Defending Eclipse Award winner Slip Away will be shooting for a return to the winner’s circle when he meets a tough, compact field in Saratoga Race Course’s $75,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 2) on Thursday, Aug. 4.
This week’s Steeplechase Thursday at Saratoga also will feature the $53,000 Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association Firestone Tire Hurdle, an optional allowance race that attracted Percussionist, winner of last fall’s $250,000 Grand National (Gr. 1).
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Slip Away has had one start over fences this year, a second in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 14. Trainer Tom Voss named regular jockey Paddy Young to ride Slip Away in the 2 1/16-mile A. P. Smithwick over nine National Fences on Saratoga’s inner turf course.
The eight-year-old Skip Away gelding will be attempting to break the winning streak of Irvin S. Naylor’s Decoy Daddy, who has collected two graded stakes victories, the $50,000 Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) at Middleburg Spring on April 23 and the $75,000 Marcellus Frost (Gr. 2) at the Iroquois meet in Nashville. Ross Geraghty will ride Irish-bred Decoy Daddy for trainer Tom Foley.
Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who dominated last year’s Saratoga meet with four wins and four seconds in five races, will saddle Bill Pape’s Divine Fortune and Mary Ann Houghland’s Nationbuilder. Divine Fortune won last year’s Smithwick and will be making his first start over fences since finishing fourth in the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) last Aug. 26. Brian Crowley has the mount.
Nationbuilder enters the Smithwick from a third-place finish in the Calvin Houghland Iroquois, named for the owner’s late husband. Darren Nagle takes over the mount from Danielle Hodsdon, who is recovering from a training accident.
Divine Fortune tuned up for the Smithwick with a second-place finish in a training flat race at the Saratoga Open House on July 17, when Pape’s gelding came home a neck behind Armata Stable’s Dynaski. Trained by Voss, Dynaski will be ridden by Xavier Aizpuru in the Smithwick, his first start over fences this year. Dynaski won a 1 3/4-mile allowance race on the flat at the International Gold Cup meet in The Plains, Va., last fall.
Completing the field is James S. Carter’s Spy in the Sky, who has two third-place finishes, both in allowance races, in four starts this year. Trainer Jimmy Day named Jeff Murphy to ride Spy in the Sky. The race honors the memory of Paddy Smithwick, a Racing Hall of Fame steeplechase jockey who died in 1973.
Naylor’s Percussionist tops a highly competitive field of ten for the SOTA Firestone Tire Hurdle, also at 2 1/16 miles. The ten-year-old Sadler’s Wells gelding, a Group 2 winner on the flat in England in 2006, is seeking his first win since the Grand National at Far Hills, N.J., last October. Foley entered Percussionist for a $30,000 claiming price and named Geraghty to ride.