With a new name, a new location, and a new date on the spring calendar, the Tryon Block House Races attracted large fields, including a blockbuster lineup for Saturday’s featured $40,000 Block House Handicap.
The six-race program is a joint production of the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club (TR&HC) and Tryon International Equestrian Center and offers record purses of $175,000.
The 71st edition of the Block House races will be held at the state-of-the-art Tryon International Equestrian Center in western North Carolina, and the meet will occupy the third Saturday in April on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring schedule.
First post time is 1 p.m.
The 2 1/4-mile Block House attracted a top-shelf field that includes a Grade 1 winner, a novice champion, and the top novice earner in 2016. The race also marks the U.S. debut of Simenon, a globe-trotting performer who will be making his first start for owner Rosbrian Farm and trainer Ricky Hendriks.
Throughout his career, which numbers more than 50 starts and $900,000 in earnings, Simenon has mixed jump-racing with flat racing. Among his flat credits are fourth-place finishes in the Melbourne Cup (Aus-Gr. 1) and the Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-Gr. 1).
The long-distance runner settled into jump racing last season and had two victories for top Irish trainer Willie Mullins.
The 10-year-old Marju (Ire) gelding will face plenty of stiff competition for his American debut, in which he carries the 158-pound highweight. The weights are guided by the National Steeplechase Association’s ratings of each horse in competition over hurdles.
Ross Geraghty, who already has two 2017 victories for Hendriks, will ride.
Sheila Williams’ and Northwoods Stable’s Special Skills had a special season in 2016 and was the year’s leading novice earner with more than $175,000 in purses. In the hands of champion trainer Jack Fisher, he closed out the past season with impressive victories in the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle at Far Hills, N.J., and the Aflac Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia.
Fisher also trains Petticoats Loose Stable’s Choral Society, who missed the 2016 season after pulling an upset in Saratoga Race Course’s 2015 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1). Willie McCarthy has a double call on Special Skills and Choral Society.
Paddy Young, the five-time champion jockey, will make his spring debut at Tryon and will be aboard Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu for his wife, trainer Leslie Young. The French-bred won a Monmouth Park hurdle handicap last summer and was second in the New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) at Saratoga.
Virginia-based trainer Doug Fout will saddle Virginia Lazenby’s Hardrock Eleven, who won Belmont Park’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes and a Saratoga allowance hurdle last year. Brendan Crowley, the past year’s champion apprentice jockey, has the mount.
Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose reigned as the 2014 novice champion, and he will be striving to get his career back on track for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who also bred him. All the Way Jose, who was winless last season, will be ridden by Gerard Galligan.
Completing the field is Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget, winner of last year’s Carolina Cup for novices. Trainer Julie Gomena named Mark Watts to ride.
Here is the field for the $40,000 Block House in post-position order. The horses’ National Steeplechase Association ratings are in parentheses at the end of their profiles.
All the Way Jose. 2010 b. g., Senor Swinger—Maternity Leave, by Northern Baby. Owner: Buttonwood Farm. Trainer: Jonathan Sheppard. Jockey: Gerard Galligan. Breeder: Jonathan Sheppard (Pa.) 2016 NSA record: 3-0-0-0, $7,500. 2015 record: 3-0-0-0, $3,750. Finished sixth in David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) at 2016 International Gold Cup. Started season with fifth in David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) at Virginia Gold Cup, then fourth in Fair Hill’s Valentine Memorial Ratings Handicap. Clinched 2014 novice championship with Foxbrook Champion Hurdle victory. (125)
Hardrock Eleven. 2010 gr. or ro. g., Rock Hard Ten—Stark Beauty, by Unbridled’s Song. Owner: Virginia Lazenby. Trainer: Doug Fout. Jockey: Brendan Crowley. Breeders: Farm III Enterprises and Off the Hook Partners (Fla.) 2016 NSA record: 7-2-1-0, $105,700. 2015 record: 6-1-1-2, $53,350. Won 2016 William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes after winning Saratoga allowance hurdle for second straight year, then finished fifth in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle. Finished fourth in 2016 Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes at Iroquois Steeplechase, then stayed well for second in Saratoga allowance hurdle. Began 2016 with sixth in Carolina Cup, then was pulled up in Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase. Formerly trained by owner’s late brother, David P. Banks, and won an Evangeline Downs optional allowance flat race in 2014. (127)
Balance the Budget. 2009 ch. g., Bellamy Road—Every Day Is Good, by El Corredor. Owner: Stonelea Stable. Trainer: Julie Gomena. Jockey: Mark Watts. Breeder: Liberation Farm & Oratis (Ky.). 2016 record: 5-1-1-0, $55,350. 2015 record: 7-1-1-0, $37,250. 2014 record: 7-1-1-2, $27,000. Kicked off 2016 season with victory in $75,000 Carolina Cup, a novice stakes, then was seventh in Saratoga’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) and sixth in Saratoga handicap. Finished second in Shawan Downs Ratings Handicap, then was fourth in International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2). (120).
Andi’amu (Fr). 2010 b. g., Walk In The Park—Sainte Parfaite, by Septieme Ciel. Owner: Ballybristol Farm. Trainer: Leslie Young. Jockey: Paddy Young. Breeder: Therese Bouche (Fr). 2016 record: 6-1-2-0, $77,300. 2015 NSA record: 4-1-3-0, $56,400. Finished hard-driving second in 2016 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), then was fourth in Grand National (Gr. 1). Won Monmouth Park Ratings Handicap, then was fourth in Saratoga Ratings Handicap. Finished fifth in Middleburg Spring’s 2016 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3), then was second in Iroquois Ratings Handicap. (130)
Choral Society. 2009 gr. or ro. g., Holy Bull—Star Singer, by Awesome Again. Owner: Petticoats Loose Farm. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. Breeder: Mayo West Farm and Liam Benson (Fla.) 2015 record: 4-1-0-1, $82,500. 2014 record: 6-2-1-1, $39,250. Coming back after missing 2016 season. Scored a 16.20-to-1 upset in 2015 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1), then was pulled up in the William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes at Belmont Park. Finished fourth, placed third, in Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes at Iroquois Steeplechase on May 9. Lost rider in Queen’s Cup MPC ‘Chase, his 2015 debut. (132)
Simenon (Ire). (143) 2007 b. g., Marju (Ire)—Epistoliere, by Alzao. Owner: Rosbrian Farm. Trainer: Ricky Hendriks. Jockey: Ross Geraghty. Breeder: Max Morris (Ire). 2016 NSA record: No starts. Talented long-distance runner was acquired after settling into jumps career with Willie Mullins and winning two allowance hurdles in Ireland. Finished fourth in 2013 Melbourne Cup (Aus-Gr. 1) and 2015 Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-Gr. 1). Has more than 50 career starts and earnings above $900,000. (143)
Special Skills. 2010 dk. b. or br. g., Bernstein—Kentucky Whisper, by Southern Halo. Owner: Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable. Trainer: Jack Fisher. Jockey: Willie McCarthy. Breeder: Sierra Farm (Ky.) 2016 record: 8-3-1-2, $178,750. 2015 record: 3-2-0-0, $45,000. Concluded 2016 with impressive wins in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and Aflac Supreme Hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway. Sandwiched win in 2016 handicap between thirds in similar race and Belmont’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes. Finished second in Carolina Cup, then fourth in Queen’s Cup MPC ’Chase. (136)