Upland Partners’ Mystic Strike took advantage of a mistake by reigning timber champion Doc Cebu, struck to the front at the final fence of the $50,000 My Lady’s Manor, and held safe a hard-charging Witor to win Saturday’s 109th running of the Maryland timber classic.
Bruton Street-US’s Lemony Bay, owned by the three partners who race Doc Cebu, finished third on a sunny, pleasantly warm afternoon in Monkton in the heart of Maryland’s horse country. The three-mile My Lady’s Manor is the first jewel of the Maryland Timber Triple Crown, followed by the Grand National next Saturday in Butler and the Maryland Hunt Cup on Saturday, April 27, in Glyndon.
As expected, Armata Stables’ Grand Manan went right to the lead at the start, with Doc Cebu tracking his pace through the first 1 1/2 miles. When Grand Manan began to falter, Doc Cebu went to the lead under Hadden Frost and jumped well through the middle portion of the race.
Leading amateur jockey Mark Beecher placed Mystic Strike close behind the leaders in the early going and kept to the inside to provide his 10-year-old mount with the shortest path around the Monkton course.
Approaching the final fences, Mystic Strike was well inside as Doc Cebu led the way ahead of Witor and Lemony Bay toward the outside of the spacious course. Beecher gave his mount a brief break and sacrificed some headway approaching the last two fences.
Doc Cebu, switched toward the inside, took out the top rail of the next-to-last fence and tossed Frost over his shoulder as he stumbled on landing. Doc Cebu hardly missed a stride and ran with the field to the next fence.
With Doc Cebu out of the chase, Blair Wyatt’s Witor took the lead under Eric Poretz, with Lemony Bay close behind him.
Mystic Strike, taking the inside path, kicked down the top rail of the last fence, never missed a stride, and fought past Witor early in the stretch run. Witor continued to battle to the finish line but could not gain any ground. The German-bred finished second by 1 1/4 lengths, and Lemony Bay was third, 12 1/2 lengths farther back.
Mystic Strike ran the three-mile distance in 6:18 2/5 on turf rated as good. A foul claim by Poretz against Mystic Strike and Beecher was disallowed.
A Florida-bred Smart Strike gelding trained by Todd McKenna, Mystic Strike secured his first victory since having his number put up in the 2017 Radnor Hunt Cup in Pennsylvania. He had finished a distant third in last year’s My Lady’s Manor.
Doc Cebu, a former Maryland-circuit claimer who was bought cheaply in 2015 as a steeplechase prospect, is owned by Baltimore-area residents Charles Fenwick Jr., Michael Hankin, and Charles Noell. He won the National Steeplechase Association’s timber championship in 2017 and again last year.