Sent off as the slight 3-1 favorite in an evenly matched betting field, Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Bucko broke fast and never looked back in the $150,000 G1 A.P. Smithwick steeplechase at Saratoga on July 22nd. The victory was the first in a stakes for the five-year-old British-bred, as it was for his trainer, Keri Brion, who struck out on her own earlier this year when her mentor and long-time boss, Jonathan Sheppard, retired.
Tom Garner, who guided Winston C to victory in both the 2019 Smithwick and Turf Writers Cup at the Spa for Sheppard and took last year’s Turf Writers with Bruton Street-US’ Rashaan, was up for the win. Garner took the lead at the break in the 2 1/16-mile contest over eight fences, and controlled the pace throughout. When the long run to the wire began, Baltimore Bucko, carrying 142 pounds — one to 12 pounds less than the others — had plenty left in the tank and scooted off to the wire 5 ¾ lengths ahead of Irv Naylor’s French Light, also trained by Brion. Riverdee Stable’s Gibralfaro, trained by soon-to-be inducted Hall of Famer Jack Fisher, finished third, 2 ¾ lengths behind French Light. Brion’s third entry in the race, Hudson River Farms’ Galway Kid finished fifth in the six-horse field.
Both French Light and Baltimore Bucko competed in Ireland over the winter and early spring. Baltimore Bucko ran four times overseas, finishing third twice and leading late in another until taking a hard-luck fall. He also had a tuneup over the flat at Winterthur in May, followed by a brilliant second — beaten a head — by Naylor’s Chief Justice in the Green Pastures novice stakes at the Iroquois Races late last month. French Light ran five times in Ireland, earning a second and fourth, but hadn’t had a race since April.