Owner Bill Pape and trainer Jonathan Sheppard continued their sparkling run of success at Saratoga Race Course when Sermon of Love surged powerfully through the stretch to win the $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) by a length over Hudson River Farms’ Arcadius on Thursday, Aug. 26.
The longtime owner-trainer team has won all four steeplechase races at Saratoga in the current season, and they could complete a sweep of the meet’s jump races with a victory in an allowance-optional claimer on Thursday, Sept. 2.
Only slightly less spectacular has been the mastery of Irish jockey Brian Crowley, who has won three Saratoga steeplechase races and finished second in the fourth. In the New York Turf Writers, he duplicated the charge that carried Pape’s seven-year-old Pulpit gelding to a half-length victory in the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 29.
Sermon of Love, coupled in the wagering with Pape’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 2) winner Divine Fortune, went off as the 1.15-to-1 favorite in a New York Turf Writers field that attracted several runners from the Kiser and Smithwick as well as a two new runners.
Gillian Johnston’s Swagger Stick, making his first start since finishing second in the Bright Hour Amateur Hurdle at the Iroquois Races in Nashville on May 8, jumped out to the early lead, with Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) winner Slip Away right behind him.
Crowley placed Sermon of Love in a stalking position in fourth on the outside of the pacesetters for the first two miles of the 2 3/8-mile New York Turf Writers. Ridden by Willie Dowling, Swagger Stick turned into Saratoga’s stretch for the last time with a slight lead over Slip Away, who was beginning to tire, but Sermon of Love met the final fence in stride and overtook Swagger Stick near the sixteenth pole.
Sheppard-trained Arcadius, who had finished second in the Smithwick under Crowley, surged along the rail and momentarily appeared to have the momentum to overtake Sermon of Love. But Crowley kept Sermon of Love in stride, and they opened the length advantage a few strides before the finish line.
“It is unbelievable having four rides and three winners with one second here at this meet,” Crowley said. “[Sermon of Love] traveled great as he normally does. I had a terrific session with the jumps, and he just hit every one spot on. He was traveling everywhere that I wanted him to. I just didn’t want him to go to the front too soon, but I got a great jump over the last, and I had to send him on his way. He dug deep, and if a horse had come to me, I’m sure he would have given a little more to me. He really reformed since the addition of blinkers [for the Kiser], and he was just brilliant today.”
Swagger Stick finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Arcadius and a half-length ahead of Divine Fortune, who closed from the back of the eight-horse field to overtake Slip Away for fourth money.
Sermon of Love completed the New York Turf Writers’ 2 3/8 miles in 4:36.83 on turf rated as good and became the 2010 season’s leading earner with purses totaling $109,500.