Owner-trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s Brilliant Match turned back a determined challenge by Cat Feathers to win Saratoga Race Course’s $75,000 Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths on Thursday.
The 2 3/8-mile Mrs. Jeffords for fillies and mares, the final steeplechase race of the current Saratoga meet, provided a second straight victory for Racing Hall of Fame member Sheppard, who had won Wednesday’s $65,000 allowance hurdle with Rodman W. Moorhead III’s All the Way Jose.
The Saratoga finale also marked the successful comeback of jockey Darren Nagle, who had sustained a broken leg in a training accident in March. In the hunt for the 2013 riding championship to the year’s very last hurdle race, Nagle scored his first 2014 victory in the Mrs. Jeffords.
Sent to the starter at 3.20-to-1 odds after a third-place finish behind owner-trainer Kate Dalton’s Cat Feathers in the $75,000 Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes on Aug. 7, Brilliant Match ran the Mrs. Jeffords’ distance in 4:39.05 on firm turf. Irv Naylor’s Bittersweetheart finished third, 1 3/4 lengths farther back, and Opera Heroine was fourth.
Bred in Pennsylvania by Sheppard, six-year-old Brilliant Match is by Partner’s Hero and out of the Gemini Dreamer mare Gemini’s Gem. She started her racing career in early 2013 over fences and won her maiden jumps victory by nearly 50 lengths at the Aiken Fall meet.
Sheppard sent her onto the Tapeta Footings synthetic surface this spring, and she won a maiden flat race on June 26 before her third-place finish in the Mrs. Phipps.
Her stablemate, Sully’s Approach, went to the lead immediately in the Mrs. Jeffords but was rank and jumped poorly. Jockey Willie McCarthy, almost dumped at the fence before the clubhouse turn on the first full circuit of Saratoga’s inner turf course, then pulled up Bill Pape’s homebred.
As Sully’s Approach dropped back before that fence, Arcadia Stable’s Opera Heroine assumed the lead and set the pace through the final run down Saratoga’s backstretch. As she began to tire, Nagle moved Brilliant Match to the front, and Cat Feathers kicked into gear under Bernie Dalton.
Brilliant Match jumped the last fence with a length lead and increased the margin slightly near the finish line as Cat Feathers’ challenge fell short.