Showing no signs of rust despite a long layoff, former hurdle competitor Officer Sydney glided to a three-length victory in the inaugural running of the $7,500 Louis “Paddy” Neilson III apprentice timber race at Willowdale over Sherry Fenwick’s As You Like It.
Making his first start over timber — and facing the starter for the first time since the Jonathan Kiser novice hurdle stakes at Saratoga in July 2018 — Officer Sydney honored the race’s namesake, who passed away a year ago, with a popular win for the intertwined Neilson and Hendriks clans.
Owned by Wendy Hendriks, the 8-year-old son of Lawman is trained by her son, Ricky, and ridden by grandson McLane. The runnerup, As You Like It, is trained by Sanna Neilson, Paddy’s daughter, and was piloted by her son, Parker Hendriks.
The winner’s circle celebration was truly an extended family affair that also included Paddy’s other daughter, local trainer Kathy Neilson, who was instrumental in obtaining sponsorship from BNY Mellon Wealth Management and Selkirk Partners to put up purse money for the race at the Kennett Square, Pa.,course.
So what’s been going on with Officer Sydney that caused his lengthy absence? According to jockey McLane Hendriks, the gelding suffered a bowed tendon while racing in the colors of owner George Mahoney of Rosbrian Farm. George turned the horse over to Ricky Hendriks, his trainer, who worked with Unionville-based equestrian and Olympic eventer Bruce Davidson to teach the horse a new jumping style. The team also consisted of rider Sara Gartland, who helped get Officer Sydney fit for racing.
As for McLane, “I hunted him a bunch last season. He really impressed me out there with his jumping. This spring I was very excited for his return to racing, but we hit the pause button with him (because of Covid). It was a true team effort getting him to where he is today. He’s a fun horse to ride because you can tell he’s having so much fun himself.”
There were three other nonsanctioned races on the card, and jockey Gerard Galligan was victorious in the two over jumps. Galligan captured the open timber event with Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, who broke his maiden over the course by 17 lengths in 2019, for trainer Kathy Neilson. The 2018 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup winner, Stand Down, was second. In the the maiden timber event, he piloted Buttonwood Farm’s recent acquisition The Silent Trainer to a close but facile score over Upland Partners’ Shootist, who is transitioning from flat racing (22 starts, mostly at Penn National and Gulfstream Park) to jumps and has yet to make his first sanctioned effort.
The Silent Trainer, a five-year-old Irish-bred son of Shantou, began his career in a timber maiden at Middleburg Spring in June and finished a solid third in a crowded field of 12. Keri Brion, assistant to trainer Jonathan Sheppard, bought the horse on behalf of owner Rod Moorhead last winter from James and Cormac Doyle, and the Irish connections closely follow the careers of horses that ship stateside.
The chestnut gelding was primed to run at the Virginia Fall Races on Oct. 10, but had a mishap — slipping on the road — the day before, and was scratched out of abundance of caution.
“We really, really like him and hope he’ll be a big-course horse down the line,” Brion added, crediting assistant Amber Hodyka with getting him race-ready. “His next run will be at Callaway (Nov. 7) if all goes well. He’s a really cool horse, just a big gentle giant really.”
In the opener, a training flat contest for apprentice riders, Charlie Fenwick’s Withoutdestination, with Colin Smith in the saddle, won a photo finish over Greg Hawkins’ Saigon. Withoutdestination, a four-year-old bred in Great Britain, has run eight times in his career, all in the UK.