Wendy Hendriks’ Surprising Soul won the spring’s final graded stakes race, the National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3), by more than 10 lengths at 2 3/8 miles on a very soft turf course. For Wednesday’s $75,000 Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes, the Perfect Soul gelding was pulling back slightly in class at the same distance on a Saratoga Race Course turf course softened by August-long rains.
Still, Saratoga’s bettors let him get away at 9-2, even more generous than his 7-2 program-line odds, and missed an opportunity. Under a stylishly timed ride under Ross Geraghty, Surprising Soul, took the lead after four fences, opened daylight in Saratoga’s stretch after 2 1/4 miles and held off a charging No Wunder to win by a head.
Carrington Holdings’ Boss Man, a recent Saratoga winner making his stakes debut, set the early pace and held on well for third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Robert A. Kinsley’s No Wunder.
Gillian Johnston’s Mutasaawy, favored at 9-to-5 after finishing second in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes on July 25, was never completely comfortable in the Walsh and slammed the final fence on the backstretch. He finished fifth, 2 3/4 lengths behind a stablemate, Thomas Hulfish’s Swellelegent, a Saratoga winner this season for trainer Neil Morris.
Completing the field was Irv Naylor’s newcomer Salix, who raced near the back of a well-bunched field for much of the race before tiring in the stretch.
Surprising Soul paid $11 to win after running the Walsh distance in 4:40.95 on turf rated as good. The Walsh was run in memory of longtime National Steeplechase Association Executive Vice President Charles T. Colgan, who died in January. Presenting the trophy was his daughter Kerry Colgan Shovlin, who is the granddaughter of Racing Hall of Fame trainer Mickey Walsh, for whom the race is named.
Accepting the trophy were the owner and her son, Ricky Hendriks, who moved into a tie with Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard for most wins this NSA season, with 11. He circled the Walsh after giving Ontario-bred Surprising Soul some time to recover from the tiring ground at Radnor on May 19.
In the winner’s circle, Geraghty credited trainer Hendriks for having Surprising Soul ready for a top effort in the Walsh. After the start on Saratoga’s backstretch, Surprising Soul showed a little rust at the first fence as he lapped on early leader Boss Man, but his jumping straightened out over subsequent fences.
Boss Man also was jumping well under Sean McDermott, riding the Florida-bred for the first time, but a modest mistake at the fourth fence, as the field entered the backstretch the second time, allowed Geraghty to move to the fore with Surprising Soul by the next fence.
No Wunder, trained by Elizabeth Voss, kept in touch with the leaders under Jack Doyle as the field jumped the last fence. Geraghty moved Surprising Soul clear of Boss Man entering the turn, and No Wunder took second position entering the stretch.
At the furlong pole, Surprising Soul led by 3 1/2 lengths, but No Wunder wasn’t finished. Doyle kept him moving forward while Geraghty drove Surprising Soul to the finish line. No Wunder continued to gain ground but fell just short in a game effort.