Across the Sky, who streaked to a runaway victory in the Grand National on April 17, will attempt to carry his speed over the testing four miles and imposing fences of the $75,000 Maryland Hunt Cup, Saturday’s conclusion of the annual Maryland timber-racing series. Fritz Boniface again will be in the saddle as Holbrook Hollow Farm’s eight-year-old Valley Crossing gelding goes to the start with 13 other battle-tested timber competitors in the 114th Hunt Cup in Glyndon.
The historic timber race is one of the highlights of a busy afternoon of National Steeplechase Association-sanctioned jump racing. The $50,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase is on tap at the Queen’s Cup Steeplechase in Mineral Springs, N.C.; the Atlanta Steeplechase offers the $30,000 RBC Wealth Management Georgia Cup; and the $25,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial will be the feature at the 33rd annual Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville, Va. The Queen’s Cup and Foxfield Spring programs will be available for viewing through video streaming. Each has a 1:30 p.m. first post time. (See video links at left.)
Trained by Jack Fisher, Across the Sky made all the running in the Grand National and scored an easy, 20-length victory when his closest challenger, Incomplete, fell at the final fence. Private Attack, who finished second in the 3 1/4-mile Grand National for a second straight year after winning the race in 2008, also returns in the Hunt Cup.
Irvin S. Naylor’s Askim, a 14-year-old New Zealand-bred gelding, will attempt to collect a second Maryland Hunt Cup trophy. He and jockey Charles Fenwick III scored a one-length victory over Coal Dust in the 2008 Hunt Cup, with Mr Liberator finishing third. All three will face the starter in this year’s edition of the Hunt Cup.
Second in last year’s Mason Houghland Memorial at the Iroquois Races in Nashville, Tenn., Askim tuned up for the Hunt Cup with a fourth-place finish behind South Monarch in the My Lady’s Manor at Monkton on April 10. He is trained by Ann Stewart, and Fenwick will again ride him.
Armata Stables’ Coal Dust has made only one start since the ’08 Hunt Cup, a narrow victory over Private Attack in last year’s Grand National. The 11-year-old Maryland-bred Miner’s Mark gelding is trained by Tom Voss.
Coming into the Hunt Cup from a hard-fought victory in the Benjamin H. Murray Memorial on the Grand National program at Butler on April 17 is Jeremy Batoff’s Prospectors Strike, who ran down Native Mark and won by a half-length. Trained by Jack Fisher, the 11-year-old Smart Strike gelding will be ridden by Justin Batoff.
Native Mark, owned by Kiplin Hall and trained by Paddy Neilson, also was entered for the Hunt Cup. The 11-year-old Native Regent gelding will be ridden by Jake Chalfin.
Left Unsaid seeks to make statement
Left Unsaid, emphatic winner of the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle in his most recent start, carries high weight of 156 pounds in a well-balanced field of seven for the $50,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase, the stakes-race highlight of Saturday’s 15th annual Queen’s Cup Steeplechase at Brooklandwood Race.
Racing in the silks of 2009 leading National Steeplechase Association owner The Fields Stable, Left Unsaid reigned as the ’09 first-year novice champion. Under the care of trainer Tom Voss, the five-year-old Dynaformer gelding sealed his title with a four-length score in the Foxbrook in Far Hills, N.J., on October 17 after finishing second in the Metcalf Memorial Novice Hurdle at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Earlier in the season, he won the Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Left Unsaid will face stiff competition in the Queen’s Cup MPC ‘Chase, a part of the Sport of Kings series for up-and-coming competitors over fences. Mattie Batchelor, one of two overseas jockeys competing in the Queen’s Cup races, has the mount of Bill Pape’s Dugan, who carries 153 pounds in the 2 1/4-mile race. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, the six-year-old Forest Wildcat gelding won the $25,000 Southern Bank and Trust Holiday Cup at the Aiken Fall Races in South Carolina last October.
Sheppard also entered Mrs. Calvin Houghland’s Nationbuilder, who will be ridden by Danielle Hodsdon. The Came Home gelding won a maiden special weight race over fences at Saratoga in July and carries 150 pounds in the Queen’s Cup.
Sharing the 153-pound weight assignment with Dugan will be William D. Fossett’s homebred You the Man, who is trained by Todd J. Wyatt and ridden by Jody Petty. The five-year-old Lear Fan gelding won the Jonathan Kiser Novice Steeplechase at Saratoga in August.
Undoubtedly the most intriguing horse in the Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase is Best Alibi, a seven-year-old King’s Best gelding owned by Irvin S. Naylor and trained by Desmond Fogarty. At three, the Irish-bred won the Skybet York Stakes, a Group 2 flat race in England, and finished third in the Budweiser Irish Derby, a Group 1 race.
Best Alibi won his maiden victory over fences last November at the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens in Georgia and will be ridden in the Queen’s Cup by Darren Nagle. He will share a 150-pound impost with Nationbuilder, Ambersham, and Here Comes Art.
Mrs. S. K. Johnston Jr.’s Ambersham won the $50,000 Harry E. Harris Hurdle at Far Hills last year. He is handled by champion trainer Jack Fisher and will be ridden by Willie Dowling. Here Comes Art will be ridden by Jimmy McCarthy, the other overseas jockey participating in the Queen’s Cup.
Dictina’s Boy returns for second try at Georgia Cup
Dictina’s Boy, narrowly second a year ago, returns Saturday for a second chance to win the $30,000 RBC Wealth Management Georgia Cup, featured race of the 45th annual Atlanta Steeplechase at Kingston Downs in Rome, Ga.
Beaten a nose in the 2009 Georgia Cup, Dictina’s Boy will face a select group of opponents in his first start of the year for owners Riverdee Stable and Thomas Miscannon. Trained by Tom Voss, the eight-year-old With Approval gelding will carry 148 pounds for the two-mile RBC Wealth Management Georgia Cup. He scored a breakthrough victory last fall when he won the $50,000 Appleton Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J., by 7 1/4 lengths.
Carrying the 156-pound high weight under the Georgia Cup’s conditions will be Mrs. S. K. Johnston Jr.’s Swagger Stick, who finished second in the $45,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup at the season-opening Aiken Steeplechase at Aiken, S.C., on March 20. Under the care of reigning champion trainer Jack Fisher, the nine-year-old Cozzene gelding had closed out last season with a victory in an allowance hurdle race at the Palm Beach Steeplechase in Florida on November 28.
Second in the weights at 152 pounds is Mrs. George M. Sensor’s Sunshine Numbers, who earlier this month was crowned as the champion New York-bred steeplechase horse of 2009. The Polish Numbers gelding, trained by former jockey Arch Kingsley Jr., opened the current season with a fourth-place finish in the $75,000 Carolina First Carolina Cup at Camden, S.C., on March 27. Bernie Dalton again will be aboard Sunshine Numbers.
Trainer Jonathan Sheppard entered Bill Pape’s Sermon of Love, who carries 148 pounds. Richard Boucher has the mount. After winning his maiden victory on the flat at Saratoga Race Course last summer, Sermon of Love finished second in the prestigious New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga. The seven-year-old Pulpit gelding, bred by the late F. Eugene Dixon Jr., opened the 2010 season with a third-place finish in the Imperial Cup at Aiken.
Competitive field for Daniel Van Clief Memorial
Diva Maria will attempt to hit the high notes on Saturday when she faces a well-balanced field in the $25,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial, the featured contest of the 33rd annual Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville.
Owned by Arcadia Stable and prepared by champion trainer Jack Fisher, Diva Maria will share the Van Clief’s 155-pound high weight with Jellyberry and The Manner Born in a field of eight up-and-coming female competitors. The 2 1/8-mile Van Clief Memorial is a part of the National Steeplechase Association’s Sport of Kings Filly & Mare Division.
Diva Maria, a five-year-old Maria’s Mon mare bred in Virginia by Grace E. Ritzenberg, made only one start last year, a 4 1/2-length victory in a Sport of Kings maiden hurdle at the Carolina Cup meet in Camden, S.C. At Camden the previous fall, she had finished a good second in the Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial. Matt McCarron will ride Diva Maria in the Van Clief Memorial.
Champion jockey Paddy Young will be aboard Octoraro Stables’ Jellyberry, an eight-year-old With Approval mare trained by Bruce Miller. Jellyberry possesses ample speed and won the Guelph, a National Steeplechase Association flat race on Monmouth Park’s turf course last fall. She also finished second in the Valentine Memorial at Fair Hill, Md., and third in the Peapack-Guelph at Far Hills, N.J., last season.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard will send out Bill Pape’s The Manner Born, a six-year-old Waquoit mare. Bred by Sheppard, she will be making her first start of the year. Last season, she won a maiden claiming race at the Virginia Gold Cup meet in The Plains. Tom Foley will ride.
The youngest member of the field, four-year-old Ptarmigan, comes into the Van Clief Memorial from an impressive maiden victory at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase in Raeford, N.C., on April 3. Owned by Magalen O. Bryant and trained by Middleburg-based Doug Fout, the Unbridled Jet filly will carry 145 pounds. Jeff Murphy has the mount.