Bill Pape’s Sermon of Love extended powerfully after the final fence on Saratoga Race Course’s inner turf course and overtook Oakwood Stable’s Virginia Minstrel in the final 50 yards to win the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes by a half-length on Thursday, July 29.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard trained the winner and also was responsible for the third- and fourth-place finishers, his homebred Italian Wedding and Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder, respectively. Sent off at 11.50-to-1, Sermon of Love ran the Kiser’s 2 1/16-miles in 3:49.56 on firm turf.
Ridden by Irish jockey Brian Crowley, seven-year-old Sermon of Love tracked the early pace in third position, just behind front-running Birthday Beau and 2.25-to-1 favorite Mabou. On the final turn, Virginia Minstrel advanced menacingly on the outside under Matt McCarron. Owner-trainer Michele Sanger’s Birthday Beau gave way shortly before the final fence, with Virginia Minstrel gaining ground on Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Mabou. The favorite stumbled on the landing side of the last fence, and Virginia Minstrel appeared to be headed for his fourth consecutive victory for trainer Julie Gomena.
Sermon of Love jumped the last of nine fences and quickly gained ground on Virginia Minstrel, who continued gamely but could not hold off the winner. Italian Wedding, who had raced toward the back of the field early, closed well under Willie Dowling to take third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Virginia Minstrel. Nationbuilder was another 1 1/2 lengths back in fourth.
Sermon of Love went off at double-digit odds because he had not won over fences in more than a year, but the Pulpit gelding savors the going at Saratoga. He won his maiden victory on the flat at the upstate New York track a year ago and then finished second to Spy in the Sky in the New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) on Aug. 27.
The Kiser’s $42,000 first-place purse raised Sermon of Love’s career earnings to $215,901. The race for up-and-coming steeplechase horses is named for a two-time champion jockey who died in a non-racing accident in 2000.
–Written by Don Clippinger