Originally posted on Nationalsteeplechase.com, on 5/5/2023, Written by Tod Marks
After some rough patches of weather the past few weekends, it looks like the sun will come out for Saturday’s stakes-stacked Virginia Gold Cup Races.
The Gold Cup, first run in 1922, features seven races, four of which are stakes. Two of those stakes, the historic Virginia Gold Cup, at 4 miles over timber, and David Semmes Memorial (Grade 2) each carry a purse of $100,000. The Semmes gets a $25,000 bump in value, making it worth six figures for the first time. Overall, the Gold Cup meet is worth $390,000 making it the second richest stop on the NSA spring circuit, behind only Iroquois in Nashville. As in past years, onsite parimutuel wagering will be available; fans can also bet online via the Twin Spires app.
Headlining the card is the eponymous Virginia Gold Cup stakes, which has drawn a small but select field of top timber veterans, including 2019 and 2022 champion Andi’amu and 2021 champ Tomgarrow, both trained by leading 2022 conditioner Leslie Young, who is dominating the standings this season as well.
At 13, Andi’amu, who runs in the colors of Tom and Roxy Collins’ Ballybristol Farm, hasn’t lost a step. In fact, he’s as sharp as ever. A winner of 11 races – nine stakes – in 15 outings since 2018, Andi’amu has finished second three times. The only blemish on his record came at Great Meadow in 2020 when he went off course in the Gold Cup, a race he has also captured twice. In his 2023 debut two weeks ago, Andi’amu won the Middleburg Hunt Cup by a neck over a hard-charging Mystic Strike, a multiple stakes-winning 14-year-old owned by Upland Partners and trained by Todd McKenna. Mystic Strike returns to take another shot at the champ.
Like his stablemate, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Tomgarrow began 2023 with a win, in the My Lady’s Manor stakes, and comes into the race as the victor in four of his last five starts. However, his endurance will be tested as he has not won at the Gold Cup distance. In last year’s Gold Cup, Tomgarrow was no match for Andi’amu, racing on the lead until running out of gas.
Rounding out the field are The Hundred Acre Field’s Cracker Factory, who finished third in the recent Middleburg Hunt Cup for trainer Mark Beecher, less than six lengths behind Andi’amu and Mystic Strike. Northwoods Stable and Sheila Williams’ Notjudginjustsayin takes a huge class jump for trainer Jack Fisher after reeling off a maiden and allowance score in his final two starts of last season.
A field of five is also expected in the David Semmes Memorial at 2 1/8 miles over hurdles. Riverdee Stable’s Gordon’s Jet was impressive in his first U.S. start, a 120 handicap at Tryon in April, after a long career in the UK, drawing clear by 3 1/2 lengths. Sonny Via’s Welshman won the Aflac Supreme novice stakes to close out 2022, and looked like a winner in the recent Carolina Cup, only to be overtaken by a length in deep stretch by Caramelised. Both contenders are trained by Jack Fisher.
Madaket Stables and The International Venture’s Going County wasn’t a factor in the Temple Gwathmey (Grade 2) at Middleburg last month, his first start back following a stellar 2022 in which the Keri Brion-trainee went from maiden winner to Grade 1 placed. Nor was Irv Naylor’s Belfast Banter, trained by Cyril Murphy, a threat to Snap Decision and Redicean in the Gwathmey. Though he’s still seeking his first NSA victory since coming stateside a year ago, Belfast Banter has competed in Grade 1 competition and is the starting highweight at 158 pounds, giving away four to 12 pounds to the rest of the field. Tom Rice and Ashwell Stable’s Booby Trap began his jump racing career in 2021 with two straight scores, in maiden and allowance competition, then followed those up with a second in the William Entenmann and a third in the Foxbrook Champion, both novice stakes. He got back on track in his final start of 2022, romping in a 120 handicap at Callaway Gardens for trainer Leslie Young.
The supporting stakes include the $50,000 Daniel M. “Speedy” Smithwick hurdle stakes for four-year-olds, which is being run in memory of the former rider and trainer who passed away last year, and the 3-mile, $30,000 Steeplethon over timber, natural brush fences, and through water. In addition, there’s a $40,000 maiden special weights hurdle; $45,000 allowance hurdle; and $25,000 maiden claiming hurdle. All hurdle races are contested at 2 1/8 miles.
Post time is 1 p.m. For full entries, click here.