Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard and jockey Gerard Galligan climbed to the top of the National Steeplechase Association standings with three victories apiece at the season-opening Middleburg Spring Races on Saturday.
Sheppard, the all-time leading steeplechase trainer by both wins and earnings, and Galligan combined forces for two of those victories on the 11-race Middleburg program, which featured a record 115 starters.
Supervised by assistant Keri Brion, the Sheppard team struck early in the Glenwood Hurdle, an allowance race for horses who had not won twice over fences. Darren Nagle rode Hudson River Farms’ Galway Kid to a come-from-behind neck victory over Brianbakescookies in the year’s first race over fences after the long new-coronavirus lockdown.
Galway Kid made his U.S. debut at Far Hills last October with a fifth-place finish in the Harry Harris Stakes after a point-to-point victory in Ireland. The Irish-bred notched his first sanctioned victory at the Steeplechase at Callaway in November.
Galligan, who finished seventh in last year’s jockey standings with six victories, strung together three straight wins in maiden hurdles. He struck first with Carrington Holdings’ Hot Springs, who scored a length victory over Lonely Weekend in the second division of the Virginia Equine Alliance maiden hurdle. Arch Kingsley Jr. trained Hot Springs, a Grade 3 flat winner who was making his first sanctioned start over fences.
Aboard Buttonwood Farms’ Zoom Zoom Zoe for Sheppard, Galligan made a winning late move to defeat free-running Lear Avia in the maiden hurdle for fillies and mares. He came back in the first division of the waiver maiden claiming hurdle with West Grove Venture’s Hyperlapse, who drew away late to a 15-length victory for Sheppard.
Jack Fisher, the perennial leading trainer who set a purse earnings record of almost $1.6-million last year, scored two victories. His first was a repeat win by Bruton Street-US’s Moscato in the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3).
Ridden by Michael Mitchell, Moscato always was in a striking position, moved late on the front-runners, and won by 11½ lengths over late-running Belisarius.
Sean McDermott was in the saddle for Fisher’s second win of the season, aboard Sheila J. Williams’ Storm Team in the maiden timber race. McDermott closed out the card with a double when he rode Straylight Racing’s Invocation to a 1½-length victory over Dapper Dan in the Alfred M. Hunt steeplethon over mixed obstacles for trainer Mark Beecher.
Leslie Young trained 2019 timber champion Andi’amu to a dominant repeat victory in the Middleburg Hunt Cup. Although Ballybristol Farm’s French-bred won officially by 3 ¾ lengths, jockey Thomas Garner geared him down in the last sixteenth mile after setting all the pace. Young also trained Bruton Street-US’s Rashaan to a third-place finish in the Temple Gwathmey.
Jump racing resumes on Saturday, June 27, with the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains. Nominations for the Virginia Gold Cup over timber and the David Semmes Memorial, the hurdle co-feature, are due on Monday.