Sue Sensor’s Top Striker, a hometown hero in the home of the $150,000 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup, staged a bravura performance on Saturday to win the 47th edition of the Colonial Cup and deny earnings champion Rawnaq’s bid for a perfect season.
Ridden by Ross Geraghty, who was aboard 2015 Colonial Cup victor and Eclipse Award champion Dawalan, Top Striker broke clear of Rawnaq shortly after the last fence and drew clear to a commanding 10 1/2-length victory in the richest-ever edition of the Colonial Cup in Camden, S.C.
Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq, winner of the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) and Grand National (Gr. 1), finished second, 1 1/4 lengths clear of Gil Johnston’s Days of Heaven.
Under warm, sunny skies, a festive Colonial Cup crowd broke into cheers as Top Striker steadily grew clear of his challengers. Sensor and her husband, George, reside in Camden, S.C., the home of the Carolina Cup, and trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. also is a Camden resident.
Top Striker’s victory was the first Colonial Cup score for Kingsley as a trainer and his third overall. He previously won two editions as a jockey, with Ninepins in 1999 and Romantic the following year.
Top Striker, a seven-year-old Van Nistelrooy gelding, marked himself as a horse on the rise when he finished second in two Saratoga Race Course handicaps, beaten a skinny nose in one, and then won the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) on Oct. 22 at 4-.90-to-1 odds.
The Ferguson was a breakthrough race for Top Striker, and he improved off that effort. “He trained just like the way he ran today,” Kingsley said. “He progressed very well.”
Owner Sensor agreed that the Ferguson set up Top Striker for his first Grade 1 victory. “For him to do what he did today is phenomenal,” she said.
With the scratch of New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) winner Portrade, Rawnaq had the early lead to himself under Sean McDermott. Days of Heaven, an import still trained by Nicky Henderson, applied some pressure on the run down the backstretch the second time.
Top Striker and Geraghty never were outside striking range, and they advanced on the leader approaching the final flights of fences. Top Striker jumped the last in stride and drew off from a high-quality field. “He belongs in this group,” Kingsley said.
Top Striker ran the Colonial Cup’s 2 3/4 miles in 5:12.40 on firm turf.
Cyril Murphy, Rawnaq’s trainer, said the 2016 earnings champion came out of the Colonial Cup with no problems. “I didn’t know if the other horse [Top Striker] wanted to go that fast. He did, and he won.”
Rawnaq is scheduled to have an overseas race early next year in preparation for the Ryanair World Hurdle and a shot at the $500,000 Brown Advisory Cheltenham-Iroquois Challenge on March 16.
Rawnaq is eligible for the bonus after winning the Iroquois on May 14.
Naylor, the year’s champion owner with more than $900,000 in earnings, won the race after the Colonial Cup, a Ratings Handicap, with Lake Champlain, ridden by McDermott. In the winner’s circle, Naylor joked with his rider: “That’s what you were supposed to do in the last race.”
Norris wins jockey title
The battle for the jockey championship by wins went down to the wire, with reigning champion Paddy Young pulling into a tie with Kieran Norris with a victory aboard Straylight Racing’s Invocation in the $25,000 Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial for three-year-olds.
Each at that point had 13 wins, and both were making strong closing bids for the title. Norris had three straight wins at the International Gold Cup on Oct. 22, and five-time champion Young countered with a four-bagger at Montpelier on Nov. 5.
Invocation, trained by Joseph G. Davies, moved to the lead on the final turn, jumped the last two fences without difficulty, and won by open lengths over Bruce Smart Jr.’s Corstorphine. Riverdee Stable’s Mythmaker checked in third.
French-bred Invocation was imported this fall as a non-winning juvenile over hurdles, albeit with four placings in England, and finished third in Far Hills’ Gladstone Stakes, 5 ½ lengths behind winner Officer’s Oath.
The year’s three-year-old champion, Officer’s Oath also is owned by Smart and trained by Jimmy Day, who bred the Luftikus gelding out of the Officer mare Officer Pepper. He was scratched from the Woolfe to prepare for his four-year-old season.
The tie in the jockey standings lasted exactly one race, and Norris broke on top to claim the title with a savvy win aboard Check Mark Stables’ Willow U in the Springdale, a $30,000 handicap for fillies and mares.
Trained by Richard Valentine, Willow U closed late to overtake a game One Lucky Lady in the final 50 yards. Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Lady Yeats, also trained by Valentine, finished third in the 2 1/8-mile race.
Michael Moran’s Ivy Mills, the 2015 female champion on the strength of her Springdale victory last November, challenged One Lucky Lady on the backstretch and took the lead briefly under Young. But she soon handed the lead back to Irv Naylor’s One Lucky Lady and faded through the stretch.