Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime, a Grade 1 winner who notched a huge victory at Great Meadow Race Course last fall, looms as the heavy favorite in Saturday’s $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2), the featured hurdle race of the 94th annual Virginia Gold Cup.
The popular meet at Great Meadow in The Plains also features the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup over timber fences on a nine-race program. First post time is 12:30 p.m.
Trained by Ricky Hendriks, Optimus Prime is the highest-rated steeplechase horse currently in training with a 157 ranking, and he will carry the 156-pound highweight for the 2 1/8-mile Semmes, which will be run under allowance conditions.
Ross Geraghty, who has ridden the French-bred in all of his U.S. races, will be in the saddle. In his first American race, Optimus Prime won Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) last August.
After a third to champion Zanjabeel in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), he shipped into Great Meadow for the $75,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) on Oct. 27 and devastated a good-quality field by 18 lengths.
He tuned up for the Semmes with a romping victory in a training flat race at the Middleburg Spring Races on April 20.
Optimus Prime will be giving eight pounds to The Field Stable’s Portrade, winner of the 2016 New York Turf Writers. In his first start in 20 months, Portrade was pulled up in the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2) at Middleburg. Trainer Elizabeth Voss named Jack Doyle to ride the Irish-bred.
The remainder of the field will carry 144 pounds. Irv Naylor’s Sempre Medici most recently finished second to Optimus Prime in the Ferguson, and trainer Cyril Murphy tapped Graham Watters to ride. French-bred Sempre Medici carries a National Steeplechase Association rating of 138, the second-highest in the Semmes field.
Sean McDermott will be aboard Straylight Racing’s Invocation, a two-time ratings handicap winner last fall who finished second in the 2019 Carolina Cup Handicap on March 30. The French-bred is trained by Billy Santoro.
Champion trainer Jack Fisher will saddle Sonny Via’s Hinterland, who finished second in last year’s Lonesome Glory, a neck ahead of Optimus Prime. Fifth in the Carolina Cup, the French-bred will be ridden by Michael Mitchell.
Completing the field is Shannon Hill Farm’s Macnicholson, who is coming back after missing the 2018 season. Trainer Jimmy Day did not initially name a rider on the Irish-bred, who finished fifth in the Steeplechase at Callaway’s Aflac Supreme Hurdle in November 2017.
Here are the field for the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) in post-position order. The horses’ National Steeplechase Association ratings are in parentheses at the end of their profiles.
Invocation (Fr). 2013 dk. b. g., Intense Focus—Fabiola, by Medicean. Owner: Straylight Racing. Trainer: William Santoro. Jockey: Sean McDermott. Breeder: E.A.R.L. Elevage Des Loges (Fr). 2019 record: 1-0-1-0. $9,000. 2018 record: 2-2-0-0, $48,000. 2017 record: 3-2-1-0, $58,500. 2016 NSA record: 2-1-0-1, $20,000. Finished second in 2019 Carolina Cup. In two 2018 starts, won ratings handicaps at Far Hills and Charleston. Won 2017 Saratoga allowance hurdle and Radnor ratings handicap after second in Queen’s Cup ratings handicap. Won a 2016 Colonial Cup allowance hurdle by 18 lengths after third in Far Hills’ Gladstone Stakes, his U.S. debut. (132)
Macnicholson (Ire). 2009 b. g., Definite Article (GB)—Heroic Performer, by Royal Applause (GB). Owner: James S. Carter. Trainer: Jimmy Day. Jockey: Open. Breeder: D. Shine (Ire). 2018: No starts. 2017 NSA record: 5-0-1-0, $20,250. Best of rest when second in Saratoga’s 2017 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes at 35-1 odds, then was sixth in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and fifth in Steeplechase at Callaway’s Aflac Supreme Hurdle. Finished sixth and placed fifth in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Lost riders in his first U.S. starts, 2017 Carolina Cup and Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle, both for novices. Looking for first victory since August 2015. (119)
Sempre Medici (Fr). 2010 b. g., Medicean—Sambala, by Danehill Dancer. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Jockey: Graham Watters. Breeders: Myriam Bollack, Noel Forgeard, and E.A.R.L. du Haras de Pierrepont (Fr). 2018 record: 4-0-1-0, $24,500. 2017 NSA record: No starts. Finished second in David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) after fifth-place finishes in 2018 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2). Pulled up in Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2), his first U.S. start. Competed at top level in England and Ireland for trainer Willie Mullins before being imported. Female-line descendant of foundation mare Best in Show, by Traffic Judge. (138)
Hinterland (Fr). 2008 b. g., Poliglote (GB)—Queen’s Place, by Diamond Prospect. Owner: Harold A. “Sonny” Via Jr. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Michael Mitchell. Breeder: Eric Aubree and Christian Bresson (Fr). 2019 record: 1-0-0-0, $2,000. 2018 record: 4-0-1-0, $63,750. 2017 record: 2-0-1-0, $36,000. Finished fifth in 2019 Carolina Cup. Finished closing second in Belmont Park’s 2018 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), then was fourth in Far Hills’ Grand National (Gr. 1). Opened 2018 with fourth in Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1), then finished sixth in Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2). (128)
Portrade (Ire). 2009 b. g., Trade Fair (GB)—Portorosa, by Irish River (Fr). Owner: The Fields Stable. Trainer: Elizabeth Voss. Jockey: Jack Doyle. Breeder: Keene Bloodstock (Ire). 2019 record: 1-0-0-0, $0. 2018 record: No starts. 2017 record: 3-0-1-0, $19,000. Trailed and pulled up in 2019 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2). Missed 2018 season after fourth in 2017 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Won the 2016 New York Turf Writers (Gr. 1). (127)
Optimus Prime (Fr). 2012 b. g., Deportivo—Diluvienne, by Kaldoun. Owner: Rosbrian Farm. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. Breeder: Haras de Plasence (Fr). 2018 NSA record: 3-2-0-1, $167,500. Won 2018 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) by 18 lengths. In his U.S. debut, won Saratoga Race Course’s 2018 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1), then was third in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). Previously trained by Dan Skelton. (157)