Middleburg Sping Races Recap, Highlighted by Unusual Start In Feature Event

By National Steeplechase Association | April 26, 2022

Iranistan springs upset in Gwathmey; “Oz” shows his wizardry in Grand National

Snap Decision (left) and Iranistan (right) jump the final fence together in Saturday’s Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg. ©Tod Marks

The Keri Brion stable enjoyed a four-win day at Middleburg, partnering with Parker Hendriks for three. And in Butler, Md., new NSA rider Freddie Procter doubled on a day when Road to Oz earned his first stakes score.

BY TOD MARKS; Non-labelled photos provvided by Harrison Young

One of the largest crowds to watch the Middleburg Spring Races at Glenwood Park in Virginia enjoyed one of its most thrilling races, but the way the $75,000 Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey Stakes played out was anything but expected.

Five runners turned out to face starter Stirling Young in the historic 2 ½-mile contest, but as Young dropped the flag, the field “dawdled,” in the words of the chartcaller, and stood motionless for a full 15 seconds before Parker Hendriks, aboard Ed Swyer’s Iranistan, broke the stalemate and took off with the lead. The move proved fortuitous. As it turned out, Iranistan led throughout, though he was headed at the 14th and final fence by Bruton Street-US’ mighty Snap Decision (ridden by Graham Watters), but had enough in the tank to prevail by 2 1/4 lengths in a driving finish for trainer Keri Brion. It didn’t hurt, either, that Snap Decision, who had won nine straight races over two years until last September, was giving Iranistan 14 pounds under the handicap conditions of the Gwathmey.

Snap Decision’s Bruton Street-US’ stablemate, 2020 Eclipse Award winner Moscato also put in a solid effort following a long layoff. Making his first start in 20 months after a tendon injury, the 11-year-old tracked Iranistan in second under Jamie Bargary for much of the going, but was outrun late. Still, he finished third, only 2 ¼ lengths behind Snap Decision. Irv Naylor’s Amschel was fourth; Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean trailed.

Storm Team and Graham Watters in the Middleburg Hunt Cup. ©Tod Marks

In the co-featured $25,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup timber stakes, at 3 ¼ miles, it was a tour de force by veteran Storm Team. The eight-year-old chestnut by Candy Ride, owned by Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable, set the pace and navigated the 18 fences skillfully. He was never seriously threatened, and drew off easily after the final fence with Graham Watters aboard for trainer Jack Fisher, who saddled both Snap Decision and Moscato in the Gwathmey. Ballybristol Farm’s 2019 timber champion, Andi’amu, a previous winner of the race, finished second while making his first start since June 2020. Regular rider Tom Garner had the mount. For Storm Team, it was his eighth win in 34 career starts, and brought his earnings to just under a quarter-million-dollar mark. Storm Team had captured his previous start over the course in the National Sporting Library & Museum Cup Stakes at the Virginia Fall Races last season. 

There were enough other highlights on the day to fill several scrapbooks, starting with wins by two of the National Steeplechase Association’s latest riders from Europe, Mikey Hamill and Jamie Neild. Hamill struck first, in the second, an allowance hurdle for non-winners of two, with The International Venture’s Going Country, a lightly raced Irish-bred six-year-old, who broke his maiden a week ago at Tryon. Riding for Keri Brion, Hamill rated off the pace set by Del Rio Chasers’ Recent Revelations, began to move forward in the final half mile, and drew even with new leader Scorpion’s Revenge at the last. From there, the duo dueled to the finish, with the winner maintaining a length advantage. 

Next, it was Neild’s turn to find the winner’s circle, in the sixth, a maiden hurdle, with Kiplin Hall’s Take Profit. Making his first start over hurdles after eight tries on the flat at Laurel, Pimlico, Aqueduct, Gulfstream Park, and Delaware Park, the four-year-old son of Air Force Blue took to hurdles like an old pro. Never farther back than third in the field of 10, Take Profit stalked pacesetter, Buttonwood Farm’s Caughtoncamera, and outfinished Riverdee Stable’s Awakened for a narrow score. William Dowling trained the winner.

Parker Hendriks, whose crowning moment prior to Saturday came aboard Historic Heart in the recent Carolina Cup novice stakes, had two other victories besides the Gwathmey, both for Brion. First, he guided Buttonwood Farm’s Sa’ad in a rousing stretch contest with Irv Naylor’s Fearsome in the opener, a training flat event. His third tally came in the fifth, a filly and mare maiden special weights hurdle, with Metahorse Racing’s Kicking Myself, who like Brion’s champion The Mean Queen was sired by Irish stallion Doyen. Making her first career start, the filly sat seventh in the field of 10 for a mile and a half, got into gear with two fences remaining, powered to the lead in mid-stretch, and won with authority by four lengths. Jennifer Pitts’ Lear Avia, who led most of the way, was second.

Picking up where he left off in Aiken in March, Sean McDermott was again victorious as both a trainer and rider in the seventh, a maiden claiming hurdle. McDermott guided South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting to a two-length win in his NSA debut. It was the veteran reinsman’s second triumph with Who’s Counting, whom he saddled successfully on the flat at Laurel.

The eighth and final race on the card was the always thrilling Alfred M. Hunt Steeplethon, at 2 ⅝ miles over mixed obstacles, and the winner was Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well. With Tom Garner aboard for trainer Leslie Young, the seven-year-old Irish-bred son of Rock of Gibraltar, who earned his first steeplethon win at Great Meadow last fall and finished second in a similar race at Glenwood Park before that, set an unpressured pace, and finished 27 lengths in front of the runnerup, Irv Naylor’s A Silent Player. Bodes Well, who also boasts a novice stakes score over hurdles, has finished in the top three in 16 of his 32 career starts, with earnings of more than $150,000. Since coming to the U.S. from Europe in 2019, Bodes Well has a dozen in-the-money finishes in 17 starts.