In the brief span of an hour on Saturday, reigning champion owner Irv Naylor experienced the disappointments and the highs of jump racing. First, the disappointment. His top timber horse, Ebanour, finished first in the Radnor Hunt Cup by a whisker and then was demoted to second for interference.
Then, the high. Never far off the pace, Naylor’s Jamarjo collected his first graded-stakes victory when he pulled away to a 6 1/2-length victory $50,000 National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) at the 87th annual Radnor Hunt Races
Ridden by newcomer Graham Watters, subbing for the injured Paddy Young, Jamarjo stayed close to the pace of The Fields Stable’s Portrade, shrugged off a challenge from Special Skills, and pulled away to an impressive victory.
Special Skills, owned by Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable, finished second, two lengths clear of Naylor’s Charminster. Portrade finished fourth in a field of seven. Trained by Leslie Young, Jamarjo ran the National Hunt Cup’s 2 3/8 miles in 4:30.40 on firm turf.
Watters, 26, a native of Ireland who has been riding in England for the last five years, arrived in the U.S. only on Monday to sample American jump racing. He had one previous mount, for trainer Young in Radnor’s maiden hurdle, and finished second on Meteoroid. He also won the race after the National Hunt Cup, the James J. Moran ratings handicap, aboard Straylight Racing’s Invocation for Leslie Young.
With Paddy Young out as a result of a fall in the Radnor Hunt Cup Watters got the call to ride Jamarjo. “I never had been on him, but I studied his form,” Watters said. The book was that Jamarjo belonged on the top shelf, finishing second last fall in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). He also may have needed his first race of the season, a second in Foxfield Spring’s Daniel Van Clief Memorial on April 29.
Watters kept Jamarjo close to the early lick of habitual pacesetter Portrade, winner of last summer’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) at Saratoga Race Course, and they separated from the rest of the field on the first run down the backstretch.
As the field climbed out of the backstretch for the final time, Portrade was beginning to tire, and Jamarjo took up the running. Sean McDermott moved Special Skills up to challenge, but Jamarjo gave Watters another gear, and they were drawing away through the homestretch.
For now, Watters will be sticking around. He plans to ride next Saturday at the Fair Hills Races, and he will consider a return for the summer or fall, or both. “I’ll look at the options,” he said. “I may be back.”