The seven top finishers from Saratoga Race Course’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, led by Gil Johnston’s 35-1 winner Awesome Pearl, will be joined by impressive Monmouth Park winner Address Unknown in Thursday’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes. The 2 3/8-mile race kicks off Saratoga’s program at 12:25 p.m., with TVG providing live coverage.
Ridden by Kieran Norris, Awesome Pearl won the head bob for a nose victory after a stirring deep-stretch battle with The Fields Stable’s Kingdom in the Kiser on July 24. Norris returns aboard Awesome Pearl for trainer Richard Valentine, who also will saddle Anne Pape’s Fog Island. Robbie Walsh will ride Fog Island, the Kiser’s fifth finisher.
Elizabeth Voss Murray, who secured her first graded stakes victory with Makari in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) on July 31, will send out Kingdom with Gus Dahl again in the irons. Daughter of the late leading steeplechase trainer Tom Voss, she will also saddle Bob Le Beau, who was sixth in the Kiser. Jack Doyle, who rode Makari in the Smithwick, again will be aboard Bob Le Beau.
Collecting third money in the Kiser was Rock Ford Stables’ Sporty, who finished 6 1/4 lengths behind the top two. Trainer Julie Gomena gave Xavier Aizpuru a return call.
Finishing a neck farther back in fourth was Bill Pape’s Bluegrass Summer, who was making his 2014 debut after winning last year’s novice championship. Bernie Dalton will ride Bluegrass Summer for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
Jack Fisher, currently the sport’s leading trainer after tying with Sheppard for last year’s title, will send out Edith Dixon’s Schoodic, 2013’s three-year-old champion, and Sheila J. Williams’ Easy Reach. Schoodic encountered traffic trouble in the Kiser and was pulled up. Reigning champion jockey Paddy Young has a return call. Jeff Murphy rides Easy Reach, second in a Parx Racing allowance hurdle on July 1.
Also in the field is Sue Sensor’s Top Striker, the Carolina Cup winner who finished seventh in the Kiser. Steven Pateman, a seven-time champion steeplechase jockey in Australia, will make his Saratoga debut.
Looking to remain unbeaten over fences is Irv Naylor’s Address Unknown, who impressed with a 10 1/4-length score in a Monmouth optional allowance hurdle on June 13. Trained by Cyril Murphy, Address Unknown had won his first start over fences at Fair Hill, Md., on May 24. A handicap winner on the flat in England, the Oasis Dream gelding will be ridden by Ross Geraghty.
Here is the field for the $75,000 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes, which honors the memory of the Racing Hall of Fame member who reigned as the sport’s leading trainer from 1953-1955.
Easy Reach. 2006 dk. b. or br. g, Arch–Brig, by Two Punch. Owner: Sheila J. Williams. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Jeff Murphy. 2014 record: 4-1-3-0, $38,700. 2013 record: 6-2-1-0, $21,480. Finished second in Parx Racing allowance hurdle as 1.30-to-1 favorite on July 1. After second in Carolina Cup to open 2014 season, won Atlanta Steeplechase optional allowance hurdle and finished second in Bright Hour Stakes at the Iroquois Steeplechase on May 10.
Kingdom. 2009 b. g., Louis Quatorze—Distant Drumroll, by Eastern Echo. Owner: The Fields Stable. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss Murray. Jockey: Gus Dahl. 2014 record: 2-0-1-0, $16,500. 2013 record: 10-2-2-1, $63,910. Beaten on the head bob in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 24. In only other 2014 start, finished fifth in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10. Closed out busy 2013 season with gritty victory in Colonial Cup allowance hurdle. Mimi Voss-bred is half brother to two-time filly and mare champion Guelph (2005 and 2008).
Fog Island. 2006 b. g., Rossini—Orchid Island, by Broad Brush. Owner: Anne Pape. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Robbie Walsh. 2014 record: 2-0-0-0, $3,000. 2013 record: 3-0-1-0, $12,750. 2012 record: 5-1-0-0, $47,400. 2011 record: 8-1-1-0, $24,680. Finished fifth in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes after being pulled up in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 10. Abbreviated 2013 season began with second in Carolina Cup. Won the 2012 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J.
Schoodic. 2010 b. g., Tiznow—Aunt Henny, by Hennessy. Owner: Edith R. Dixon. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Paddy Young. 2014 record: 3-1-0-1, $22,500. 2013 record: 2-2-0-0, $30,000. Pulled up in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 24 after being jostled in tight company. Lost his first race over fences when third in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10. Won Dogwood Classic allowance hurdle at Colonial Downs on April 5. Did nothing wrong in his two 2013 victories, daylight scores in Far Hills’ Gladstone Stakes and Colonial Cup’s Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial, on his way to three-year-old championship.
Sporty. 2007 dk. b. or br. g., Smarty Jones—Byzantine, by Quiet American. Owner: Rock Ford Stables. Trainer: Julie Gomena. Jockey: Xavier Aizpuru. 2014 record: 3-0-0-2, $13,500. 2013 record: 4-1-0-0, $19,500. Finished third in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 24. Also finished third in the Bright Hour Stakes at Nashville’s Iroquois Steeplechase on May 10 after fourth in Carolina Cup, his 2014 debut. Was a $40,000 claim from a Racing Hall of Fame trainer in 2011.
Bob Le Beau (Ire). 2007 dk. b. or. br. g., Big Bad Bob—Shine Silently, by Bering (GB). Owner: The Fields Stable. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss Murray. Jockey: Jack Doyle. 2014 record: 1-0-0-0, $2,250. Finished sixth in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, his U.S. debut, on July 24. Formerly based in Ireland with trainer Jessica Harrington and had not raced since last October; won an allowance hurdle last August.
Bluegrass Summer. 2008 gr. or ro. g., Purge—Rose of Summer, by El Prado (Ire). Owner: Bill Pape. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Bernie Dalton. 2014 record: 1-0-0-0, $3,750. 2013 NSA record: 6-3-0-0, $99,600. Reigning novice champion made 2014 debut in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes and finished fourth. Assured himself the 2013 novice title when he held off late challenge to win first division of Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle of Oct. 19. Won optional allowance hurdle at Saratoga last summer.
Awesome Pearl. 2009 dk. b. or br. g., Awesome Again–Gottcha Last, by Pleasant Tap. Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Kieran Norris. 2014 record: 3-1-1-0, $56,250. 2013 record: 4-2-0-0, $22,800. Won Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes by a nose at 35-to-1 on July 24. Finished second in the $50,000 Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase for novices near Charlotte on April 26 before an even sixth in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes on May 10.
Top Striker. 2009 b. g., Van Nistelrooy–Two’s Cozy, by Cozzene. Owner: Sue Sensor. Trainer: Arch Kingsley Jr. Jockey: Steven Pateman. 2014 NSA record: 4-1-0-1, $35,000. 2013 record: 3-1-1-0, $17,700. Weakened late to finish seventh in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 24. Scored impressive victory in Carolina Cup in his 2014 debut before third in Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase on April 26.
Address Unknown (GB). 2007 b. g., Oasis Dream (GB)—Return, by Sadler’s Wells. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. 2014 record: 2-2-0-0, $33,000. Remained undefeated with impressive victory in Monmouth Park optional allowance hurdle on June 13. Won $25,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle at Fair Hill Races on May 24 in first start over fences. Juddmonte-bred was handicap winner on flat in England but needed at least two miles to show his best.