Longtime owner Bill Pape and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard maintained their mastery of the 2010 Saratoga Race Course steeplechase season when early front-runner Lead Us Not surged powerfully under Brian Crowley to win the $53,000 allowance optional claimer on Thursday, Aug. 12.
For the second consecutive week, Sheppard claimed the top two spots when Parker’s Project moved to the front after the last of nine National Fences and held on for second, three-quarters of a length behind Lead Us Not. Caves Farm’s Grantor closed ground late to take third, three lengths farther back. Mrs. George M. Sensor’s Riddle, who had led into the final fence, finished fourth.
Sent to the starter as the 6.20-to-1 fourth betting choice in a field of nine, Lead Us Not ran the optional claimer’s 2 1/16 miles in 3:52.28 on firm turf. An eight-year-old Royal Anthem gelding bred by Pape and Sheppard in Pennsylvania, Lead Us Not collected his first victory in more than two years.
Pape and Sheppard have been a winning combination for three decades, and they have sent out four Eclipse Award winners, most recently Mixed Up in 2009. They were co-owners with George Harris of Flatterer, a Hall of Fame member who won four titles in the 1980s.
Sheppard, who currently leads the 2010 steeplechase standings by victories (18 from 59 starts, 30% strike rate) and earnings ($469,790), has had a lights-out Saratoga season so far. He won the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Memorial with Pape’s Sermon of Love at 11.50-to-1 and also had the third and fourth finishers in that July 29 race.
A week later, he and Pape combined for a score with Divine Fortune (2.70-to-1) in the $75,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 2), and Sheppard also trained the second finisher, Arcadius, owned by Hudson River Farms. The Hudson River Farms operation of Albany real estate developer Edward Swyer also owns Parker’s Project.
Almost as hot as Pape and Sheppard is Crowley, an Irish-born jockey who rode Sermon of Love in the Kiser and was aboard Arcadius in the Smithwick.
Crowley made a crucial move in the late stages of the optional claimer that gave Lead Us Not a chance for the victory. They went out to the early lead, with Riddle close behind them and 2.65-to-1 favorite All Together stalking the pace on the outside.
Riddle, ridden by Bernie Dalton, assumed the lead shortly before the field entered the backstretch for the second time, with Parker’s Project moving into second position approaching the final fence. Several strides before the fence, Crowley steered Lead Us Not to the outside, and the gelding began his charge as he jumped the final obstacle.
Parker’s Project, ridden by Danielle Hudson, jumped to the lead at the last and appeared to be headed for victory as Riddle tired. But Crowley extended Lead Us Not’s stride, and they closed past a game Parker’s Project shortly before the finish line.
–Written by Don Clippinger