For the one and only time this spring, two NSA meets will run concurrently, as the 124th Maryland Hunt Cup takes place in Glyndon on Saturday while the hurdle season kicks off about 500 miles away at the Queen’s Cup in Mineral Springs, N.C.
The Hunt Cup, America’s oldest steeplechase, will be run with limited spectators due to Covid restrictions. Masks and social distancing are required. Ticket sales have ended and no walk-ins are allowed. Post time is 4 p.m. The historic event will be streamed live (without commentary), but will be fully covered Monday at 7 p.m. on the NSA’s hour-long weekly recap show, Jump Racing USA, accessible at www.nationalsteeplechase.com. Fans can watch the show on demand after that.
It’s a different story at the Queen’s Cup, to be run without fans. Race organizers and the NSA have a day-long live stream broadcast planned showcasing all six races, beginning at 12:15 p.m. Well-known UK race caller Mark Johnson — the only announcer to call both the Kentucky and Epsom derbys — joins host Megan Connolly providing pre- and post-race analyses and interviews. Both will be covering the races remotely. You can access the live stream via the NSA web site.
The Maryland Hunt Cup
At four miles over 22 post-and-rail fences — some nearly five-feet tall — the Maryland Hunt Cup is the longest and most demanding timber race in the U.S. This year’s running carries a $60,000 purse and, as always, is restricted to amateur riders. Two of the most notable winners have gone on to win the English Grand National at Aintree, the world’s most famous steeplechase. Ben Nevis II and Jay Trump, both Hall of Famers, accomplished the rare double.
With the 2020 event cancelled because of the pandemic, the most recent Hunt Cup winner was Irvin Crawford’s Senior Senator, in 2019, who also captured it in 2018 and 2016. Senior Senator, sadly, died of colic a year ago, and both his rider, Eric Poretz, and trainer, Joe Davies, will be back with other contenders.
A field of 10 is expected, three of whom are making return trips.
In fact, Bruton Street-US’ Drift Society, 13, is making his fifth Hunt Cup appearance for trainer Jack Fisher. The likely favorite has finished third or better four times. He finished second, four lengths behind Senior Senator in 2019 and fell short in a riveting duel with Derwins Prospector in 2017. Connor Hankin has the mount.
Drift Society’s stablemate, Preseli Rock, 11, made his first start in three and a half years in the My Lady’s Manor Stakes on April 10, finishing second to Vintage Vinnie. Before that, he won the Steeplethon at Great Meadow in October 2017. Also trained by Fisher, Preseli Rock gets the services of timber specialist Hadden Frost, who was second in the Hunt Cup on Drift Society in 2019 and 2017, and third in 2018. Frost is the brother of Bryony Frost, a regular rider on the National Hunt circuit in Europe.
Irv Naylor’s Jeffery G., 14, ran fourth in the 2019 Hunt Cup under Forrest Kelly for trainer Jason Cole. The two are giving it another try, though Jeffery G. comes into the race with an 0 for 16 record and whose career-best third over timber came five years ago.
Like Drift Society, Armata Stables’ Joshua G., 15, is making his fifth Hunt Cup attempt. He was third two years back and second in 2018, beaten just five lengths. In 2017 and 2016, he didn’t finish. He made his seasonal debut in an allowance contest at the Grand National Races last week, fading to last after leading for much of the way. Skylar McKenna rides for trainer Kathy Neilson.
Armata’s other entry, Vintage Vinnie scratched out of the Hunt Cup in 2019, and returns with a rider brand new to American racing, Dan Nevin. The young Irishman, who has worked for the legendary Willie Mullins, was aboard Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge for trainer Keri Brion at Cork Racecourse in early April. The (longshot) win was the first ever victory by an American trainer in a hurdle race in Ireland. Vintage Vinnie, who races for Joe Davies, won the My Lady’s Manor, the first leg of the Maryland Timber Triple, earlier this month, an unusual race that fell apart after two favorites, Schoodic and Mystic Strike, slipped and fell. It was the Irish-bred’s fifth U.S. start, and first stakes foray. He has never been off the board since coming stateside.
Irv Naylor’s Hooded, 10, has never faced this tough a field, and boasts only a maiden win over timber. He finished a decent fourth in the Maryland Grand National last Saturday for trainer Cyril Murphy. No rider has been named.
At age seven, Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse is the baby of the group. He hasn’t been off the board in almost two years, with eight in-the-money finishes. He was a solid second to Le Chevalier in the Grand National, beaten six lengths. In his only other timber stake start, the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup, Royal Ruse finished a close third. The up-and-comer gets a jockey change from Skylar McKenna to Chris Gracie for trainer Sanna Neilson.
Kiplin Hall’s Sideling Hill, 9, is a maiden after 30 starts on the flat and over jumps. He has never competed in a stake. Trainer Willie Dowling saddled Sideling Hill to a third in his seasonal bow, a maiden timber race at the My Lady’s Manor Races, on April 10. Three-time Hunt Cup winner Eric Poretz has the ride.
Lucy Goelet’s Rocket Star Red, 9, also makes his first Hunt Cup start. He tuned up in an allowance at the Grand National Races, finishing a respectable second to Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, and ahead of Hunt Cup rivals Hooded and Joshua G. Mark Beecher, who as a jockey won the Hunt Cup in 2013 on Professor Maxwell and Raven’s Choice in 2015, trains Rocket Star Red. Brett Owings rides.
Michael A. Smith’s Le Chevalier has had a long, productive career, his crowning moments coming in the prestigious New Jersey Hunt Cup at the 2016 Far Hills Races and the National Sporting Library and Museum Cup Stakes at Virginia Fall two years later. Last Saturday, the 12-year-old turned back the clock to capture the Grand National with McLane Hendriks, who again has the mount for trainer Julie Gomena.
Click here for the full entries: https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/MHC-Overnight.pdf
The Queen’s Cup
Six races and $100,000 in purses are on the line at the Queen’s Cup outside of Charlotte, N.C. There’s a maiden, maiden claiming, and allowance hurdle, an allowance race over timber, a handicap for horses rated 115 or less, and a flat training race. The feature is the $35,000 Queen’s Cup novice stakes, with an expected field of 10, six of whom are English- or Irish-breds who at one stage of their careers were in the hands of notable European trainers including Aiden O’Brien, Gordon Elliot, Ben Pauling, Alan King, and Warren Greatrex. The race is restricted to four-year-olds and up who haven’t won over hurdles prior to March 1, 2020 or have never won three races other than those as three-year-olds.
Riverdee Stable’s City Dreamer prevailed in a cavalry charge in the prestigious Marcellus Frost novice stakes at the 2019 Iroquois Races, but his best performance in five starts since then was a second in the AFLAC Supreme novice stakes at Callaway Gardens that year. Sean McDermott rides.
Gowiththeflow is a first time starter in the U.S. for owner Bruton Street, which maintains stables on both sides of the Atlantic. Like City Dreamer, Gowiththeflow is trained by Jack Fisher. Graham Watters rides.
Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice won a handicap hurdle at the 2019 Grand National Festival at Aintree in England, and in five ambitious starts on the NSA circuit since then, he boasts a second in the David Semmes Memorial to the sensational Snap Decision and a third in the William Entenmann Memorial novice stakes at Belmont Park. Eddie Keating, who already has three wins this spring, rides for trainer Cyril Murphy. Naylor has another starter, Family Tree, trained by Neil Morris. Family Tree won back-to-back maiden and allowance hurdle starts in 2019, but was winless in five tries last year, though he did finish second to Snap Decision in a tough field in the Walsh at Saratoga last summer. Richard Boucher has the mount.
Sherry Fenwick’s Anticipating gave young rider Parker Hendriks his first NSA-sanctioned win last October, and the duo team up again for their first stakes effort. Sanna Neilson is the trainer.
In two U.S. starts in 2019, Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Arch My Boy turned heads with close finishes to Snap Decision and another top runner, Redicean, which followed two straight scores in England. But the Richard Valentine runner didn’t compete in 2020. Barry Foley rides.
Another ballyhooed jumper who took the steeplechase world by storm when he won his first two career hurdle races in 2019 is KMSN Stable’s Sportswear. However, the gelded son of the undefeated European superstar Frankel hasn’t hit the board in four races since. When Jonathan Sheppard retired, his assistant, Keri Brion, took over the training. Bernie Dalton rides.
After three in-the-money performances in 2020, including a third in the Kiser novice stakes at the Spa, Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well, trained by Leslie Young, gets the services of the NSA’s leading jockey of 2020, Gerard Galligan.
Rounding out the field are Gill Johnston’s Brianbakescookies, a handicap winner at Virginia Fall last year, and Allison Fulmer’s The Happy Giant, who broke his maiden at Colonial Downs last summer.
For the full entries, click here: https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/QueensCup-Overnight.pdf
News and notes
Retired jockey-turned-trainer Arch Kingsley dons the silks for the first time in eight years to pilot J. David Richardson’s Kilronan, who makes his debut over jumps in the maiden hurdle at the Queen’s Cup. Kingsley also gets a leg up on Richard Colton’s Hypnotist in the flat race. Kingsley, who trains both horses, won 129 races in 700 starts between 1993 and 2013.
Also in that maiden race is Hayabusa One, a multiple graded stakes-placed winner of nearly $200,000 on the flat. The eight-year-old French-bred is owned by Team Valor International and Gary Barber, both prominent players in flat racing. Hayabusa One, trained by Kate Dalton, finished second in the 2018 San Marcos and San Luis Rey turf stakes at Santa Anita for trainer Peter Miller. This will be his first try over hurdles.
The Queen’s Cup marks the initial implementation of the new EasyFix fence in an NSA sanctioned meet. Six flights of fences, made of rubber and plastic in a one-piece construction, will be used in place of the time-honored national fence, a modular design incorporating several different materials including metal. The EasyFix fence, which has been used overseas and studied by safety experts, is more forgiving of mistakes. For detailed information, check out this new article on the NSA web site: https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/news/times-are-changing/
Although fans won’t be gathering in-person for this year’s Queen’s Cup, race co-chair Bill Price says they can still support the event and its charity partner, Alzheimer’s Association, by purchasing a raffle ticket, which offers the chance to win three grand prizes. Click here for information: https://go.eventgroovefundraising.com/2021-queenscup-raffle/Campaign
Winners will be announced via e-mail at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
To add a measure of fun to the day, the Queen’s Cup is going ahead with its annual hat and tailgate contests, only people get to participate virtually from home. The idea is for fans to submit photos of their at-home tailgate and hat creations to email@example.com by noon Eastern Time on Monday, April 26. Beginning that evening and continuing through April 30, photos of the submissions will be posted to the Queen’s Cup’s Instagram page, where people can vote for their favorites in various categories. There are no prizes, just bragging rights.