Despite the challenges imposed by Covid-19, the organizers of Saturday’s International Gold Cup meet have managed to put together an expansive and eclectic card that offers something for just about everyone. The only thing missing are the fans — the 35,000 or so who typically congregate at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, Va., to enjoy the traditional autumn rite.
Anchored by the 83rd running of International Gold Cup, to be run at three miles over timber for a purse of $25,000, the 10-race card also consists of two ratings handicaps; the steeplethon over mixed obstacles; a maiden hurdle; two claimers; an allowance race over timber; and two flat races, one exclusive to Virginia breds. Three of the races — a hurdle, timber, and flat contest — are restricted to apprentice jockeys.
A familiar field of seven is expected to contest the Gold Cup, led by Rebecca Shepherd’s resilient veteran Curve of Stones, who captured his first ever timber stake two weeks ago at the Virginia Fall Races at Glenwood Park in Middleburg, easily besting Irv Naylor’s stakes winner Super Saturday and Hudson River Farm’s Codrington College, who are also entered. Barry Foley again has the mount on Curve of Stones for trainer David Bourke. Codrington College was a distant second to timber champion Doc Cebu in the Virginia Gold Cup over the Great Meadow course in June. Doc Cebu had been pointing to this race, but won’t run because of an injury.
Another recent winner, Wendy Hendriks’ Officer Sydney, gets a class test following his three-length score in the inaugural Louis “Paddy” Neilson III timber race at Willowdale last Saturday. McLane Hendriks has the mount for his dad, trainer Ricky Hendriks. Bruton Street-US’ Satish, a maiden, makes his ambitious stakes debut for Leslie Young. Satish was fourth in his seasonal bow at Virginia Fall, following a game half-length loss to Tomgarrow in a non-sanctioned timber maiden at Shawan Downs in September.
Other entries are Gill Johnston’s Hanno, eighth in his 2020 debut at Virginia Fall but the winner of two straight before that; and Nancy Reed’s Handsome Hoyt, who was sixth over hurdles in his last race at Foxfield.
In the always exciting steeplethon, Straylight Racing’s Invocation goes for his third win of the season over a course that includes water, timber, and natural brush. Invocation finished second in the steeplethon at Great Meadow in June, to go with his two wins at Glenwood Park in Middleburg. Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur, who defeated Invocation in June, is also in the field.
The richest race of the day, the $30,000 hurdle handicap for runners rated at 130 and under, features impressive newcomer French Light, who enters off of two straight wins, at Saratoga and Colonial Downs, for Irv Naylor and trainer Jonathan Sheppard. French Light is sure to get stiff competition in a tough field that includes Gill Johnston’s Brianbakescookies, who steps up from an easy handicap win at Virginia Fall, and Naylor stablemates Elucidation, who won a handicap here in the spring, and A Silent Player, who in his first two career starts broke his maiden at Colonial Downs and finished second to French Light at the Spa.
The International Gold Cup Races can be watched live on the NSA Network at www.nationalsteeplechase.com. The first post time is 12 noon EST. If you choose to watch the races via the live stream, you can print out the program by going to the NSA web site and clicking on the link for the overnights:
The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, Charleston’s The Post and Courier, Bruton Street-US, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.