Daybreak Stables’ Diplomat, making his first United States start, cruised to the lead three fences from home on the Springdale Course’s backstretch, opened a big lead into the last fence, and held off Syros to win the $75,000 Carolina Cup by a half-length on Saturday.
Gil Johnston’s Syros finished 1 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Fog Island, who was followed to the finish line by early leader Where’s the Beef and Sporty.
Ridden by Bernie Dalton, Diplomat ran the Carolina Cup’s 2 1/8 miles in 4:06.80 on turf rated as good. Under champion jockey Willie McCarthy, Where’s the Beef laid down the early fractions, with Diplomat idling behind the leading group through the stretch the first time.
Nearing the midpoint on the backstretch, Dalton moved Diplomat into the clear, and he made a strong jump to hurdle past Where’s the Beef. It was not what Jimmy Day, owner of Daybreak Stables and Diplomat’s trainer, was expecting. “When he jumped the third to last and took the lead, I was speechless,” he said.
For several reasons, he hoped Diplomat would run well, but was not expecting too much. He had bought the American-bred by top sire Kitten’s Joy from the Doncaster sale in England late last year for approximately $18,600 while bidding over the phone.
Winless last year in flat and jump races after winning two Irish hurdle races in 2013, Diplomat was based in Dermot Weld’s yard, but Day was unsure how he would adapt to U.S. racing. Plus, Day did not believe the compact six-year-old gelding was fit enough after a severe winter in Virginia that cut severely into training time. “I told Bernie, ‘I don’t know what to expect. If we can get a piece of [the purse], great.’ ”
Dalton, the veteran jockey who is based at Camden’s Springdale Course, had picked up the mount four days before the Carolina Cup. Day’s first choice, four-time champion jockey Paddy Young, was unavailable to travel to South Carolina. “When I saw Bernie was open, I jumped on him,” Day said.
Dalton and Diplomat proved a winning combination. They opened a sizable lead leaving the final turn and had plenty of daylight between them and the rest of the field coming to the last fence. “He jumped the last fence real quick, which was important,” Day said.
In part, it was important because Diplomat was beginning to tire, and Dalton avoided placing too much pressure on him in deep stretch. “They were getting to him at the end, but he had every reason to be tired,” Day said.
With his third victory over fences, Diplomat graduated from American Steeplechasing’s rising-star division, for novices in their first seasons of racing over fences. Day said he would consult with Dalton to see if the rider believes Diplomat can take on longer distances. The owner-trainer said he was considering a start at the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville on May 9.
Also possibly heading for Nashville is reigning Eclipse Award winner Demonstrative, who tightened with a narrow second-place finish behind Promised Destiny in a training flat race. Demonstrative won the 2013 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1).
The 83rd annual Carolina Cup was run under mostly sunny skies that accompanied temperatures well below normal for late March in central South Carolina. Despite the chilly temperatures in the 50s, the Carolina Cup attracted its usual large crowd to welcome spring to the Midlands.