Virginia ruled at Saturday’s 93rd edition of the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup when Virginia-bred Zanclus led from the early stages of the four-mile timber classic and won by 3 3/4 lengths for his Virginia owner-breeder and Virginia-based trainer with Virginia resident Kieran Norris in the saddle.
Just for good measure, Virginia-owned Personal Start surged to victory in the afternoon’s featured hurdle race, the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) for Virginia-based trainer Richard Valentine.
Nothing was fishy about Zanclus’ front-running victory in the Virginia Gold Cup even though he is named for a rare genus of fish commonly known as the Moorish idol. The name is a nod to owner-breeder Sara E. Collette’s husband, Bruce, a marine zoologist, and she has two jumping dolphins on her silks.
But Zanclus was a tribute to the breeding operation of Sara Collette, a resident of Casanova, Va. She bred multiple generations on the dam’s side, and she also bred his sire, Xenodon.
Zanclus’ Virginia Gold Cup was the fourth for trainer Neil Morris, who previously won with Lord Kenneth in 2003 and Miles Ahead in 2005 and 2006.
Morris said that Zanclus’ high cruising speed dictates that he will be a pacesetter, and the eight-year-old showed that speed three weeks earlier when he devastated a quality field by more than 25 lengths in the My Lady’s Manor. Morris said he chose the three-mile Maryland race to give Zanclus sufficient time to get ready to go four miles on the undulating Virginia Gold Cup course.
The big question was how he would stack up against Irv Naylor’s Ebanour, who was shooting for his third straight win in the Virginia timber classic.
When starter Graham Alcock dropped the flag, a nervous Hill Tie jumped to the lead, but Zanclus settled readily and assumed his accustomed position on the front end with Norris, 2016’s champion jockey. They easily opened five lengths on the field as Norris worked to spread Zanclus’ natural speed over 32 furlongs.
At times, Zanclus showed signs of wanting to go a bit faster, but Norris gently tempered the pace, which turned out to be approximately average for Virginia Gold Cup winners. In the final mile, with the field relatively tightly bunched behind Zanclus, Ebanour made the first serious move under Darren Nagle. The back-to-back Gold Cup winner, making his first start of the current season, drew even with stablemate Super Saturday, the Middleburg Hunt Cup victor, but made no further impression.
A half-mile out, jockey Jack Doyle pushed on Michael A. Smith’s Le Chevalier, and they moved up sharply on the outside to pose the only threat to Zanclus. Norris heard no footsteps closing on Zanclus and pressed his mount forward to victory in 8:43.80 on turf rated as good.
Naylor’s Super Saturday, ridden by Gerard Galligan, finished third, 9 1/2 lengths behind Le Chevalier, who is trained In Virginia by Julie Gomena. Ebanour finished fourth, a length farther back.
Personal Start’s Semmes
Without question, jockey Barry Foley had a tough task aboard Magalen O. Bryant’s homebred Personal Start in the 2 1/8-mile Semmes. He couldn’t forfeit his mount’s closing kick in a speed duel with front-runner Balance the Budget, Stonelea Stable’s Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) winner, nor could he remain so far off that Balance the Budget would have an unsurmountable advantage.
Counseled by trainer Valentine by phone a few days before the race and in the paddock, Foley found the perfect spot for the seven-year-old Jump Start gelding. At the head of the trailing group, Personal Start kicked into gear going into the final fences, took the lead two out, and drew clear to an 8 1/4-length victory in 3:53.60.
Virginia Lazenby’s Hardrock Eleven finished second under Bernie Dalton, and Balance the Budget checked in third with Mark Watts, his regular jockey.
Personal Start had led all the way to win the $75,000 Carolina Cup for novices on the same program as the Colonial Cup on March 31. Valentine liked his chances going against Gomena-trained Balance the Budget, who had run 2 3/8 miles compared with Personal Start, a winner over 2 1/8 miles, albeit in good company. Moreover, Personal Start was getting 12 pounds from Balance the Budget, the 156-pound highweight.
Valentine said he told Foley to ride the race as it came up but with a sensible approach to the pace. “We didn’t want to set the race up for the other light-weighted horses,” the trainer said. Foley heeded the advice, keeping in touch with Balance the Budget’s pace before dropping the hammer on the final turn and securing Personal Start’s first graded stakes victory for his owner-breeder, who lives close by Great Meadow Race Course.
The Virginia Gold Cup featured three stakes races over fences, and the $40,000 Steepleton went to French-bred Andi’amu, who has found a new specialty over courses of varied obstacles such as hurdles, timber, banks, and water.
Owned by Illinois-based Ballybristol Farm, Andi’amu always has been a brilliant jumper, trainer Leslie Young said, but he was finishing out of the top spot in hurdles races and needed a new game. She sent him into Middleburg Spring’s $20,000 Alfred M. Hunt over mixed obstacles on April 21, and he won.
She asked jockey Jack Doyle if he believed Andi’amu could come back in two weeks with another winning effort, and Doyle responded affirmatively. The current leading jockey schooled him on Wednesday and gave Young the thumbs-up.
Always in good position, Andi’amu surged to the front and won by 5 1/4 lengths over Boogie Biz, who had set the early fractions. Longshot Triton Light finished third. Andi’amu ran the Steeplethon’s three miles in 6:02.