A week after hurdlers took center stage at Middleburg, Va., timber specialists return to the spotlight this Saturday as racing resumes at the 28th Willowdale Steeplechase in Kennett Square, Pa.
The seven-race card is anchored by the $35,000 Willowdale Steeplechase Stakes at 3 ½ miles, which has drawn a field of seven familiar names. Three of the runners are exiting the second leg of the Maryland Timber Triple on April 17, the Grand National Stakes.
Armata Stables’ Grand Manan, 12, is a duel stakes winner, though he hasn’t had a victory in a while. He recorded a DNF in his seasonal bow in the Grand National. Eric Poretz rides for trainer Billy Meister. Similarly Jeremy Batoff’s Class Indian, 14, didn’t finish in the race. The Waquoit gelding is lightly raced over his nine-year career, and his best performances have come in allowance company. Justin Batoff rides for Willie Dowling. Dowling also has Kiplin Hall’s Renegade River, who broke his timber maiden at the My Lady’s Manor Races on April 10. Eddie Keating has the mount once again.
Gill Johnston’s Hanno finished best of the three in the Grand National, coming in third to Le Chevalier and Royal Ruse. He was a supplemental nominee to this race and will be ridden by Connor Hankin for new Hall of Fame member Jack Fisher.
Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian has been a highly competitive allowance horse and won his previous start – for non-winners of two over timber — at the Grand National races. Skylar McKenna has the mount for Kathy Neilson.
Officer Sydney is looking for his first win of 2021 in his fourth start of the season for owner Wendy Hendriks, trainer Ricky Hendriks, and jockey McLane Hendriks. Officer Sydney had bad luck in the My Lady’s Manor Stakes, where he was travelling well until getting impeded by a loose horse.
The marquee name in the race is Dolly Fisher’s 11-year-old Schoodic. The Tiznow gelding has 11 career wins including stakes scores over both hurdles and timber. In his seasonal bow in The My Lady’s Manor Stakes, Schoodic rallied strongly to challenge leader Vintage Vinnie — who would go on to capture the Maryland Hunt Cup two weeks later — but slipped on the turn.
The remainder of the card consists of three timber and three hurdle events, five of which carry purses of $10,000. The other race is the $15,000 Rose Tree Cup overnight hurdle handicap for horses rated at 110 or less. The field of eight is led by William Russell’s Animal Kingston, who is coming off a sharp second — beaten a half length — in a non-winners of two allowance to Bon Nouvel Chasers’ Repeat Repeat at Middleburg last Saturday. Riverdee Stable’s Gostisbehere was a maiden claiming winner at the Queens Cup Races outside of Charlotte, N.C., on April 24, while Gill Johnston’s Be Counted, a winner of five of 10 lifetime starts on the flat and over jumps, took an open claimer in his final outing of 2020 at the International Gold Cup Races in late September.
New NSA jockey Dan Nevin, who in April made history by riding Irv Naylor’s Scorpion’s Revenge to victory in a bumper race at Cork for Keri Brion — making her the first American trainer to win a race in Ireland — has several mounts at Willowdale. Nevin has had just one ride since coming stateside recently, but it was a mighty big one, piloting Armata Stables’ Vintage Vinnie to a record-setting score in America’s biggest timber race, the Maryland Hunt Cup.
The Landhope Cup timber maiden drew so many nominees that it was split into two divisions. But it wouldn’t have happened without the effort of Willowdale board member Kathy Neilson, who quickly coordinated a campaign among owners, trainers, and other supporters to raise the money needed to cover the extra $10,000 in purse money to allow the race to be split and thus give double the number of horses the chance to compete.
Though fans will be allowed to attend the races, ticket sales have ended and walk-ins are not permitted. Gates open at 10 a.m., and first race post time is 1 p.m. Here’s a link to the rules, if you’re planning to attend the races: willowdalesteeplechase.org/2021-race-day.
If you cannot attend in person, be sure to watch the live stream via the NSA’s website. The NSA will broadcast a recap show, Jump Racing USA, featuring replays, commentary and interviews, on its web site on Monday evening at 7 p.m. and on demand after that. The live stream is sponsored by Brown Advisory, the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation, Charleston’s Post & Courier, and the Virginia Equine Alliance.
You can click here for all of the entries: www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Willowdale-Overnight.pdf