Owner-trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s Italian Wedding swept to the lead entering Saratoga Race Course’s homestretch, jumped the final fence boldly, and held off a determined challenge from All Together to win the $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) by a length on Thursday, Aug. 22.
Sheila Williams’ and Andre Brewster’s All Together held off Bill Pape’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes winner Martini Brother for the place spot, while Gil Johnston’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) victor Mr. Hot Stuff saved fourth position after leading through the final turn.
Italian Wedding and Martini Brother were part of a three-horse entry with Sheppard’s and Pape’s Divine Fortune, who failed to kick in late and finished seventh. The entry went off at .95-1 and paid $3.90 for a $2 win ticket. Ridden by Bernie Dalton, Italian Wedding ran the New York Turf Writers Cup’s 2 3/8 miles in 4:30.61 on firm turf.
The finish order marked remarkable comebacks by Italian Wedding and All Together, who went off at 10.80-1. Italian Wedding had not won for more than two years, since taking Saratoga’s 2011 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes. The Sheppard homebred by Alphabet Soup finished fourth in the Carolina Cup (Gr. 3) at the beginning of the 2012 season and then spent 16 months on the sidelines. He demonstrated that he had returned to form with a strong second-place finish to Mr. Hot Stuff in the Smithwick.
All Together, the 2010 novice champion, had gone two years without a win before scoring in a $65,000 optional allowance claimer at Saratoga on Aug. 1. In that race, trainer Jack Fisher entered him for a $30,000 claiming tag.
In the New York Turf Writers, Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) Demonstrative winner broke fastest of all, but Woodslane Farm’s Brave Prospect soon took the lead and was joined by Mr. Hot Stuff as the field crossed the finish line for the first time. Mr. Hot Stuff took over on the final run down the backstretch, but Dalton placed Italian Wedding in a striking position after the next to last fence and took the lead as the field completed the final bend.
Ridden by Xavier Aizpuru, All Together moved up strongly approaching the final fence, but Italian Wedding met it in stride and gained ground over All Together and Mr. Hot Stuff. All Together launched a last-ditch bid, but Dalton kept Italian Wedding under pressure, and they drew clear in the final strides.
Dalton said that Italian Wedding responded when All Together came to him in the stretch. “The horse jumped and traveled the whole way. I felt one come to me after the last, and the horse did, too, and he came back on the bridle and kind of won a little easy in the end,” the veteran jockey said. “He just pulled away again. He was in front from the top of the lane, and he just got a little idle.”
Martini Brother closed willingly under Darren Nagle and finished a head behind All Together. Mr. Hot Stuff was another two lengths farther back and was seven lengths clear of the fifth finisher, 2009 Turf Writers winner Spy in the Sky. Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Demonstrative, the 3.45-1 second betting choice who was seeking a second straight New York Turf Writers win, ran evenly to finish sixth.