Bill Pape’s Divine Fortune jumped onto the lead immediately in the $25,000 Sandhills Cup and pulled away in the final furlong to a 2 3/4-length victory over Slip Away in the featured open allowance hurdle at the 62nd Stoneybrook Steeplechase at the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford, N.C., on Saturday, April 6.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away, the 2010 Eclipse Award-winning steeplechase horse, held off Irv Naylor’s Decoy Daddy, who finished third. Inti, the only other starter in a very strong field, took fourth money. Trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, Divine Fortune completed the Sandhills Cup’s 2 3/8 miles in 4:44.80 on firm turf.
At the inaugural Dogwood Classic at Colonial Downs, Rock Ford Stable’s Sporty took charge in the late stages and drew clear to a one-length victory over Sillium in the featured $25,000 allowance hurdle. Brave Prospect finished third.
Trained by Julie Gomena and ridden by Mark Beecher, Sporty ran the 2 1/4-mile distance in 4:23.20 on firm turf. Final Straw finished fourth in the field of eight, and 2012 three-year-old champion More Tea Vicar finished fifth.
In most of their races, Slip Away sets the pace and Divine Fortune usually sits just behind the speed, but Pape’s ten-year-old gelding went right to the front under Darren Nagle in the Sandhills Cup. “I let him break. I wanted him to be where he was comfortable,” Nagle said. “I was happy to let him go on.”
Traveling well within himself, Divine Fortune maintained a clear lead throughout the race. Jockey Paddy Young placed Slip Away in a stalking position on the inside, but the 10-year-old Skip Away gelding was unable to cut into Divine Fortune’s margin.
Divine Fortune’s Sandhills Cup score gave Nagle his second win on the five-race program under clear skies. He also rode Sheppard’s Bluegrass Summer to a victory in the $15,000 Stoneybrook Cup maiden hurdle.
The Sandhills Cup was Divine Fortune’s first victory since the 2012 Block House allowance race. But the two-time Grade 2 winner had strong second-place finishes in the $250,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) and Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) at the end of the season.
Sporty, the Dogwood Classic winner, also had closed out the year on a positive note when he won his maiden victory over hurdles at the Colonial Cup meet in Camden, S.C., on Nov. 17.