Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget inherited the lead early in the $75,000 Carolina Cup and easily turned back a late challenge by Special Skills through the Springdale Course’s stretch to win the National Steeplechase Association’s first 2016 stakes race by 3 3/4 lengths on Saturday.
Irv Naylor’s Tubal ran on well to finish third, five lengths behind Special Skills and 7 3/4 lengths ahead of fourth-finisher Cash Crop.
Ridden by Mark Watts, Balance the Budget ran the Carolina Cup’s 2 1/8 miles in 4:01.80 on turf rated as good after late-week rains in Camden, S.C. After a cloudy morning, the skies cleared for a large, festive crowd for the 84th annual Carolina Cup Races.
Stonelea is the racing operation of Kentucky horsewoman Cornelia “Nina” Bonnie, wife of well-known equine lawyer Edward S. “Ned” Bonnie, who is a member of the Kentucky Racing Commission and a long-time steeplechase horseman. Balance the Budget is trained by their daughter-in-law Julie Gomena.
Balance the Budget thrives in the spring air and runs his best races when he is fresh. A year and a week earlier, he drew away to a 21-length victory in Aiken Spring’s Budweiser Imperial Cup (Gr. 3).
The March race at the year’s first race meet was his best effort, and the Bellamy Road had one second-place finish from seven 2015 starts. After the winter off, he came back with an impressive effort. “He’s definitely at his best when he’s fresh,” Gomena said.
The Virginia-based trainer said she had no specific instructions for Watts, but she did not want the seven-year-old on the lead. Second early, Balance the Budget was dropped on the front end in the first mile. He opened a sizable lead on his fellow novices, or horses in their first seasons of racing over fences.
All the while, Balance the Budget was jumping powerfully. “He outjumped them all,” Gomena said. “He was gaining ground at the fences.”
Special Skills, owned by Sheila Williams and Northwood Stables, won his final two 2015 starts and looked to be the horse to beat going into the Carolina Cup. Jockey Sean McDermott launched his assault midway on the final turn and cut into Balance the Budget’s lead approaching the final fence.
But a fresh Balance the Budget had too much left in the tank and easily repelled the challenge through the final 100 yards.