Gregory Hawkins’ The Grey Express scored a breakthrough victory when she took command of the $75,000 Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords Stakes entering Saratoga Race Course’s homestretch, jumped the last fence powerfully, and held off challenges by Cat Feathers and Take Her Tothe Top to win by 1 1/2 lengths on Thursday, Aug. 29.
The British-bred mare collected her first North American victory over fences after finishing second to Arcadia Stable’s Take Her Tothe Top in Saratoga’s $75,000 Mrs. Ogden Phipps Stakes on Aug. 8. Owner-trainer Kate Dalton’s Cat Feathers finished second for the second straight year in the Mrs. Jeffords.
Sent to starter Barry Watson at 5.50-1, The Grey Express paid $13 for a $2 win bet after running the Mrs. Jeffords’ 1 1/16 miles in 3:52.44 on firm turf. Ross Geraghty was in the saddle for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot.
Magalen O. Bryant’s homebred Quiet Flaine went out to the early lead under Paddy Young and set the pace with The Grey Express clocking her in second position. Geraghty urged The Grey Express through the final turn, and she moved past Quiet Flaine to take the lead just as the field turned into the homestretch.
The eight-year-old King’s Theatre mare put in a huge jump at the final fence as Cat Feathers and Bernie Dalton made an inside move and Take Her Tothe Top started her bid on the outside. Cat Feathers closed the gap slightly through deep stretch but never threatened to overtake The Grey Express.
Ridden by Xavier Aizpuru, Take Her Tothe Top easily held the third spot, a half-length behind Cat Feathers and 2 1/4 lengths ahead of fourth finisher Well Fashioned, half of an entry with Quiet Flaine. Arcadia’s Opera Heroine, coupled in the wagering with Take Her Tothe Top, finished fifth in a field of eight.
The Grey Express now has a win, a second, and a third in four U.S. starts. A maiden winner over hurdles in Ireland last year, she finished third in the Georgia Cup at the Atlanta Steeplechase on April 13 and was pulled up in the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Margaret Currey Henley on May 11 before her second in the Mrs. Phipps.
In the afternoon’s first race, a $65,000 optional allowance hurdle, Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard collected his fourth Saratoga steeplechase victory of the season when Bill Pape’s Bluegrass Summer surged to the lead approaching the final fence and held off Dale Thiel’s Call Me Sonny to win by a neck. The Fields Stable’s Kingdom finished third, a length farther back.
Ridden by Bernie Dalton, Bluegrass Summer went off at 9-2 and paid $11 to win. The five-year-old Purge gelding ran the 2 1/16-mile distance in 3:52.70.