Gil Johnston’s Syros, a rags-to-riches horse who went from maiden claimer to Saratoga winner within a few months last year, tops a highly competitive field for the $75,000 Carolina Cup, the featured race on Saturday’s six-race program at Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C. The 82nd annual Carolina Cup kicks off with a 1:30 p.m. first post time.
In addition to the action in the stakes race for American jump racing’s rising-stars division, reigning Eclipse Award winner Demonstrative has been entered in a 1 1/2-mile training flat race as he prepares to defend his title as North America’s champion steeplechase horse.
The Carolina Cup, limited to novices in their first seasons of racing over fences, also attracted novice stakes winners Fog Island and Where’s the Beef, returning competitor Sporty, and a newcomer to American racing, Diplomat.
Jack Fisher dominated last year’s trainer standings by wins to garner his third straight championship, and Syros was certainly a part of his success. At the start of the season, Syros was racing in the sport’s bottom tier, but he figured it all out at the Virginia Gold Cup on May 3 and romped home by more than 30 lengths. Just 15 days later, he finished second in the featured Jay Trump starter allowance hurdle at the High Hope Steeplechase in Lexington, Ky.
Syros possesses enough speed to win on the flat, and Fisher sent him out for a victory in a $35,000 claiming race at Belmont Park in June. At Saratoga Race Course, he finished third in an allowance hurdle and then won a similar race by more than five lengths in late August.
Fifth in Belmont’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes in September, he wrapped up the season with second-place finishes in two novice stakes, the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J., and the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia. In all, Syros banked $90,600 last year and ranked as the third-leading earner in the novice division.
Sean McDermott will ride Syros in the 2 1/8-mile Carolina Cup over National Fences.
Anne Pape’s Fog Island won the 2012 Foxbrook for trainer Richard Valentine and finished third last year. He closed out the 2014 season with a third-place finish in the Noel Laing Stakes at the Montpelier Hunt Races in Virginia. Darren Nagle will ride.
Champion jockey Willie McCarthy will be aboard Where’s the Beef, now owned by Timothy Gardner’s Welcome Here Farm. Winner of the 2013 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle, he failed to finish in his two starts last year and now is back in the hands of trainer Brian Murphy after being claimed at Parx Racing in June.
Where’s the Beef prepared for the Carolina Cup with a fourth-place finish in a training flat race at the National Steeplechase Association’s season-opening race meet, the Aiken Spring Steeplechase on March 21.
Finishing third in that 1 1/4-mile race was Rock Ford Stables’ Sporty, who came home fourth in last year’s Carolina Cup. He subsequently finished third in the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes and Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes.
Sporty is trained by Julie Gomena, who opened the year by sending out Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget for an easy victory in Aiken Spring’s Budweiser Imperial Cup, a Grade 3 race. Kieran Norris will ride for Gomena, a Virginia-based trainer who has been preparing her horses for the spring campaign in Aiken.
Trainer Jimmy Day reached overseas to purchase Diplomat, who had been based in Dermot Weld’s yard in Ireland. Although winless in eight starts over fences and on the flat last year, the Kentucky-bred by top sire Kitten’s Joy won two Irish hurdle races in 2013. Racing in the silks of Day’s Daybreak Stables, Diplomat will be ridden by Bernie Dalton.
Here is the field for the $75,000 Carolina Cup in post-position order:
Syros. 2008 b. g., Dynaformer—Meridiana (Ger), by Lomitas (GB). Owner: Gil Johnston. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Sean McDermott. 2014 NSA record: 9-2-3-2, $90,600. Closed out 2014 with second-place finishes in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and AFLAC Supreme Hurdle. Finished fifth in Belmont Park’s $75,000 William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes after win in Saratoga allowance hurdle. Also finished third in Saratoga allowance hurdle on July 23. Won Virginia Gold Cup maiden claimer by more than 30 lengths on May 3, then was second in Jay Trump starter allowance hurdle at the High Hope Steeplechase on May 18. Won a Belmont Park $35,000 claimer on June 15.
Diplomat. 2009 b. g., Kitten’s Joy—Waki Affair, by Miswaki. Owner: Daybreak Stables. Trainer: Jimmy Day. Jockey: Bernie Dalton. 2014 NSA record: No starts. Veteran competitor in Ireland for trainer Dermot Weld mixed hurdle racing with flat starts but was winless in eight outings in 2014. Best was a third on the flat in Killarney in August. Had two victories over hurdles in 2013. Bred by champion owners-breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey and is a full brother to stakes-placed Kitten Love.
Where’s the Beef. 2008 gr. or r. g., Rockport Harbor—Clair de Lune, by Regal Classic. Owner: Welcome Here Farm. Trainer: Brian E. Murphy. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. 2014 NSA record: 2-0-0-0, $0. In two 2014 starts, was pulled up in the Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes and lost his rider in a $30,000 open claimer at Radnor. Claimed for $25,000 by current owner at Parx Racing flat race last June. Won 2013 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle before being pulled up in a Colonial Cup allowance hurdle. Won 2013 Foxfield Fall maiden hurdle by 18 lengths after second in tough Sport of Kings maiden hurdle at the Atlanta Steeplechase.
Fog Island. 2006 b. g., Rossini—Orchid Island, by Broad Brush. Owner: Anne Pape. Trainer: Richard Valentine. Jockey: Darren Nagle. 2014 record: 5-0-0-2, $21,250. Finished third in his final two 2014 starts, Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and Montpelier’s Noel Laing Handicap. Finished fourth in Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes after fifth in Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Won the 2012 Foxbrook.
Sporty. 2007 dk. b. or br. g., Smarty Jones—Byzantine, by Quiet American. Owner: Rock Ford Stables. Trainer: Julie Gomena. Jockey: Kieran Norris. 2014 record: 4-0-0-2, $13,500. Finished fourth in Carolina Cup before third in Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Stakes and in Saratoga’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes. Fell after being bothered in Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes, his final start of the year.