Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget jumped out to a yawning early lead in Saturday’s 48th edition of the $150,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) and came home to a 6 1/4-length victory under Mark Watts.
Zanjabeel, making his first start in open company in this country, closed some ground in the stretch but never was a threat to catch Balance the Budget, who recorded his second straight graded victory for trainer Julie Gomena and his first Grade 1 win.
Edith Dixon’s Schoodic took third, and Hinterland was fourth in a field of six. Balance the Budget, a nine-year-old Bellamy Road gelding, ran the Colonial Cup’s 2 3/8-mile distance in 4:30 flat on firm turf.
The Colonial Cup, the first Grade 1 race on the new National Steeplechase Association season, keyed a record-setting 84th annual Carolina Cup Races under crystal-clear skies with temperatures in the low 70s.
The annual rite of spring in South Carolina’s Midlands, the Carolina Cup attracted a near-capacity crowd for its six races. The Carolina Cup meet offered a South Carolina record $325,000 in purses.
On an afternoon when speed was holding well, Watts wasted no time in moving the confirmed front-runner to the fore and quickly opened a margin of more than 20 lengths over Zanjabeel and Show Court, who were at the head of Balance the Budget’s trailing group.
Into the late stages of the 2 3/8-mile Colonial Cup, Balance the Budget continued to jump forwardly, and Watts gave him a brief time-out before entering the final turn. “I gave him a break there, and then I got him going again. He was going very well,” the South Carolina-based rider said.
Balance the Budget had closed out a successful 2017 season with a nine-length score in the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2), in which he opened a long lead and cruised to his first graded victory. On the same Springdale Racecourse turf, he had won the 2016 Carolina Cup for novices, or horses in their first seasons of racing over fences.
The Colonial Cup was his sixth win over fences for Virginia-based trainer Gomena, and the Colonial Cup’s $90,000 first-place purse raised his career jumps earnings above $300,000.
Zanjabeel, now owned by Rosbrian Farm and Wendy and Ben Griswold, marched through the novice ranks last fall, winning Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for his former owners and then winning the Steeplechase at Callaway’s Aflac Supreme Hurdle for trainer Ricky Hendriks and his new American owners.
He finished 2 1/2 lengths clear of Schoodic, who closed willingly to pick up third money.
Personal Start wires Carolina Cup
With speed holding well, Magalen O. Bryant’s Personal Start when to the front immediately in the $75,000 Carolina Cup for novices and gamely turned back a late bid from Robert A. Kinsley’s No Wunder to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Trained by Richard Valentine, Personal Start sprinted to the front end and established a solid lead on the turf course. Armata Stables’ New Member mounted a challenge on the final turn and appeared to be moving toward the front end.
But New Member leveled off after the last, and Jack Doyle drove No Wunder toward the leader but was unable to make a further impression through the final sixteenth-mile.
Doyle lodged a claim of foul against the winner for allegedly drifting out into No Wunder’s path after the second to last fence, but the Carolina Cup’s stewards disallowed the claim after an extended review.
Sheppard doubles up in Life’s Illusion
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, off to one of his fastest starts in years, took down the exacta in the $40,000 Life’s Illusion Stakes for fillies and mares when front-running Pram held off a determined bid by Stalled to win by a neck.
Sheppard owned and trained both starters and bred both in partnership with longtime owner Bill Pape. Pram, a seven-year-old mare by Stroll out of My Papoose, by Northern Baby, was Sheppard’s fourth win of the young season. He had two hurdle wins and a flat victory at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase on March 24, including the $20,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup with KMSN Stable’s Able Archer.
He collected his third win of the year in the Carolina Cup’s first race, the $30,000 Raymond G. Woolfe for four-year-olds, with Hudson River Farms’ Iranistan.
In the two-mile Life’s Illusion, jockey Gerard Galligan broke Pram sharply, and they opened a clear lead over her six opponents for more than 1 3/4 miles. Ross Geraghty, in midfield with Stalled, kicked the Jump Start mare into gear on the turn, and she jumped the last fence approximately a length behind her stablemate.
But Pram dug in gamely, and she fought off the sharp challenge by Stalled. Pram scored her second win over fences in two starts. A one-time winner on the flat, she won her jumps debut at the 2016 Aiken Fall meet and then missed the 2017 season.
The Fields Stable’s Sarah Joyce, winner of the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Margaret Currey Henley Stakes last May, finished third. Ridden by Doyle, she appeared to have dead aim on Pram after the last but flattened out without a significant answer to Sheppard’s top pair.
Iranistan wires Raymond G. Woolfe
Darren Nagle, the 2017 champion jockey who passed on the Aiken Spring opener, kicked off the new season with a front-running victory aboard Hudson River Farms’ Iranistan, setting all the pace in the $30,000 Raymond G. Woolfe and drawing away easily in the Springdale Racecourse’s stretch to open Saturday’s Carolina Cup opener.
Riverdee Stable’s Down Royal stalked Iranistan’s pace throughout the two-mile race but was gaining no ground around the final turn. Ridden by Bernie Dalton, Down Royal overcame a mistake at the last fence and held second over Redmond Farm’s Crosseyedcricket.
Under Nagle’s patient handling, Iranistan jumped well in his debut over fences and only his fifth start over fences. Earlier in the year, he had finished third and sixth in Gulfstream Park maiden races on the turf.