Donald Reuwer Jr.’s Grand Manan jumped out to an early lead in the $90,000 International Gold Cup, set a solid pace, repelled a challenge by heavy favorite Two’s Company, and drew away Saturday to a 7 1/4-length victory in the fall’s richest timber race.
Also, on the International Gold Cup card, jockey Paddy Young delivered a precisely timed ride aboard Sue Sensor’s Top Striker to win the $75,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) over National Fences.
On a bright, breezy afternoon in northern Virginia, Grand Manan was guided to the front immediately by jockey Darren Nagle and maintained a clear lead over Two’s Company, the only horse in touch with Grand Manan’s pace but still well-behind the confirmed front-runner.
“That’s what he does,” said trainer Billy Meister. “If anyone had come to him, I think he would have gone on.”
Two’s Company and jockey Sean McDermott took their shot two fences out in the 3 1/2-mile International Gold Cup and cut into Grand Manan’s lead slightly. But the seven-year-old by Giant’s Causeway casually shrugged off the challenge and drew away to the finish line.
Peter Jay’s Prime Prospector finished third, 23 lengths behind Two’s Company. Cornhusker was fourth, and Almarmooq finished fifth. Grand Manan ran the International Gold Cup distance in 7:09.40 on turf rated as good.
The International Gold Cup’s $54,000 first-place purse raised Grand Manan’s earnings for the year to $79,950. The victory was his third of the year, after the Willowdale Steeplechase in May and the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup on Oct. 8.
Meister said that Grand Manan is finished for the season.
Second-place money raised the 2016 earnings of Two’s Company above $100,000 with a mark of four wins and two second-place finishes. Owned by Bruton Street-US and trained by Jack Fisher, Two’s Company maintained his lead in the year’s timber standings.
Top Striker strikes in the Ferguson
With regular jockey Bernie Dalton committed to Diplomat, trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. had to go rider-shopping for Top Striker, and he came up with Paddy Young, the reigning champion National Steeplechase Association jockey.
Young provided first a cogent description of how the Ferguson would be run and then delivered the win for the Camden, S.C.-based owner and trainer. “The pace worked out perfectly,” Kingsley said. “It was just the way Paddy said it would be.”
The scenario was that The Fields Stable’s Portrade would go out early to the lead, and indeed the New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) winner jumped out to the early advantage with jockey Ross Geraghty. The expectation was that Stonelea Stable’s Balance the Budget would be right there with him, and that also went as forecast.
Ridden by Mark Watts, Balance the Budget stalked Portrade early and took over with approximately six furlongs to run in the 2 1/8-mile Ferguson. When the running began entering the long stretch as Great Meadow Race Course, Top Striker and Irv Naylor’s Charminster made their moves.
Top Striker proved to be the fastest to the line, arriving 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Charminster, winner of the David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) on the Virginia Gold Cup program at Great Meadow in May. Portrade finished third, and Balance the Budget collected fourth money.
Top Striker, who had two good second-place finishes in Saratoga Race Course handicaps this past summer, ran the Ferguson’s 2 1/8 miles in 4:14.40.
Triples for Neil Morris, Kieran Norris
Virginia-based trainer Neil Morris had only three starters on the International Gold Cup program, and he certainly made the most of his starters in the three races preceding the Ferguson and International Gold Cup.
Gil Johnston’s Ack Feisty lived up to his name and wired the Sport of Kings maiden hurdle. Then Sara Collette’s Virginia homebred Zanclus proved much the best in Steeplethon. Finally, Thomas Hulfish III’s Formidable Heart proved to be formidable in the allowance hurdle, winning by three-quarters of a length. Morris said he had never before won three jump races on the same program, much less three in successive races.
Jockey Kieran Norris was aboard all three winners, and the hat trick moved him to the top of the jockey standings, one clear of Jack Doyle, who attended the International Gold Cup but is not expected to ride again this year.