Sue Sensor’s Top Striker marked himself as a rising star when he powered away to a dramatic 11 1/2-length victory in the 82nd edition of the historic $50,000 Carolina Cup, the stakes race for novice steeplechase horses at the Carolina Cup Races in Camden, S.C., on Saturday, March 29.
Ridden confidently by leading jockey Willie McCarthy, the five-year-old Van Nistelrooy gelding shadowed Sheila J. Williams’ Easy Reach through the first 1 3/4 miles of the 2 1/8-mile Carolina Cup.
Approaching the second to last fence, McCarthy turned Top Striker loose, and he quickly opened a daylight lead. Cleanly over the last obstacle, Top Striker increased his advantage at will, and McCarthy booted him home with only modest encouragement.
A maiden winner last year, Top Striker completed the Carolina Cup distance in 4:01.40 on turf rated as good. He is trained in Camden by Arch Kingsley Jr., and the owner is a Camden resident.
Easy Reach held the second spot, two lengths clear of owner-trainer Kate Dalton’s Cat Feathers. Rock Ford Stables’ Sporty finished fourth in a field of six novices, or horses in their first seasons of racing over fences.
McCarthy said he found himself in a desirable position when Easy Reach gave him and Top Striker a target through much of the race. “I was able to get behind him and do what I wanted to do,” he said. “He was jumping impeccably, and when I made my move, I had plenty of horse.”
McCarthy, in his third full season of riding in the U.S., had two wins on the Carolina Cup program to go with two victories a week earlier at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase, which opened the 2014 National Steeplechase Association season.
He spent the winter in Camden and said he felt welcomed by the steeplechase community at jump racing’s traditional winter base. “This is a great win for Camden, and I’m so pleased for the Sensors,” he said. George Sensor, the owner’s husband, gave McCarthy a big hug after the victory.
Top Striker was the second Carolina Cup winner in four years for the Sensors and trainer Kingsley, who won in 2011 with Sunshine Numbers. Now retired, Sunshine Numbers will be honored with his third title as champion New York-bred steeplechase horse on April 1.