Bill Pape’s Divine Fortune, winner of the A. P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase (Gr. 2), will seek his second major victory of the 2010 Saratoga Race Course season when he meets an accomplished field in the 69th running of the $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) on Thursday, Aug. 26.
Challenging the seven-year-old Royal Anthem gelding will be the respective second- and third-place finishers in the Smithwick, Arcadius and Slip Away, and the top two finishers from the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice, Pape’s winner Sermon of Love and Oakwood Stable’s Virginia Minstrel.
Divine Fortune and Sermon of Love will be coupled in the wagering as Pape and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard attempt to continue their domination of the current Saratoga meet. The longtime owner-trainer team swept the three races to date with Divine Fortune, Sermon of Love and Lead Us Not, winner of an allowance-optional claiming race on Aug. 12. Sheppard also is the trainer of Arcadius.
Divine Fortune, who again will be ridden by Danielle Hodsdon, will be attempting to extend a comeback that struck a high note on Aug. 5 with his three-quarter-length score in the 2 1/16-mile Smithwick, his first stakes victory in nearly three years. He won the Carolina First Block House, an allowance race at the Block House Races in Tryon, N.C., on April 17 after finishing a good second to Spy in the Sky in the Carolina First Carolina Cup (Gr. 2) on March 27.
Irish jockey Brian Crowley returns aboard Sermon of Love, who surged powerfully to win the Kiser, also at 2 1/16 miles on the Mellon Turf Course. It was the first victory in slightly more than a year for the seven-year-old Pulpit gelding, who won his first race over fences at Saratoga on Aug. 3, 2009.
Darren Nagle picks up the mount on Arcadius, who closed ground along the rail under Crowley after having been pinned on the inside for most of the race. Owned by the Hudson River Farms of Albany real-estate developer Edward P. Swyer, Arcadius has placed in all three of his 2010 starts. He won his seasonal debut in the $30,000 Woodward-Kirkover optional allowance at the Carolina Cup Races and then finished third in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Steeplechase (Gr. 1) on May 8.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away, who again will have champion jockey Paddy Young in the saddle and will carry the 156-pound high weight, is the probable pacesetter for the 2 3/8-mile New York Turf Writers. Although the seven-year-old Skip Away gelding and Young set an slow pace in the Smithwick, they could not hold off the late charges of Divine Fortune and Arcadius.
Trained by Tom Voss, Slip Away was the 1.05-to-1 favorite in the Smithwick and was defeated by only three-quarters of a length. Earlier in the season, he won the $50,000 Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase (Gr. 3) at the Middleburg Spring Races in Virginia and finished second in the Iroquois.
Beverly R. Steinman’s Dark Equation will be looking for his first win since his score in the 2008 New York Turf Writers. Jeff Murphy will ride the nine-year-old Polish Numbers gelding for trainer Doug Fout. Dark Equation most recently finished fifth in the Smithwick, 3 3/4 lengths behind Divine Fortune.
Oakwood Stable’s Virginia Minstrel has been steadily stepping up in quality this year, and he looked to looked to have the Kiser won before Sermon of Love surged on the outside. Carl Rafter, currently second in the jockey standings, was named to ride by trainer Julie Gomena.
Jack Fisher, the National Steeplechase Association’s top trainer for the last three years, entered Seer and Swagger Stick, both of whom won at last year’s season-ending Palm Beach Steeplechase in Florida. Seer, who will be ridden by Xavier Aizpuru, will be making his first start since winning the Paul Beach Supreme Hurdle. Mrs. S. K. Johnston Jr.’s Swagger Stick most recently finished second in the Bright Hour amateur hurdle at the Iroquois Races in Nashville on May 8. Completing the field of nine is owner-trainer Michele Sanger’s Birthday Beau, who finished seventh in the Kiser. He carries the 138-pound lowest weight and will be ridden by Ross Geraghty.
The New York Turf Writers, first run in 1938 at Saratoga, has become a major event on the annual steeplechase calendar over the last 40 years. In that period, it was been won by three Racing Hall of Fame members: Zaccio (1980, ’82), Flatterer (’84), and Lonesome Glory (’95).
Scheduled as the first race on Thursday’s Saratoga card, the New York Turf Writers will be followed by an autograph signing by steeplechase jockeys outside the Silks Room behind the track’s grandstand.