Michael Wharton’s Grinding Speed inscribed his name in steeplechasing’s history books when he won the $75,000 International Gold Cup for the third time on Saturday and assured himself the 2015 title as the National Steeplechase Association’s champion timber horse.
With regular jockey Mark Beecher in the saddle, the nine-year-old Grindstone gelding took over the lead from pacesetting Personal Brew in the final mile and fought off challenges to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over Magalen O. Bryant’s Dakota Slew. Sheila Williams’ and Andre Brewster’s Straight to It finished third, a neck farther back.
Sent off as the International Gold Cup’s 3.40-to-1 favorite, Grinding Speed ran the 3 1/2 miles over timber fences in 7:15.40 on turf rated as good.
The International Gold Cup was Grinding Speed’s third straight win over the Great Meadow course in The Plains. He won the Virginia Gold Cup for the second time on May 2.
Trainer Alicia Murphy agreed that, after five stakes victories at Great Meadow, Grind Speed is a horse for the course. He also won the 2012 International Gold Cup and the 2013 Virginia Gold Cup. In a remarkable display of consistency, Grinding Speed, Dakota Slew, and Straight to It finished in those respective positions in the past two editions of the International Gold Cup and the 2015 Virginia Gold Cup.
Grinding Speed also showed that he is not a one-dimensional runner. “You can put him anywhere,” said Wharton, an Annapolis, Md., lawyer who always leads Grinding Speed into the winner’s circle. Indeed, Grinding Speed had to make a bold late move over the last two fences to win last year’s International Gold Cup. He put his opponents to sleep by setting a laggard pace in the Virginia Gold Cup, taking more than 10 minutes to complete four miles.
In this year’s International Gold Cup, he had to run all the way after Fritz Boniface put Personal Brew on a huge lead and dared his opponents to catch him. They finally overtook him in the last mile, with Grinding Speed inheriting the lead and doggedly maintaining it with strong jumping and ample stamina.
“Mark said he was surprised by how much horse he had at the end,” said Wharton, who credited trainer Murphy for bringing Grinding Speed to the International Gold Cup in peak condition. “This race was the goal,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a tough race.”
The $45,000 first-place purse raised Grinding Speed’s 2015 purses to $124,550 and placed beyond the reach of any other timber horse in the race for this year’s championship. Remaining on the timber stakes schedule is next Sunday’s $35,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.