Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime, currently the National Steeplechase Association’s top-rated hurdler, will take on a formidable Bruton Street-US team headed by multiple graded stakes winner Moscato in Saratoga Race Course’s $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) on Thursday.
The 2 1/16-mile Smithwick will be Saratoga’s first race, with a 12:50 p.m. first post time.
Trained by Ricky Hendriks, Optimus Prime will have a new jockey, two-time champion Darren Nagle, for the French-bred’s 2020 debut under 158 pounds, which also is his rating.
Now eight, Optimus Prime had a championship-level season in 2018, beginning with a victory in Saratoga’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1). He finished third in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), and then scored an impressive victory in the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial Stakes (Gr. 2).
With Saratoga as his target, Optimus Prime rolled to an eye-popping victory in the Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) in May of 2019, but he went to the sidelines for the remainder of the season.
For his comeback race, Optimus Prime will face a formidable trio from leading trainer Jack Fisher’s stable.
Moscato scored his second straight victory in Middleburg Spring’s Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3), rolling up an 11-length drubbing of a quality field under Michael Mitchell, who has a return call for the Smithwick. Moscato will carry second highweight of 156 pounds.
Bruton Street also will field Pravalaguna, whose only U.S. start was a stunning victory in Far Hills’ Peapack Stakes for fillies and mares on Oct. 19. Formerly trained by Willie Mullins, she will be making her first start since the Peapack. Kieran Norris will ride.
Fisher also will saddle Riverdee Stable’s Gibralfaro, winner of last fall’s Ferguson Memorial and fourth in the Semmes on June 27. Sean McDermott will ride.
Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice, Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean, and Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Winner Massagot also enter the Smithwick from the Semmes. Chief Justice, trained by Cyril Murphy, finished second, 4½ lengths behind Bruton Street’s Snap Decision, and will be ridden by Barry Foley.
Thomas Garner has the mount on Redicean, who finished third in the Semmes for trainer Leslie Young. Trainer Richard Valentine named Gerard Galligan to ride Winner Massagot, who finished fifth in the Virginia Gold Cup race.
Coming into the Smithwick from the Temple Gwathmey are Belisarius, who finished second, and Wendy Hendriks’ Surprising Soul, the fifth finisher. Owned by Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, and Brous Stable, Belisarius also was entered in Wednesday’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, which is headed by Snap Decision. Trainer Kate Dalton named husband Bernie to ride the nine-year-old Irish-bred.
Ross Geraghty has the mount on Surprising Soul, who won Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory last September. Ricky Hendriks trains the eight-year-old Ontario-bred for his mother.
Here are the field for the $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) in post-position order. The horses’ handicap weights are in parentheses at the end of their profiles.
Belisarius (Ire). 2011 b. g., Montjeu—Lasting Chance, by American Chance. Owner: Gary Barber, Brous Stable, and Wachtel Racing Stable. Trainer: Kate Dalton. Breeders: Lynch Bages Ltd. And Camas Park Stud (Ire). 2020 record: 1-0-1-0, $9,000. 2019 NSA record: 5-0-1-1, $28,500. 2018 NSA record: 6-2-1-2, $106,200. Finished closing second in 2020 Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3). Finished third in Saratoga’s 2019 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) after 10th in A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1), then was seventh in Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). In 2019 debut, finished second in Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2), then was ninth in Iroquois’ Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle for novices. Won 2018 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle by 6¼ lengths. (140)
Pravalaguna (Fr). 2012 b. m., Great Pretender (Ire)—Arnette (Fr), by Denham Red (Fr). Owner: Bruton Street-US. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Breeder: Philip Gueret (Fr). 2019 NSA record: 1-1-0-0, $45,000. Easily won Far Hills’ 2019 Peapack Stakes in U.S. debut for then-trainer Willie Mullins. Won an allowance hurdle in August between seventh-place finish in the thetote.com Galway Plate Steeplechase and fifth in the Guinness Kerry National Steeplechase. (147)
Optimus Prime (Fr). 2012 b. g., Deportivo—Diluvienne, by Kaldoun. Owner: Rosbrian Farm. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Breeder: Haras de Plasence (Fr). 2019 record: 1-1-0-0, $45,000. 2018 NSA record: 3-2-0-1, $167,500. Easily won his only 2019 start over fences, the Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2), by 8¾ lengths. 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. (158)
Gibralfaro. (Ire). 2012 b. g., Dalakhani (Ire)—Ronda, by Bluebird. Owner: Riverdee Stable. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Breeder: Sarl Darpat France (Ire). 2020 record: 1-0-0-0, $2,400. 2019 record: 5-2-1-0, $144,000. 2018 record: 5-1-3-0, $77,250. Finished fourth in 2020 David Semmes Memorial at Virginia Gold Cup. Won International Gold Cup’s 2019 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2). Finished second in Saratoga’s New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) after fourth in A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Opened 2019 with victory in Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase for novices, then was sixth in Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1). Finished second in Far Hills’ 2018 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle division and Aflac Supreme Hurdle. (142)
Moscato (GB). 2011 gr. or ro. g., Hernando (Fr)—Alba Stella, by Nashwan. Owner: Bruton Street-US. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Breeder: Miss K. Rausing (GB). 2020 record: 1-1-0-0, $30,000. 2019 record: 4-1-0-1, $105,000. 2018 record: No starts. Won 2020 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) by 11 lengths. Novice champion of 2017 returned from a year on the sidelines and won the 2019 Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 2). Finished third in 2019 Grand National (Gr. 1) after third in Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and eighth in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). Won Belmont’s 2017 William Entenmann Novice Stakes and Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes impressively. (156)
Surprising Soul. 2012 b. g., Perfect Soul (Ire)—Elusive Surprise, by Elusive Quality. Owner: Wendy W. Hendriks. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Breeder: Charles Fipke (Ont.) 2020 record: 1-0-0-0, $2,500. 2019 record: 3-1-1-0, $119,500. 2018 record: 3-2-1-0, $97,500. Finished fifth in 2020 Temple Gwathmey Handicap at Middleburg Spring. Won Belmont Park’s 2019 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) by3¾ lengths. Finished second in 2019 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr 1) after fourth in Carolina Cup Handicap, his 2019 debut. Won Saratoga’s 2018 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes, then was second in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle division. Opened 2018 with dominant victory in Radnor’s National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3). (148)
Chief Justice (GB). 2015 b. g., Acclamation—Freedom Pass, by Gulch. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Cyril Murphy. Breeder: G. B. Partnership (GB). 2020 record: 1-0-1-0, $6,300. 2019 NSA record: 3-0-0-1, $17,500. Finished second in 2020 David Semmes Memorial at the Virginia Gold Cup. Finished third in Belmont Park’s 2019 William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes, then was fourth in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. In U.S. debut for former trainer Gordon Elliott, closed well to be fourth in Iroquois Steeplechase’s 2019 Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes. (142)
Winner Massagot (Fr). 2011 ch. g., Muhaymin—Winnor (Fr), by Lesotho. Owner: Jacqueline Ohrstrom. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Breeders: Christian Ballet and Jean Luc Terrieres (Fr). 2020 record: 1-0-0-0, $1,750. 2019 record: 1-0-0-0, $0. 2018 NSA record: 2-1-1-0, $33,000. Finished fifth in 2020 David Semmes Memorial. Won Montpelier’s 2018 Noel Laing Handicap impressively after second in Far Hills ratings handicap, his U.S. debut. Won lower-level handicap at England’s Fontwell Park before export. (140)
Redicean (GB). 2014 b. g., Medicean (GB)—Red Halo, by Galileo (Ire). Owner: Sharon E. Sheppard. Trainer: Leslie Young. Breeder: Cheveley Park Stud (GB). 2020 record: 1-0-0-1, $3,500. 2019 NSA record: 3-1-0-0, $67,500. Finished third in Virginia Gold Cup’s 2020 David Semmes Memorial. Finished fifth in 2019 Grand National (Gr. 1). Graduated from novice ranks with victory in Saratoga’s 2019 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, his first U.S. start after respectable career in England, then was sixth in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1). (144)