Foxfield Races Recap; Chief Justice lays Down the Law in Van Clief Memorial

By Betsy Burke Parker

Trainer Cyril Murphy has found the sweet spot for Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice, he said, the right distance, the right date, the right company and the right weights. The formula landed the team an impressive score in the featured $50,000 Daniel Van Clief Memorial hurdle stakes at the Foxfield Spring Races in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday.

The April 30 meet was run before an enthusiastic crowd estimated of 10,000, most of who were University of Virginia students clearly thrilled about the return of the popular spring event to the Barracks Road course. 

Chief Justice, with Barry Foley up, was making his first start in a year. He won his last out – a 2 1/4 mile novice hurdle stake at Iroquois in May, and was the starting highweight at 158 pounds. The impost was no deterrent for the front-running victory for the English-born son of Acclamation. 

Murphy was thrilled with the commanding win. 

“You know, it makes everything we’ve been doing at home worth it,” Murphy said. “It’s hard with a horse like this. He’s very good, but not (open) stakes caliber. You have to time it just right, and catch the handicap just right.” 

Foley characterized Chief Justice as “the best bet of the day,” having confidence in the horse’s jumping ability, fitness and caliber against his three rivals. He took the lead after the first, never relinquishing command, and was six lengths in front at the wire. 

“It shows his class,” Murphy explained, saying Chief Justice was a four-time winner over hurdles in England and Ireland, including a handicap hurdle at Aintree on Grand National day when he was four. His American career has been about “finding just the right spot for him,” Murphy added.

Sonny Via’s Welshman and jockey Graham Watters in the maiden hurdle. ©Betsy Burke Parker

In other action

In the opener, Layton Register’s Travertine Farm was represented by maiden claiming hurdle winner Seb’s Welcome with a brave, late-stretch grind to beat Ondalove (Harry Beswick) on the nod. Bernie Dalton had the call for trainer-wife, Kate Dalton.

In the ratings handicap, Clarke Ohrstrom’s Mr. Bridger (Barry Foley) was on or near the pace throughout, and scored by about three lengths over Criticize (Beswick.) Mr. Bridger, a son of champion sire English Channel, was making his first start in almost 12 months.

Making his first NSA hurdle start (with just one modest point-to-point hurdle effort a month ago), Harold Via Jr.’s Welshman put away six maiden rivals with a definitive move up the long hill into the homestretch last time around. Defending titleist Graham Watters had the call.

Watters got a second win with Rather Be Racing’s Our Legend in the maiden timber. Our Legend jumped the last giving a length to leader Western Crusader (Beswick) but closed the gap – and opened up by two at the wire. Western Crusader was second, Highway Prince (Skylar McKenna), third.

In the finale, amateur owner-rider Alex Leventhal made an exquisitely timed late move with veteran Sempre Medici, closing a 5-length gap from the last to collar leader Court Ruler (Freddie Procter) at the wire. Leventhal was thrilled with the win, calling Sempre Medici a horse of a lifetime, a real gentleman and a real class act.

“He’s such a good boy,” Leventhal remarked. “You’d think he was one of the outriders’ horses in the paddock and in the post parade. He’s a serious racehorse when we get to running. (Trainer) Mark Beecher has really made him shine.”

Full results can be found HERE.

A crowd of 10,000 spectators line the rail of the infield to watch the Foxfield Spring Races. ©Camden Littleton Photography

Posted in Race Recap and tagged steeplechase