Glenwood Park hosts stars and stakes action at the Middleburg Spring Races on Saturday with an eight-race card, anchored by the $75,000 Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey and the Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes.
In all, $220,000 in purses are up for grabs, the second richest meet of the National Steeplechase Association spring season, behind only the Iroquois Races on June 26. Post time is 1 p.m.
Virginia’s oldest steeplechase, which dates back to 1911, was rescheduled from its customary date in mid-April to May 1, due to the Covid pandemic. As a result, the event’s sister meet, the Virginia Gold Cup Races, a fixture on the first Saturday in May —- will take place on May 29.
The great news is that unlike last year, this year’s running will allow a limited number of spectators; the event is sold out.
The Gwathmey could turn out to be an epic matchup between two hurdlers destined for year-end championship honors.
Jack Fisher has entered stars Snap Decision, who boasts seven straight hurdle wins dating back two years, and Footpad, a Cheltenham Festival winner and European juggernaut with 11 victories in 26 starts and earnings of more than $900,000, to the 2 1/2 mile Gwathmey, the first open hurdle stakes of the 2021 season.
Footpad runs in the silks of Virginia horseman Sonny Via, who campaigned Good Night Shirt to a Hall of Fame career, also with Fisher. The nine-year-old French-bred gelding is unraced since January 2020, though he had a tuneup to stretch his legs earlier this month at the Loudoun Point to Point in Virginia. His plans, like so many others, were derailed by Covid last season.
Bruton Street-US’ Snap Decision has won five stakes restricted to novice jumpers in the early stages of their steeplechase careers, and faced open company in the David Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow last June. In that race, he dispatched a field that included Chief Justice, Redicean, and Iranistan by 4 ½ lengths under a vigorous hand ride from Sean McDermott.
Footpad is the highweight at 162 pounds; he’s giving away six pounds to Snap Decision, who gets in at 156. Everyone else in the race will carry 144 pounds or less.
Snap Decision was bred and raced by the Phipps family and achieved modest success on the flat, finishing third in 2017 in the graded Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park and fourth in the G2 National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga, beaten less than four lengths by Bricks and Mortar, an eventual Horse of the Year. Both were turf races.
The seven-year-old son of Hard Spun began his second career over jumps exactly two years ago, finishing second twice before breaking his maiden at Monmouth Park in July 2019. Since then, Snap Decision has been unbeatable. His most recent race was the Michael G. Walsh novice stakes at Saratoga last August. Fisher said he would have entered the horse in G1 competition sooner, but chose another path to avoid competing against his older Bruton Street stablemate, Moscato, who earned the 2020 Eclipse Award. Moscato is currently on the sidelines and isn’t expected to return until the fall.
Footpad competed in France before joining the stable of the legendary Willie Mullins in Ireland. In writing about the son of Creachadoir, the UK’s Racing Post described him as a “potential superstar when storming away with the Arkle at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival.” That year, Mullins went so far as to say that Footpad had the potential to be a “future (Cheltenham) Gold Cup horse,” which is about the loftiest possible praise in the jump racing world.
Fisher said this week that both of his stars “are doing great” leading up to the Gwathmey. Graham Watters will ride Snap Decision; Sean McDermott will get a leg up on Footpad.
The rest of the seven-horse field includes Irv Naylor’s Amschel (trained by Cyril Murphy and ridden by Irish jockey Jamie Bargary, who is appearing in his first U.S. meet); The Hundred Acre Fields’ Cracker Factory (Mark Beecher, Tom Garner); Hudson River Farms’ Galway Kid (Keri Brion, Ross Geraghty); Keystone Thoroughbred’s Noah and the Ark (Todd McKenna, Gerard Galligan); and Del Rio Chasers’ Razoul (Kate Dalton, Bernie Dalton).
Galway Kid is three for six lifetime, and two of those losses (a third in the Walsh and second in the Kiser novice stakes at the Spa) came versus Snap Decision. The six-year-old Irish-bred closed out 2020 with a handicap hurdle win over a strong field at the International Gold Cup Races.
Six-year-old Cracker Factory ran his first 13 races in England, where he won four times and reeled off three straight in weight-for-age hurdles. In his six starts in the States, Cracker Factory recorded a DNF in his first effort in the William Entenmann novice stakes (won by Snap Decision) then finished sixth in the tough Harry Harris maiden hurdle at Far Hills. He’s tried several softer spots since, and finished a close third in his most recent effort, in a handicap, also at the International Gold Cup Races in October.
Like Cracker Factory, Irv Naylor’s Amschel was bred in Great Britain and won three consecutive races early in his career. The seven-year-old has made just eight starts, with a total of four wins, a second, and a third. In four U.S. starts, Amschel has one victory, in a 2019 handicap hurdle at Montpelier. He also ran a solid third in his NSA debut, in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills in 2018, finishing third. Amschel did not finish in his most recent race, the 2020 Gwathmey.
Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Irish-bred Noah and the Ark finished off the board in two U.S. starts in handicaps last season, at Saratoga and Great Meadow. Before that, the seven-year-old was a four-time winner in Europe, two in novice weight-for-age hurdles and two in handicap hurdles.
An intriguing newcomer in the field is Razoul, an Irish-bred veteran of 21 starts making his U.S. debut for trainer Kate Dalton and Del Rio Thoroughbreds, a Nashville-based syndicate of friends Gigi Lazenby Dwight Hall, Holly Hirschman, and several others.
“He has two hurdle wins plus a steeplechase win in Ireland,” Dalton said. “He is a professional racehorse and has done everything asked of him thus far with a minimum of fuss. Obviously, he has not been tested to the extent that he will be this weekend, but we are very happy with him at this point.”
The supporting card
Timber racing has been front and center early this spring, and the $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup at 3 ¼ miles has drawn Irv Naylor’s Super Saturday, who is coming off an allowance score at the My Lady’s Manor Races. Upland Partners’ Mystic Strike, one of the top timber specialists last year, is coming into the race after two uncharacteristic DNFs this season, but just missed last fall over the course to champion Curve of Stones in the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup. Holwood Stable’s Road to Oz steps into stakes company after breaking his maiden over timber handily at the Manor Races. Lightly raced Tomgarrow makes his seasonal bow for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers six months after taking his maiden over timber by 14 ½ lengths at Callaway Gardens. Jaleo, who races in the colors of Bruton Street-US, competed in the Temple Gwathmey and G1 Iroquois in 2019, and tries his hand over timber. Gordonsdale Farm’s veteran Canyon Road begins his ninth season of racing and makes his seventh start at Glenwood Park. In 2017, he finished second in the Hunt Cup.
The most fascinating entry is 2018 Eclipse-Award winning steeplechaser Zanjabeel, who has transitioned to timber racing. He won his debut at the Elkridge-Harford Point to Point last month.
Owned by Ben and Wendy Griswold’s Meadow Run Farm, the eight-year-old is under the care of trainer Stephanie Moore. Eddie Keating has the mount.
The Hunt Cup is the third race (2 p.m post time) while the Gwathmey is the fourth (scheduled to go off at 2:30 p.m). If you cannot attend the races in person, be sure to watch the live stream via the NSA’s website. The NSA will broadcast a recap show, Jump Racing USA, featuring replays, commentary and interviews, on its web site on Monday evening at 7 p.m. and on demand after that. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation, Charleston’s Post & Courier, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.