Call it sweet revenge. Mystic Strike, Upland Partners’ hard-knocking 11-year-old son of Smart Strike, who was collared by Rebecca’s Shepherd’s Curve of Stones in the final strides of the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup timber stakes at the Virginia Fall Races last month, turned the tables on his foe in Sunday’s $25,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, with a runaway eight-length victory on a cold and rainy day over a deep and tiring course.
With Tom Garner in the saddle for trainer Todd McKenna, Mystic Strike was content to race from the back of the pack, along with Curve of Stones, for much of the four-mile contest, taking the lead three fences from home and drawing off with authority after the last. It was the second consecutive victory in the Hunt Cup for Mystic Strike, and his sixth in 13 starts overall since beginning his jump racing career in 2016.
After the race, jockey-turned-trainer Mark Beecher congratulated Garner. Beecher rode Mystic Strike in last year’s Hunt Cup, his final mount as a jockey. Mystic Strike also boasts stakes scores in the Radnor Hunt Cup and My Lady’s Manor. Curve of Stones, the runner up, came into the Hunt Cup off of two straight timber stakes wins, at Virginia Fall and the International Gold Cup last weekend.
Like Mystic Strike, Charlie Fenwick’s Royal Ruse, ridden by Skylar McKenna for her aunt, trainer Sanna Neilson, was victorious over the Unionville, Pa., course for the second year in a row, taking the Arthur O. Choate Jr. Memorial timber allowance race by 35 lengths. Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, trained by Skylar’s mom, Kathy Neilson, took the place spot. It was Awesome Adrian’s third appearance at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races, having finished third in the Choate in 2019 and third in Lewis C. Ledyard timber maiden in 2018.
In this year’s Ledyard, Kinross Farm’s Pocket Talk broke his timber maiden, going wire-to-wire to score by 11 ½ lengths under Eddie Keating for trainer Joseph Davies.
Two training flat races for apprentice riders rounded out the card, and both were particularly notable. In the first division of the Athenian Idol, run at 1 ⅜ miles, jockey Courtney Dankanich earned her first NSA sanctioned win aboard Emily Astor’s Pony Up for trainer Ricky Hendriks. Pony Up finished 3 ¾ lengths ahead of Richard Blue Jr.’s Senor Seville, ridden by Maddie Rowland. Maddie is the daughter of the late trainer Paul Rowland, who conditioned the wonderful stakes star Preemptive Strike, among others.
Also in the field making his long-awaited comeback was 2019 Eclipse Award winning steeplechaser Winston C. Unraced since the Lonesome Glory Stakes at Belmont Park in September 2019, Hudson River Farm’s champion is gearing up for a winter campaign in Europe, and was looking to stretch his legs and gain fitness. Though he finished seventh, Keri Brion, assistant to trainer Jonathan Sheppard, was thrilled with the six-year-old’s performance.
“(We were) super happy with him,” Brion said. “Plan was to just take him back and stay on the best ground possible and let him pass some up the stretch, which he did. He got a very good blow out of it, which we wanted. His first run is Dec. 31 in Ireland, so having this run in him before shipping to Ireland will hopefully do a lot for fitness.
“It was also his first time back off lasix since he won’t be able to run on it over there, and he did not bleed, which was great. So yes, (we were) very happy with him! The plan was never to try to win or anything like that; hopefully it’s a good stepping stone for what’s next for him!”
In the final race of the day, the second division of the Athenian Idol, Sherry Fenwick’s Forgiving, the older half sister to Fenwick’s recent winner Anticipating — both offspring of her champion 2009 steeplechase mare Confined — came home a winner under Parker Hendriks for Jonathan Sheppard. Forgiving won by 2 ¾ lengths over Petticoats Loose Farm’s The Kid Rocks, making his first start on the NSA circuit after winning seven times in 17 starts on the flat, mostly at Tampa Bay and Presque Isle Downs.