Hudson River Farms’ Winston C, looking every bit of a winner throughout Saratoga Race Course’s $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1), took command leaving the final bend, drew off early in the stretch, and romped home to a 8¾-length victory in Saratoga’s signature steeplechase race on Thursday.
Riverdee Stable’s Gibralfaro and Belisarius hooked up near the furlong pole and went toe to toe for the final 200 yards, with Gibralfaro prevailing by a nose over Belisarius, a 15-to-1 longshot owned by Gary Barber, Brous Racing Stable, and Wachtel Stable.
Winston C, trained by Racing Hall of Fame member Jonathan Sheppard, went off at nearly 1-to-2 with a burst of late money and paid $3.10 to win after running the New York Turf Writers’ 2 3/8 miles in 4:38.16 on yielding turf.
He justified those odds with his 3 1/2-length score in Saratoga’s $150,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) four weeks earlier, and he was meeting a field composed entirely of the Smithwick’s beaten field.
Every race, no matter how obvious it looks on paper, has its drama, and jockey Thomas Garner was the source of the New York Turf Writers’ cliffhanger story line. On Saturday, Garner was sitting on the ground after the last fence at Colonial Downs and reaching for his shoulder.
Colonial’s physicians dispatched him to a Richmond, Va.-area hospital with a possible broken collarbone. Suddenly, the mount on Winston C was in doubt for a jockey who had played a crucial role in his importation to the United States this past spring. He and bloodstock partner Noel Fehily had shopped the Rip Van Winkle gelding to the Sheppard team and Hudson River Farms owner Edward P. Swyer.
The collarbone wasn’t broken, and Garner had been cleared to ride by noon on Monday. “I was very fortunate,” he said. The show would go on.
Swyer, accompanied by friends in the winner’s circle, said he felt confident coming into the race because his timely acquisition had beaten everyone else lined up against him, and he was pulling away late in the 2 1/16-mile Smithwick. And that is how it worked out.
Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose, also trained by Sheppard, laid down the early fractions in company with Jack Fisher-trained Gibralfaro, the 5.80-to-1 second betting choice. Winston C was near the back of the field but, while roughly six lengths off the leader, was not in a different area code.
“They were just a tad closer earlier this time,” Sheppard said. “It was probably a little slower pace, and he was able to have some closer contact with the leaders.”
Garner tipped Winston C to the outside on the final run down the inner turf course’s backstretch and allowed his smooth-jumping mount to draw closer to the leaders as the field jumped the final fence.
Harold A. “Sonny” Via’s Hinterland, who had been third in the Smithwick, struck to the lead a few strides past the last fence with Winston C to his outside. The five-year-old quickly flashed his superior speed and swept past Fisher-trained Hinterland approaching the stretch.
While Hinterland began to tire, Gibralfaro and Belisarius hooked up early in the lane. Neither raised the white flag, and they were still going at each other as they flashed by the finish line. Gibralfaro never allowed Belisarius to get past him and prevailed by the narrowest of margins.
The New York Turf Writers’ $90,000 first-place purse raised his National Steeplechase Association earnings to $190,000 from three Stateside starts. He scored his maiden victory over fences in January with now-retired Fehily in the saddle, and his first U.S. run was a third in the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Novice Stakes.
Swyer indicated that his ultimate goal for Winston C is the $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) at the Far Hills Races in New Jersey on Oct. 19. Garner indicated that the Grand National should be within his reach. “He’s such an honest, classy little horse,” he said. “I think there is a lot more to come from him. He’s still improving.”