will be livestreamed starting at 12:30 p.m. EDT. This is the first time the event has been run without spectators, due to COVID-19. Jockeys, trainers, grooms and only essential personnel are allowed on the race grounds. The livestream is available at no cost and may be seen at this link http://nsa.network.video/.
Typically, the Virginia Gold Cup is run in May on the same date as the Kentucky Derby, and is one of the largest steeplechase events in the nation. It has often been considered Virginia’s answer to the Kentucky Derby.
Virtual tailgate and hat entries will be accepted by uploading photos to Virginia Gold Cup social media: www.facebook.com/vagoldcup, www.instagram.com/virginiagoldcup/ or @vagoldcup. Be sure to include #vagoldcup2020. Entries must be sent by midnight Saturday, June 27. Winners will be selected by 5 p.m. on Monday, June 29 and notified on the week of June 29.
Steeplechase racing will be featured this summer with full lineups on tap at Saratoga Race Course and Colonial Downs.
Saratoga has scheduled nine hurdle races, and Colonial Downs will have 12 jump races during its season. Beginning in late July, the complementary programs at the two pari-mutuel tracks will provide racing opportunities for almost all hurdle divisions.
Saratoga’s program will spotlight the steeplechase sport’s stars and rising stars. The steeplechase action at the New York Racing Association track begins on Wednesday, July 22, with the Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes for horses in their first seasons of racing over fences.
The sport’s top division will be highlighted the following afternoon, Thursday, July 23, in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1).
Those divisions will be in action four weeks later in the Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes on Wednesday, Aug. 19, and the Saratoga meet’s signature jump race, the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1), on Thursday, Aug. 20.
An outstanding field that includes Eclipse Award champions Scorpiancer and Zanjabeel as well as novice champions Snap Decision and Iranistan will line up Saturday, June 27, for the $35,000 David Semmes Memorial, the featured hurdle race of the 95th Virginia Gold Cup.
Postponed from its traditional first Saturday in May date by the new coronavirus pandemic, the Virginia Gold Cup will be run without spectators at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, and livestreaming video coverage will be provided beginning at 12:15 a.m. The Virginia Gold Cup also is hosting virtual tailgating, hat, and trivia contests.
The meet’s timber-racing feature will be the $40,000 Virginia Gold Cup, which attracted champions Andi’amu and Doc Cebu.
The Semmes at 2 1/8 miles also boasts a top-tier field. Bruton Street-US’s Scorpiancer, the 2017 Eclipse champion, will be making his first start since a second-place finish in Far Hills’ Grand National (Gr. 1) last October.
After missing the 2018 season, the Irish-bred returned to win the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) for a second time in May 2019.