The following was written by Betsy Burke Parker and appeared at the website nationalsteeplechase.com. Photos were provided by the VEA.
The Foxfield Races were held Sunday October 4 in Charlottesville. The Virginia circuit of sanctioned jump races continues with the Middleburg Fall Races on Saturday October 10 and concludes with the International Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow in The Plains on Saturday October 24. All races will be streamed live at nationalsteeplechase.com. They are archived there as well.
The abbreviated National Steeplechase Association fall circuit kicked off Sunday, Oct. 4 at the Foxfield Fall Races in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The normal autumn festival atmosphere at the racecourse northwest of the college town was more muted on the sparkling, crisp afternoon — 10,000 or more typically jam the infield general admission area and outer rail tailgate spaces along Garth Road.
But in this year of COVID protocols, no spectators were allowed on the grounds, just essential personnel. Only an estimated 150 people were on hand, including horsemen, officials and emergency personnel. A live stream production had the full coverage — seven hurdle and turf races underwritten by the Virginia Equine Alliance and several Charlottesville-area businesses.
A $15,000 ratings handicap headlined the curiously quiet day, with a pair of Jonathan Sheppard-trained distaffers topping the ranks in the 2 1/8-mile feature. KMSN Stable’s Inverness (Tom Garner) held off a stout challenge after the last from stablemate Zoom Zoom Zoe (Gerard Galligan). Thirteen faced starter Graham Alcock’s flag, with Inverness repeating her maiden score here last September.
“I couldn’t see (Gerard) coming at me,” Garner said of the pressure up the stretch. But the stakes-placed winner over hurdles obviously felt the challenge: she turned in the fastest time of the day — 3:57 4/5 carrying 153, a pound less than Zoom Zoom Zoe.
Apprentice waiver claiming hurdle: Elizabeth Scully timed her stretch run with Irv Naylor’s Irish-bred Elucidation perfectly, only tangling with early leader Skydiving (Eve Ledyard) at the last before kicking clear by nearly a length at the wire. It was after the wire that the trouble began.
“He’s a funny sort,” she said of the Cyril Murphy-trained import who won once on the turf — at Leicester — at 2 before brought to the U.S. at 4. Scully found out Elucidation’s full sense of humor as the winner galloped out down the long Foxfield backstrech, a famously steep pull-up lane that circles the outer course loop.
“He shied at a lead pony,” Scully said, explaining her arrival on foot to the winner’s circle, and Elucidation’s solo showing. Scully added that she’d lost her right stirrup iron at the fourth fence after the horse jinked left, swapping leads, she thinks. “It reminded me of Gold Cup,” where she’d lost her iron but wasn’t able to recover it and fell on the flat. “I got it back today,” she said, explaining the athletic concentration required to hold her right knee glued to the thin saddle skirt while fishing for a light aluminum stirrup iron flapping in a 30 mile per hour headwind. “It was tricky.”
Elucidation had provided Scully her first NSA win at Gold Cup in June, one of the only horses to win two races on this year’s abbreviated calendar.
Distaff hurdle: Aiken shipper Screen Image (Bernie Dalton) powered to a four-length score in her first try over hurdles. Owner-trainer Ted Gregory’s chestnut filly ran to her breeding — a daughter of Giant’s Causeway out of the Dynaformer mare Screen Gem, Screen Image prevailed over a sustained rally from runner-up Speed Alert (Barry Foley.)
Maiden claiming hurdle: Division one featured a powerful performance from winner Animal Kingston (Graham Watters), a Kentucky-bred son of Animal Kingdom who turned a stalking trip into a four-length rout. Middleburg-based Neil Morris saddled Will Russell’s 5-year-old, making his first NSA start after a modest performance at the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point two weeks ago in his jumps debut.
Division two winner Decisive Triumph (Sean McDermott) turned in a sterling effort, rallying on the empty inner rail for trainer Mark Beecher and owners Port Lairge Stables and Holwood Stable.
Turf: Irv Naylor’s Choo Choo (Parker Hendriks) edged stablemate Family Tree (Brett Owings) in the apprentice turf. Neil Morris trains both.
Flying Elvis Stable’s Vincent Van Gogo (Watters) turned in a wire-to-wire effort to win the Virginia-bred turf race, also for trainer Morris.