Racing moves from Northern Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic regions into the deep South on Saturday, as the jumpers head to Pine Mountain, Ga., for the Steeplechase at Callaway Gardens. Seven races, worth a total of $100,000, are on tap, including a maiden timber event; allowance race over timber for apprentice riders; an allowance hurdle for four-year-olds; a handicap for horses rated at 120 or lower; two maiden claimers over hurdles; and an open claiming hurdle for apprentices.
The event, the second to last on the Fall 2020 National Steeplechase Association calendar, will also feature something none of the preceding meets this season have included: spectators. Fan attendance has been capped at 50 percent of normal capacity, and tents, boxes, and reserved seating areas will be spread out and staggered to provide room for social distancing. In addition, there will be extra restrooms and hand-sanitizing stations. Food will be available for sale; patrons can also bring their own.
Because of Covid-19, the meet is reducing areas where patrons typically gather. That means no Hat Contest, Silent Auction Tent, Stick Pony or Jack Russell Terrier Races will be held this year. For more safety information about the meet, click this link:
https://steeplechaseatcallaway.com/safety. On the plus side, the ever-popular pony races will take place, as will the race-day raffle with a chance to win a trip worth $5,000. Gates open at 9 a.m.; first-race post time is 1 p.m.
As for the races themselves, a quick look at the overnights reveals some interesting entries. In the opener, Carrington Holdings’ Boss Man, unraced since August 2019 and the winner of the 2018 William Entenmann novice stakes at Belmont Park, makes his NSA debut over timber for trainer Arch Kingsley. In the same maiden contest, an even bigger star, Wendy Hendriks’ multiple stakes winner Surprising Soul, makes his first sanctioned timber start. In 2019, Surprising Soul sprang an 18-1 upset of Eclipse-Award winner Winston C in the G1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont, and also gave another champion, Scorpiancer, all he could handle in the G1 Iroquois at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, finishing a length behind the winner. Surprising Soul, trained by Ricky Hendriks, defeated Boss Man in the 2018 Michael G. Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga.
In the featured $25,000 ratings handicap, Gill Johnston’s Brianbakescookies, coming off of a 4 ¼-length score at Virginia Fall, steps up slightly in class to tackle nine others including Irv Naylor’s Family Tree, who won an allowance hurdle at Callaway last November and Mason Hardaway Lampton’s Maccabee, who finished a close third in the 2019 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle Stakes at Callaway.
With two meets left in the season, Jonathan Sheppard has a two-race lead over Jack Fisher in the contest for top trainer, while jockey Michael Mitchell has a three-race cushion over Sean McDermott and Gerard Galligan in the battle for most victories. Fisher has runners in one race at Callaway while Sheppard has runners in all seven events. Mitchell has mounts in five races, Galligan has four. McDermott is not scheduled to ride.
The Callaway races will be streamed live via the NSA web site, www.nationalsteeplechase.com. If you choose to watch, you can print out the program by clicking on the link for the overnights: https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Callaway-scratch-overnight-program.pdf.
The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, Charleston’s The Post and Courier, Bruton Street-US, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.