The following article appeared at nationalsteeplechase.com. The International Gold Cup was held October 23rd at Great Meadow in The Plains, VA before a crowd of 4,000 or so on a partly sunny fall afternoon. A total of eight races were contested with $305,000 in purse monies on the line. As a FYI, the final steeplechase meet of the season is slated for November 6 — the Montpelier Races in Montpelier Station, VA. All the great pictures below are courtesy of Douglas Lees.
Saturday was a day of mostly “twos” at the International Gold Cup Races at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, Va. Tennessee owner Gill Johnston captured two races, as did jockey Gerard Galligan. Trainer Leslie Young padded her lead with a pair of victories on the eight-race card, too. And two riders, Stefan Tobin and Teddy Davies, won their first National Steeplechase Association hurdle races. The only one to throw off the balance was Tom Garner, who found the winner’s circle a lofty three times.
In the opener, a $25,000 maiden hurdle run at 2 ⅛ miles (the distance of all hurdle races at Great Meadow), Johnston’s State of Affair, a five-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway, went wire to wire for Tom Garner and trainer Todd Todd Wyatt, drawing off by 5 ½ lengths. State of Affair was coming off of a third-place finish in a maiden at Shawan Downs in September, his first NSA start since his stateside debut at the Middleburg Spring Races in 2020. Mason Hardaway Lampton’s Ace Ventura was second; Riverdee Stable’s Twenty Years On was third.
In the second division of the maiden hurdle, first-time starter Merry Maker turned heads, running like an old pro, in his career debut for trainer Arch Kingsley. Owned by Hurricana Farm, the four-year-old Irish-bred soared over the last fence all alone under Galligan, winning by 2 lengths. Straylight Racing’s Frontline Citizen, another Irish-bred making his second lifetime start, was second with Alex Leventhal aboard. Stewart Strawbridge’s Lap of the Gods was third. Jockey Richie Condon, regular rider of leading 2021 Eclipse Award contender The Mean Queen, suffered a back injury in a fall and will be out of action for a while.
The $30,000 Steeplethon Stakes over mixed obstacles — hurdles, natural brush fences, timber, and through water — drew a field of five, and Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well, winner of the Jonathan Kiser novice hurdle stakes at Saratoga last summer, led almost every step of the way for Garner and Young, demonstrating his prowess over a very different type of course. At the wire, Bodes Well held a 5 ½ length advantage over Irv Naylor’s A Silent Player. Turks Head Turf’s Brooklyn Speights finished third.
The fourth race proved a milestone for young Irish rider Stefan Tobin, who piloted Holwood Stable’s Decisive Triumph to victory in the $30,000 allowance contest for non-winners of two. Coming off of two sharp seconds in the handicap ranks (for horses rated at 110 or less), Decisive Triumph held a short lead at the last fence over Melissa Cantacuzene’s Yankee Doodle Boy and extended his advantage to 4 ¼ lengths at the finish.
In a win that was a long time coming, Irv Naylor’s Bedrock prevailed in the co-featured G2 $75,000 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Stakes. The highly regarded British-bred eight-year-old was a solid performer in Europe, winning eight times. The gelding finally enjoyed his breakthrough moment in the U.S., with an authoritative 7 ¾ length victory under Galligan for trainer Cyril Murphy. Content to sit back in the early going while Hudson River Farm’s Iranistan, and Gill Johnston’s Brianbakescookies set the pace, the eight-year-old rallied to draw off convincingly. Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean was second; Brianbakescookies was third.
With the scratch of Dolly Fisher’s Schoodic, the likely heavy favorite in the pari-mutuel wagering pool, the field for the $75,000 International Gold Cup timber stakes at 3 ½ miles was reduced to four, and got even smaller when Renegade River and Storm Team went off course in the early going. That turned the contest into a match race between Frank Bonsal’s Stand Down and Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow. But after a carefully measured ride, Tom Garner knew he had plenty of horse under him and drew away as he pleased, by 49 lengths for trainer Leslie Young. With three wins on the day, Garner spurted to a 19-16 lead over Graham Watters. And with her two wins, trainer Leslie Young took a 15-12 advantage over Jack Fisher and Neil Morris, the latter who has saddled only about half the number of starters this season compared to Young and Fisher.
In the seventh race, a handicap for horses rated at 115 or less, Gill Johnston’s Contented completed his comeback to give Teddy Davies, the teen son of accomplished trainer-riders Joe Davies and Blythe Miller Davies, his first NSA hurdle win. After taking a novice weight-for-age hurdle at Sedgefield in 2017 and novice handicap steeplechase at Worcester in 2018, Contented came to the U.S. Following an off-the-board finish in his NSA debut in the 2019 Queens Cup, the Irish-bred son of Dalakhani went to the sidelines for more than two years. He re-emerged this spring, and after three starts, Contented finally shook off the rust to win Saturday’s handicap by 5 lengths over Sara Collette’s homebred, Eryx. Colette, of Casanova, Va., passed away on Oct. 11 at age 86.
The day’s finale, a $20,000 maiden claimer, saw Riverdee Stable’s Senor Seville make a seamless switch from flat racing to hurdles. Following 18 starts in maiden and open claiming races on the flat, mostly at Laurel Park, the Maryland-bred tried hurdles for the first time and came home a neck winner for jockey-turned-trainer Danielle Hodsdon.
Racing far back under Ross Geraghty approaching the last fence, Senior Seville unleashed a furious stretch rally to nip Happenstance Stable’s Hero’s Return, with Kiplin Hall’s Real Good Man third. In an interesting aside, the horse’s connections, owner Sean Clancy, trainer Hodsdon, and Geraghty were all champion NSA jockeys at one time or another.