The NSA concluded its Covid-abbreviated season on Sunday with a thrilling exclamation point at the Steeplechase of Charleston in Hollywood, S.C. Coming into the meet, Gerard Galligan and Michael Mitchell were noses apart in the battle for leading jockey, and after the final race was run, Galligan emerged with his first ever title after enjoying the biggest day of his eight-year career on the circuit.
Riding for Jonathan Sheppard, who a week earlier at Callaway Gardens locked up his record 26th training title, Galligan took the first four races, with KMSN Stable’s High Sierra and Sheppard’s Penitence, in the the first and second divisions of the maiden claiming hurdle; Sheppard’s Bet the Pot in the maiden hurdle; and Buttonwood Farm’s budding star Zoom Zoom Zoe in the handicap for horses rated at 110 and lower.
Galligan nearly ran the table, coming up a half length short with Sheppard’s Lap of the Gods in the finale, the $15,000 Alston Cup for three-year-old jumpers, won by Mr. Sarinana, owned and trained by Kate Dalton and ridden by her husband, Bernie.
Galligan ends the season with 14 wins in 61 mounts (a winning percentage of almost 23 percent); Mitchell, 11 victories in 62 mounts. Sheppard had 20 victories to Jack Fisher’s dozen. Prior to this season, Fisher had been leading trainer for nine straight seasons.
Reacting to his remarkable achievement, Galligan said: “I was hoping I might be able to claw back a draw in the jockey championship, but after winning the first four races, I had to pinch myself. I was worried I was going to wake up from a dream. It was the proudest day of my career for sure. I’m very grateful for all the support from Jonathan Sheppard, his great team at Ashwell, and all the wonderful owners for the opportunities this year. I’ve never been happier.”
As most steeplechase fans know, Sheppard has been at home in Florida during the pandemic, and his string has been overseen by assistant Keri Brion.
“I know Jonathan is extremely proud of the team,” Brion said. “I have followed his program to a T and we have gotten the results we had hoped for. I am humbled to have been a part.”
Following the races, Sheppard’s wife, Cathy, shared comments from her husband on her Facebook page. “Jonathan wants to congratulate Gerard on winning the jockey title. Gerard is a very humble hard-working rider and has been kind to ‘our’ apprentice Parker Hendriks (the son of fellow trainers Sanna Neilson and Ricky Hendriks). Today (Sunday) is his birthday. He is very special to Jonathan for so many reasons. One being that he has the name Parker. Jonathan lost a son named Parker to unspeakable violence. He was extremely close to Parker and they had a special bond.”
Cathy continued, “We will never be able to thank Keri Brion enough for her incredible intelligence and hard work. Jonathan says that he developed the program, but now Keri does the hard work to take the burden off of him. Her crew of people is just incredible. Jonathan says his success is due to good horses, good owners, and good help. And he is right. He acknowledges that he is lucky, too. He has always told me that ‘It is better to be lucky than smart.’ But don’t let him fool you. He is very smart. Very.”