Two members of Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s stable, both stakes winners and both on the comeback trail, carry the highweights for Saturday’s $35,000 Noel Laing Hurdle Handicap, the signature race of the 82nd annual Montpelier Hunt Races.
The seven-race program on the property of James and Dolley Madison’s Virginia home kicks off at 1 p.m.
Parker’s Project, owned by Hudson River Farms, won the 2015 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) before his time on the sidelines. He returned with a sixth-place finish in one of the year’s toughest races, the Grand National (Gr. 1) at Far Hills, N.J. on Oct. 15.
Bill Pape’s Martini Brother, one of 2013’s top novices, finished second in Saratoga Race Course’s 2015 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) before being sidelined. He finished seventh in the Grand National in his comeback race.
Gerard Galligan rides Parker’s Project, who carries 156 pounds, and Darren Nagle will be aboard Martini Brother, assigned 154 pounds.
Rosbrian Farm’s Swansea Mile enters the Noel Laing from a seventh-place finish in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills. In his first U.S. start for trainer Ricky Hendriks, the Irish-bred finished fourth in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) on Sept. 22. Bernie Dalton will ride Swansea Mile, who carries 148 pounds.
Trainer Jimmy Day entered Bruce Smart Jr.’s Orchestra Leader and Michael A. Smith’s Cul Baire. Orchestra Leader won Foxfield Fall’s featured optional allowance hurdle on Sept. 25 and will be ridden by Keri Brion. Cul Baire finished fourth in a tough International Gold Cup allowance hurdle.
Champion owner Irv Naylor will be represented by Saluda Sam and Takepointsandrun. Saluda Sam, a Steeplethon specialist, won the Virginia Fall version of that mixed-obstacle steeplechase and was third at the International Gold Cup on Oct. 22. Takepointsandrun finished fifth in a Shawan Downs Ratings Handicap. Mark Watts was named on both.
Owner-trainer Randy Rouse will be attempting to break his own historic record with Hishi Soar. When Hishi Soar won Foxfield Spring’s Daniel Van Clief Memorial in April, the former National Steeplechase Association president became, at age 99, the oldest trainer to saddle a North American Thoroughbred winner.
Here is the field for the Noel Laing Hurdle Handicap. The horse’s weight assignment is in parentheses at the end of each profile.
Martini Brother. 2008 dk. b. or br. g., A.P. Indy—Island Sand, by Tabasco Cat. Owner: Bill Pape. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Darren Nagle. Breeder: Meadowview Farms (Ky). 2015 record: 2-0-1-0, $23,250. Finished seventh in his comeback race, the Grand National (Gr. 1) after more than a year on the sidelines. Finished second in the 2015 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Won his first three races in 2013, including a victory in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, and was one of the year’s top novices. Grade 1-winning dam sold for $4.2-million at 2007 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale while carrying Martini Brother. (154)
Parker’s Project. 2006 dk. b. or br. g., Parker’s Storm Cat—Let’s Canoodle, by Oh Say. Owner: Hudson River Farms. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Gerard Galligan. Breeder: Jonathan Sheppard (Pa.) 2016 record: 1-0-0-0, $0. 2015 record: 2-1-0-1, $50,000. Came back after extended time on sidelines in extremely tough spot and finished sixthi in the Grand National (Gr. 1). Finished third in 2015 National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) in prior start. Began 2015 campaign with neck victory in Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2). In first start in more than two years, closed well to finish second in Belmont Park’s 2014 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), then finished third in Grand National (Gr. 1) (156).
Saluda Sam. 2005 ch. g., Adcat—Super Skirt, by Proud Truth. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: Billy Meister. Jockey: Mark Watts. Breeder: F. R. Bobby Nelson (S.C.) 2016 record: 4-1-0-2, $17,000. 2015 record: 4-3-1-0, $49,200. Won 2016 Virginia Fall’s Steeplethon between third-place finishes in Steeplethons at Virginia Gold Cup and International Gold Cup. (140)
Cul Baire (Ire). 2008 ch. g., King’s Best—Voronova, by Sadler’s Wells. Owner: Michael Smith. Trainer: Jimmy Day. Jockey: Paddy Young. Breeder: D.H.W. Dobson (Ire). 2016 NSA record: 1-0-0-0, $1,800. Finished fourth in International Gold Cup allowance hurdle in first jumps start in more than a year. Scored maiden hurdle victory at Fair Hill in May 2015. (140).
Swansea Mile (Ire). 2010 b. g., Dylan Thomas (Ire)—Hurry Up Helen, by In the Wings (GB). Owner: Rosbrian Farm. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Bernie Dalton. Breeder: W. Kane (Ire). 2016 NSA record: 2-0-0-0, $7,500. Finished fourth in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) in U.S. debut, then was seventh in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. Won at Kempton in April after two wins in July 2015 for former stable. Failed to meet reserve and was bid in at approximately $25,300 at 2016 Goffs UK National Hunt sale in August. (148)
Hishi Soar. 2007 dk. b. or br. g., Theatrical (Ire)—Go On Baby, by With Approval. Owner-trainer: Randolph D. Rouse. Jockey: Barry Foley. Breeder: Kaleem Shah (Ky.) 2016 record: 3-1-0-0, $16,800. 2015 record: 3-0-0-1, $3,500. 2014 record: 2-1-0-0, $6,000. Won 2016 Daniel Van Clief Memorial to make his owner the oldest trainer at age 99 to saddle a U.S. winner. Finished fifth in Foxfield Fall optional allowance hurdle and Virginia Fall Ratings Handicap. (140)
Orchestra Leader. 2009 b. g., Van Nistelrooy—Magic of Life, by Seattle Slew. Owner: S. Bruce Smart Jr. Trainer: Jimmy Day. Jockey: Keri Brion. Breeder: Strategy Bloodstock (Ky.) 2016 record: 6-1-2-0, $30,150. 2015 record: 8-1-5-1, $52,000. 2014 record: 6-1-0-2, $12,500. Won 2016 Foxfield Fall’s featured optional allowance hurdle. Finished second in 2016 Aiken Spring’s Budweiser Imperial Cup optional allowance hurdle and Daniel Van Clief Memorial before being pulled up in High Hope’s optional allowance hurdle. Finished fourth in Monmouth Park Ratings Handicap and fourth in Saratoga handicap. (140)
Takepointsandrun. 2010 ch. g., Point Given—Town Queen, by Williamstown. Owner: Irvin S. Naylor. Trainer: William Meister. Jockey: Mark Watts. Breeders: Carl Hurst, Fred Bradley, and William Bradley (Ky.). 2016 record: 5-2-0-0, $25,600. Kicked off 2016 campaign with win in Aiken Spring allowance hurdle, then won Stoneybrook Steeplechase Ratings Handicap after private sale. Went off course in Iroquois Ratings Handicap. Finished sixth in Suffolk Downs Ratings Handicap, then was fifth in Shawan Downs Ratings Handicap. Claimed from breeders at Churchill Downs in September 2015 and won first start over fences at Aiken Fall. (140