Major hurdle, timber stakes highlight eight-race Great Meadow card
For the third weekend this month, the jumpers return to Virginia to compete for purses and prestige, this time in the second richest card on the National Steeplechase Association Fall calendar.
This Saturday’s stop, at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, has drawn 66 entries for eight races. Fans attending the races will be able to bet on their favorites as the meet will offer on-site pari-mutuel wagering. Overall, $305,000 in purses are up for grabs; that’s a significant boost vs. the $230,000 offered at last year’s event, which was severely impacted by Covid-19. And if the voice of the announcer calling the races at Great Meadow sounds familiar, you’ve got a good ear. Larry Collmus, the voice of the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup will be handling the duties once again, as he did at Far Hills last week.
Six of Saturday’s races will be run over hurdles, all at 2 ⅛ miles, the headliner being the Grade 2 $75,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Stakes. The $25,000 maiden hurdle, the first race of the day, drew so many entries that it was split into two divisions. Besides the stake and maiden contests, other hurdle events include an allowance event for non-winners of two; a maiden claimer; and an optional claiming handicap for horses rated at 120 or less. The eponymous International Gold Cup timber stakes, contested at 3 ½ miles for a purse of $75,000, has drawn a field of five, four of whom are stakes winners. Five horses were entered in the $30,000 Steeplethon Stakes over mixed obstacles, including Armata Stable’s New Member and Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well, who ran a thrilling one-two at a similar event at the Virginia Fall Races in Middleburg two weeks ago.
In the Gold Cup, Hall of Famer Jack Fisher saddles Storm Team for his mother-in-law, Sheila Williams, and Northwoods Stable, and Schoodic, who runs in the colors of Jack’s mom, Dolly Fisher. Storm Team, an accomplished seven-year-old son of Candy Ride who has earned more than a quarter-million dollars in his career, comes into the race off of his first timber stakes score, in the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup two weeks ago at Middleburg, where he defeated Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow by five lengths. Since switching to timber, Tomgarrow, who is trained by leading conditioner Leslie Young, has a maiden victory and four straight seconds. He was the runner up in May’s Virginia Gold Cup, also at Great Meadow. The Gold Cup winner that day, Schoodic, is a multiple stakes winner of nearly a half-million dollars. He’s seven for 12 with three seconds over timber, and captured the International Gold Cup in 2019. He was beaten a head on Oct. 9 by arch rival Mystic Strike in the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup. Rounding out the field are Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River, winner of the Willowdale Steeplechase in April, and Frank Bonsal’s Stand Down, winner of the 2018 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Both Renegade River and Stand Down ran against Storm Team at Middleburg, but proved no match.
In the Ferguson, six horses will face starter Graham Alcott, led by Hudson River Farm’s stakes winner Iranistan, coming off a layoff of more than a year following two straight handicap triumphs at Saratoga in 2020. Iranistan prepped for the Ferguson with a win on the flat at Shawan Downs in September. Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean, a novice stakes winner who has also hit the board multiple times in Grade 1 competition, recently finished far back in third to powerhouses The Mean Queen and Snap Decision in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park.
Owner Irv Naylor sends out Bedrock, who finished third, beaten less than a half length, in the David Semmes Memorial Stakes over the Great Meadow course in May. Sempre Medici, who used be in the Naylor Stable but now runs for Straylight Racing, steps up to stakes competition for the first time in two years. Gill Johnston’s Brianbakescookies took the Queens Cup novice stakes in Mineral Springs, N.C., in April, but has struggled in two starts in open stakes competition since then.
Completing the field is Chosen Mate, who came to the U.S. to run in last Saturday’s American Grand National at Far Hills for then-owner Meadow Run Farm and Irish trainer Gordon Elliott. A distant fourth at Far Hills to The Mean Queen and Snap Decision, Chosen Mate, a winner at Cheltenham in 2020, returns in the colors of Armata Stable and new trainer Ricky Hendriks.
For all the entries, click here.
Post time for the races is 12:30 p.m., and you can watch via live stream from the NSA website. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation, Charleston’s Post & Courier, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.