Riverdee Stable’s Gibralfaro accelerated sharply on Brooklandwood Race Course’s final turn, overtook leader Storm Team at the head of the stretch, and drew clear to a dominant victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase, the marquee race of the 24th annual Queen’s Cup Steeplechase near Charlotte, N.C.
A late move by My Afleet claimed second money, and Storm Team finished third in a field of nine novices, or horses in their first seasons of racing over fences. The Queen’s Cup was the first race of the year for American Steeplechasing’s rising-stars division.
Michael Mitchell rode Gibralfaro for trainer Jack Fisher, who continues to draw clear in the trainer standings by both wins and earnings. He also won the afternoon’s first race, a $30,000 ratings handicap, with Duodecim Stable’s All for Us, and the $30,000 EasyFix Steepleton with Gil Johnston’s Hanno.
Bruton Street-US’s Lord Justice, also trained by Fisher, established the early pace and withstood an error at the fourth fence to maintain his advantage over Storm Team, ridden by top Irish jockey Danny Mullins.
Mitchell had Gibralfaro in midpack and well covered up as his Fisher stablemates made the running on the front. When Lord Justice committed another error four fences from the finish, Storm Team took the lead midway down the backstretch.
Gibralfaro appeared to be outrun nearing the final turn as Storm Team led toward the two fences in the homestretch, but Gibralfaro accelerated suddenly to draw into contention by the top of the lane and then grabbed the lead from Storm Team at the second-to-last fence.
Mullins kept Sheila Williams’ and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team under pressure, but Gibralfaro drew clear, and My Afleet moved strongly from the back of the field to grab the place spot under Kieran Norris. Storm Team finished third, and Riverdee’s City Dreamer, also trained by Fisher, finished fourth. Gibralfaro ran the Queen’s Cup’s 2 3/8 miles in 4:14 1/5 on firm turf.
Irish-bred Gibralfaro had won last spring’s Tryon Block House, and he made his 2019 debut at the Queen’s Cup after second-place finishes in novice stakes, a division of Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and the Aflac Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway, last fall.
He entered the Queen’s Cup as the highest-rated horse in the field and carried the race’s 156-pound highweight.