The Virginia Gold Cup staged one of the richest days of racing ever on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring schedule, and leading owner Irv Naylor took away much of the glory on Saturday as well as a healthy chunk of the purse money.
First, Team Naylor struck in the $75,000 David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) with Charminster, who ran one of the best races of his career and tallied by 3 3/4 lengths.
Then came the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup, which shares the distinction with this year’s Maryland Hunt Cup of being the richest timber race ever run. Naylor won that one, too, with Ebanour, and for good measure added a third-place finish by pacesetter Personal Brew, who held on well for third.
Both winners were trained by Cyril Murphy at Naylor’s Butler, Md., farm, while Billy Meister trains Personal Brew.
Naylor, who established a record for owner earnings last year, said he and wife Diane did not arrive at Great Meadow Race Course expecting to win. “I never plan to win a race,” he said. “But when we analyzed this race (the 91st annual Virginia Gold Cup), we didn’t think anyone could beat us. And the analysis was right.”
Indeed, Ebanour has been on a roll. He closed ground to win the New Jersey Hunt Cup last October, and the Irish-bred nine-year-old gelding kicked off the current season with a victory in the My Lady’s Manor, which has become a predictable indicator of form in Virginia on the first Saturday in May.
Murphy said the ground conditions–soft as a result of approximately 4 1/2 inches of rain in the prior week–also suited Ebanour, who had won on heavy ground in one of his early races. “If he didn’t handle the ground today, he never would,” the trainer said.
Indeed, Ebanour handled the going just fine under regular jockey Gus Dahl, who now is three-for-three aboard him. Personal Brew went right to the lead under Willie McCarthy and opened a gaping early lead that contracted to about seven lengths through three of the Gold Cup’s four miles.
Heading into the final turn, Dahl made his move in company with Two’s Company, winner of the Middleburg Hunt Cup on April 23 for owner Bruton Street-US. Ebanour assumed the lead going into the last fence and readily turned back a strong challenge by Two’s Company and jockey Sean McDermott.
Ebanour reached the finish line 6 1/4 lengths clear of Two’s Company. Personal Brew finished 2 1/2 lengths behind Two’s Company. Straight to It finished fourth, and 2015 winner Grinding Speed finished sixth.
Sent to the starter at 5.40-1, Ebanour paid $12.80 to win after running the Gold Cup’s four miles in 9:16.40.
Charminster has been competing at the sport’s top level and was Grade 1-placed last summer in Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap. He also was fourth in the Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) at Belmont Park and sixth in the Grand National (Gr. 1) at Far Hills, N.J., where Naylor took first and third money with eventual champion Dawalan and subsequent graded stakes winner Rawnaq.
The 10-year-old Irish-bred found the right conditions and the right field to break through for a Grade 2 win in the Semmes, which honors the memory of a prominent member of Virginia’s steeplechase and fox-hunting community who died in early 2015.
“We came down to Virginia hoping he would run well,” Murphy said. “He deserved to win. He’s been knocking at the door.”
Under Jack Doyle, Charminster was on or near the lead for much of the Semmes’ 2 1/8 miles and repelled a late challenge by Edith Dixon’s Schoodic to notch his first win in almost a year. Sue Sensor’s Top Striker ran a strong race to finish third, another 3 3/4 lengths back.
Sent off at 5.50-1, Charminster ran the Semmes distance in 4:39.40.
In the afternoon’s other stakes race, McCarthy rode Lake Lonely Racing’s Rum Tum Tugger to win the $50,000 Secretariat Stakes on the flat. Silver Lime finished second, and Mutasaawy was third. Rum Tum Tugger, a seven-year-old Afleet Alex gelding trained by Jonathan Sheppard, ran the Secretariat’s 1 1/2 miles in 3:56.20.
In the day’s other feature race, Bill Pape’s Powerofone turned on the power and won the $25,000 Block House optional allowance hurdle by 34 lengths under Gerard Galligan. Arrakis finished second, and Share Out was third. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Powerofone ran the Block House’s 2 3/8 miles in 4:32.40 on firm turf at Tryon, N.C.
Ross Geraghty had two wins on the afternoon to pad his lead in the jockey standings over Doyle.