Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu, on the lead for much of Saturday’s $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup, turned back a strong challenge at the last fence by Le Chevalier and drew clear in the stretch to win the classic timber race by three lengths.
Michael A. Smith’s Le Chevalier, who had lingered toward the back of the seven-horse field for the first three miles of the four-mile Virginia Gold Cup, took second, 15 lengths clear of Irv Naylor’s Super Saturday in third.
Race favorite Doc Cebu, who had led briefly in the early stages, stumbled badly three fences out and nearly tossed jockey Hadden Frost. The two-time timber champion tried to make up ground into the last fences but tired and finished fourth, another three lengths back.
Trained by Leslie Young, Andi’amu benefited from a savvy ride by Jack Doyle, who allowed the nine-year-old to break easily and set the pace under light restraint over the first several fences.
Doc Cebu, trying four miles for the first time in his career, was clearly unhappy with Frost’s restraint and had his neck bowed through the early fences as Andi’amu showed the way and even after Frost allowed him to take the lead for a few fences.
Andi’amu took back the lead after a mile and set a solid pace with Super Saturday and Doc Cebu in his wake. Le Chevalier, ridden by Kieran Norris, began to advance toward the leading trio after three miles, and he began his serious challenge three fences out, just as Doc Cebu eliminated himself from the race with his stumble.
Norris pressed Le Chevalier toward the leader over the final two fences and drew closest at the last, but Andi’amu still possesses the speed of the Grade 1-level hurdler he once was, and gradually opened daylight to the finish line.
Andi’amu ran the four-mile distance over 23 fences in 9:12 2/5 on a Great Meadow Race Course rated as soft.
The Virginia Gold Cup was the fourth straight victory for Andi’amu, who has benefited from trainer Young’s well-designed program for him. He started twice last year and won two steeplethons over mixed obstacles, at the Middleburg Spring Races and the Virginia Gold Cup Steeplethon Stakes. Those two wins yielded $36,000 in earnings for Illinois-based Ballybristol.
Young started the French-bred out this year at the Middleburg Spring Races but over timber fences in the Middleburg Hunt Cup. Andi’amu took well to the bigger obstacles and won by 5¾ lengths over Le Chevalier. His 2019 earnings now total $78,000.
Optimus Prime overwhelms David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2)
Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime, idle since winning the David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) at Great Meadow six months ago, showed no signs of rust as he powered to the lead two fences out and won the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) by 8¾ lengths.
Irv Naylor’s Sempre Medici, who had set the pace for most of the 2 1/8-mile Semmes, finished second, and Straylight Racing’s Invocation closed ground from the back of the six-horse field to finish third. Harold A. “Sonny” Via’s Hinterland picked up fourth money.
Trained by Ricky Hendriks, Optimus Prime won in 4:06 flat on soft turf.
The highest-ranked horse in the National Steeplechase Association ratings, Optimus Prime was odds-on in the program betting line and went off at 4-5. Even that was generous for his backers, who collected $3.60 on a $2 bet.
The victory margin hardly described the ease with which Optimus Prime won his 2019 debut. Ross Geraghty indicated on Great Meadow’s final turn that it was time to run, and beyond that hardly moved his hands.
Optimus Prime took the final two fences with ease and drew off from Sempre Medici.