Trainer Leslie Young’s Hat Trick Highlights Opening Weekend of VA Fall Steeplechase Races

The first weekend of the National Steeplechase Association fall season was a blockbuster for Leslie Young, who padded her lead in the training standings, while Freddie Procter zoomed into the top three among riders.

With a hat trick at both Shawan Downs in Cockeyesville, Md., and at Foxfield in Charlottesville, Va.,Young has amassed 27 victories with nine meets to go on the calendar. Five of those wins came over hurdles. Last season, Young won her first training title, with 37 wins, and you’d have to go back to the late Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard in 1988 to find a trainer who won more races than that (39). Jack Fisher is currently second in the standings, with 13 wins.

Procter, who rang up 19 victories and 33 top-three finishes in 51 starts in his first year on the circuit, hasn’t ridden as much this year, but he’s made the most of his opportunities. His four weekend victories give him a total of nine in 22 starts, which moves him up to third, three behind Harry Beswick and two behind Graham Watters, and tied with Barry Foley (who is out with an injury).

Images of the scene the morning of the races, photo by Camden Littleton

Here is a recap of the Action at the Foxfield Hunt Races

Eye of Gunfighter wins shootout in maiden claimer

Virginia Korrell, who had a winner on the final race on Saturday at Shawan Downs, picked up where she left off on Sunday, piloting Hickory Made Stables and Celtic Venture Stable’s’ Eye of Gunfighter to a front-running score over eight rivals in a $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle at 2 ⅛ miles.

Sprinting to the lead at the flag drop, the six-year-old Pennsylvania-bred, trained by Larry Smith, led by as much as five lengths and repelled challenges at one time or another from Tom Rice’s Secret Soulmate, Runnymoore Racing’s Codigo, and a late surge by Vivian Rall’s Icandothat, who finished second, under rider/trainer Sean McDermott, beaten two lengths. Louisa Stevens and Achsah O’Donovan’s Greylover (Jamie Bargary) was third.

In his lengthy, 54-race career, Eye of Gunfighter has seesawed between flat and jump racing. This was his first victory over hurdles.

20k Maiden Claiming Hurdle Winner Eye of Gunfighter, ridden by Virginia Korrell, photo by Douglas Lees

The Hero Next Door makes heroic return

Michael Smith’s The Hero Next Door, a budding star en route to victory when he fell at the final fence in the Green Pastures novice stakes at the Iroquois Races in May, made his first start since his mishap in the second at Foxfield, a training flat race.

Ridden by Mikey Hamill for trainer Leslie Young, The Hero Next Door was content to sit in second in the field of 11 going 1 1/4 miles, as Shannon Hill Farm’s Sliabh Aughty, with Tom Garner, exploded to a huge lead and nursed his advantage until running out of gas near the final turn. At that point, The Hero Next Door snatched the lead and prevailed in a hand ride by 2 ½ lengths over Sonny Via’s late-closing Welshman (Graham Watters). Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision was third.

The victory by The Hero Next Door sets the Irish-bred four-year-old up for the fall’s big races to come, notably steeplechasing’s championship day at Far Hills on Oct. 21. The lightly raced gelding had won his first two starts impressively and had a clear lead in the Green Pastures when he fell.

The Hero Next Door, ridden by Mikey Hamill, photo by Tiffany Dillon Keen

Afraid Not takes $30,000 filly & mare maiden

Bonnie Rye Stable’s Afraid Not, another runner who has alternated between flat and jump racing, defeated nine foes by 3 ¼ lengths in the maiden special weights hurdle for fillies and mares at 2 ⅛ miles.

Breaking alertly under Gerard Galligan, the Julie Gomena-trainee set the pace as Atlantic Friends Racing’s Lacey Underall and Mell Boucher stalked in second. But with two fences to go, the field bunched up and fanned across the course, and it looked like any one of the eight runners had a legitimate shot. Heading to the final fence, Buttonwood Farm’s Lady’s Game (Tom Garner) made her move on the outside, but Afraid Not had plenty left and actually drew off powerfully in the final furlong. Lacey Underall fought back to finish second, with Lady’s Game 4 ½ lengths behind in third.

Afraid Not jumping over a gate in her win of the 3rd race, ridden by Gerard Galligan, photo by Douglas Lees

Newcomer Garrison Forest takes down nine foes in $30,000 maiden hurdle

The third time proved a charm for Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Garrison Forest. The four-year-old Irish-bred, who began his career with two previous unplaced starts over the summer at Colonial Downs, benefitted from those experiences with a come-from-behind victory in the fourth race, another maiden special weights event at 2 1/8 miles.

With Freddie Procter riding for Leslie Young, the Walk in the Park Gelding broke in midpack, rallied on the outside from seventh after the ninth fence to pass the frontrunners, Northwoods Stable’s Look North, with Jamie Bargary, and Gill Johnston’s Active Duty (Tom Garner). Active Duty was tough as nails and dug in, until Garrison Forest drew clear by a length and a half in the final strides. Look North was four lengths behind Active Duty in third.

Garrison Forrest, ridden by Freddie Proctor, in their win of the 30K VEA Maiden Hurdle, photo by Douglas Lees

Arrowheart makes it back-to-back wins with $25,000 handicap score

Starting slowly and waiting patiently to strike, Charlie Fenwick’s Arrowheart took charge after the first mile and didn’t look back, drawing off by nearly 10 lengths in a handicap for horses rated at 110 or less at 2 ¼ miles.

The five-year-old New York-bred Hard Spun Gelding, a veteran of a dozen starts on the NYRA circuit, entered the race off of a layoff of nearly 11 months. In his previous start, he captured a maiden claiming hurdle at the Montpelier Hunt Races.

The win was also the second straight on the card for both trainer Leslie Young and jockey Freddie Procter.

Content to sit in midpack as Ann Jackson’s Left Blank and Elizabeth Scully set the early pace, Arrowheart assumed control with two fences to go, widening his lead with every stride. Buttonwood Farm’s Baltimore Kid, ridden by Stephen Mulqueen, came within striking distance with a quarter mile to go, but faded. After a poor start, Paul and Molly Willis’ New Appointment rallied to finish third under Mell Boucher.

Arrowheart in the Winner’s Circle with the winning connections after the 5th race, photo by Douglas Lees

Who’s Counting an easy winner in $35,000 handicap

In a third win on the day for horses who have concurrently competed on the flat and over jumps, South Branch Equine’s Who’s Counting pounced on Genet Racing’s Wicked West after the second to last fence, cut the corner on the far inside and spurted clear to take the finale at Foxfield, a 120 handicap at 2 ¼ miles, by 6 ¾ lengths.

Trained and ridden by Sean McDermott, the five-year-old Maryland-bred won for the first time since consecutive victories at Colonial Downs in 2022, a starter allowance on the flat over turf, and a handicap over fences.

When Wicked West (ridden by Tom Garner) weakened in the late going, Bruton Street-US’ Presence of Mind (Jamie Bargary) launched his bid from sixth at the10th fence and appeared as if he’d be in the thick of things but was unable to gain ground on the winner. William Russell’s Animal Kingston (Graham Watters) was third.

Who’s Counting cooling off after his win of the 6th race on the card, ridden by Sean McDermott, photo by Douglas Lees
Farmington Hunt, photo by Douglas Lees
Jockeys having a meeting pre-race, photo by Camden Littleton
The Farmington Hunt Club’s Beagles are always a hit, photo by Douglas Lees