Saturday’s 10-race card at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, Va., had it all: Blow-out wins, white-knuckle finishes, and outstanding rides by apprentice riders. And of all the highlights, none shone brighter than Curve of Stones’ victory in the $25,000 International Gold Cup, his second timber-stakes score in two weeks.
Racing sixth and last for most of the three-and-a-half-mile contest, Rebecca Shepherd’s nine-year-old gray son of Arch exploded through the stretch to blow past Irv Naylor’s Super Saturday, drawing clear by seven lengths under regular rider Barry Foley for trainer David Bourke. Curve of Stones, who has rediscovered the spark he flashed at the start of his jump racing career in 2016, could go for three in a row, as he is listed in the overnight entries for next Sunday’s Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
Speaking of horses who have discovered their mojos, Straylight Racing’s Invocation, a steady performer on the NSA circuit since coming over from the United Kingdom four years ago, has asserted himself as the undisputed king of the steeplethon, a unique race over mixed obstacles. The seven-year-old French-bred son of Intense Focus, ridden by Sean McDermott and trained by Mark Beecher, captured his third steeplethon of this abbreviated 2020 campaign with a come-from-behind victory over Ballybristol Farm’s Mercoeur, who handed Invocation his only loss of the season in a similar race at Great Meadow in June. On Saturday, Invocation left no doubt as to who’s the boss, romping by eight lengths.
Young riders shared the spotlight with the four-legged veterans as two up-and-coming teen riders earned their first NSA sanctioned victories. Parker Hendriks, the son of trainers Sanna Neilson and Ricky Hendriks, actually won two on the card. His first winner came aboard Sherry Fenwick’s Anticipating, a son of 2009 champion steeplechase mare Confined, who held off Armata Stable’s New Member by a length in the second race, a handicap for horses rated at 130 or less. Anticipated toted 24 pounds less than New Member, but a win is a win, and the victory was also one of two on the card for Jonathan Sheppard, who leads Jack Fisher by two in the contest for top trainer. Parker found the winner’s circle again two races later, by piloting mom, Sanna’s, He’ll Do in a maiden claiming hurdle.
Colin Smith enjoyed his first sanctioned tally with a remarkable rally aboard Gill Johnston’s Be Counted in the eighth race, a claiming hurdle restricted to apprentice riders. Looking hopelessly behind at the last jump, Be Counted and Smith unleashed a furious rally to catch Sheila Williams’ and Northwoods Stable’s Notjudginjustsayin by a neck. Following their wins, both Hendriks and Smith received an ice-water dunking from their fellow riders, a customary initiation rite.
Among the other storylines from the Gold Cup Day card, several stand out. Hudson River Farm’s Galway Kid, a striking chestnut who has turned heads since he burst on the racing scene with two wins in his first three starts last year, won for the second time in 2020, in a handicap for horses rated at 120 or less. The Irish-bred 5-year old, ridden by Darren Nagle, drew clear of Bon Nouvel Chasers’ Repeat Repeat by nearly three lengths for trainer Sheppard. Galway Kid has now won three of six career starts. In his previous two outings, Galway Kid was ambitiously entered in the Michael Walsh and Jonathan Kiser novice stakes at Saratoga, where he finished a solid third and second, respectively.
In a race reminiscent of Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes, Armata Stable’s Vintage Vinnie, an 11-year-old Irish-bred son of Vinnie Roe, making his first start in a year and a half, won Saturday’s timber race for apprentice riders by 30 lengths, after leading the three-mile contest by as much as 80 lengths. Ridden by Archie Macauley and trained by Joe Davies, Vintage Vinnie sprinted to a lead and extended it by such a wide margin for most of the race that you couldn’t even see the rest of the field.
Michael Mitchell maintained his lead in the battle for leading jockey with a win aboard Riverdee Stable’s Douglas Road in the opener, a maiden hurdle race. Mitchell holds a 11 to 8 edge in wins over both Sean McDermott and Gerard Galligan. Galligan won a training-flat race, but it doesn’t count in the standings.
And in the second of two training flat races on the card, Irv Naylor’s recent acquisition, Choo Choo, a graded-stakes placed winner of $225,000 on the flat, won his second training flat race this month. The five-year-old son of English Channel was a one-length winner under Brian Cullinane. Choo Choo also won a similar race on Oct. 4 at the Foxfield Fall Races in Charlottesville, Va.
Tod Marks has the full photo recap.