For Complete Zen and Richard Boucher, the $50,000 Georgia Cup Sport of Kings novice hurdle could have been a disaster. But in the end it went down on the horse’s record as a win, as he cruised around the $50,000 Georgia Cup Sport of Kings novice hurdle on April 16.
The pair took off at flag fall and dragged the field of four around the course in Kingston, Ga. Andre Brewster’s All Together (Xavier Aizpuru) shadowed the pair, only a few lengths off for most of the running.
Trainer Jonathan Sheppard had two of his own good novices—Italian Wed-ding (Brian Crowley) and One Giant
Step (Danielle Hodsdon)—within striking distance of Complete Zen, while Coppertree Farm’s Good Request (Paddy Young) rounded out the field.
Most of Complete Zen’s fences were picture perfect, but the 5-year-old son of Cozzene barely cleared the last, landing slightly ahead of All Together. The two horses hooked up in the rain-soaked stretch and battled to the wire, with Complete Zen’s head bobbing across the finish first.
“We totally stole it,” Boucher said. “He’s such a gritty, tough horse all the way to the end. He didn’t really like the going. We were sinking in about 3 to 4 inches, but he still stuck it out.”
Boucher admitted he misjudged the last. “He just kind of stopped and knocked the stuffing out of himself for the moment,” Boucher said. “He still landed in front but had to gather himself up again. That’s not easy when you’ve been running as hard as he was.”
Owned by Mignon Smith of Mede Cahaba Stables and trained by Boucher’s wife Lilith Boucher, Complete Zen is a homebred, out of a favorite mare.
“Complete Number is a mare that’s near and dear to us,” Lilith said. “She never was a jumper, but she did run successfully for Mignon on the flat. This makes this horse’s win all the more special.”
Lilith, of Camden, S.C., admitted that the last fence nearly gave her a heart attack. “I get so nervous watching them,” she said. “I can barely look at the races. Richard just walked through that fence. I can’t believe they stayed up, and of course that’s what everyone is going to remember.”
She thought highly of her horse’s competitors: “You run that same race with the same horses a couple of times, and you probably would get different results each time. They were all that good.”
She isn’t sure where they might go next but plans to stay in the novice category until Complete Zen no longer qualifies for those conditions.
Normally, it takes a new jumper several maiden races before he moves on to the non-winners of two, novice races or even the open hurdle category, but not for Hudson River Farm’s Time Off. The 4-year-old first-time starter won the $25,000 sport of kings hurdle easily.
Piloted by Brian Crowley, Time Off worked his way from the back to take on Sheila Williams’ tiring Easy Reach (Aizpuru) in the stretch and pass him to win by lmost 2 lengths.
“It was somewhat unexpected,” trainer Jonathan Sheppard said. “He’s nice to work around, not very big or bold and doesn’t really have a lot of speed, but he can stay. I thought this would be a good school for him. I wasn’t thinking he’d actually win it.”
“It just goes to show how tough and genuine this wee horse is to do what he did,” Crowley said. “The racing conditions weren’t great, and he’s still very young but already has it all figured out.”
Sheppard isn’t sure how he’ll do running against winners and may keep him on the flat at Colonial Downs (Va.) this summer.
Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot of Kirk-wood, Pa., picked up two wins for the day, the first with Laura Thiel Shull’s Silent Vow in the $15,000 open claim-ing hurdle. Ridden by Bernard Dalton, the 8-year-old sailed across the wire by more than 5 lengths. But Elliot isn’t planning too much with Silent Vow this season.
“He has some suspensory issues, and I only get a chance to run him every 18 months or so,” she said. “At this rate, he only shows up about every other year.”
Elliot also won the training flat with Cherry Knoll Farm’s latest acqu-isition, the Irish-bred Roman Glory (David Dunne), and she picked up second place with Gil Johnston’s Alburj (Dalton).
Both horses were recently purchased on a buying trip to the Newmarket sales in England. With her big stakes horses Red Letter Day questionable with a nagging foot abscess and Dalucci out for the season with a leg injury, Elliot is looking at a few of her other horses to step up.
Paddy Young started off the day picking up his fifth win for the season on Move Up Stable’s Reveillon in the $10,000 maiden claiming hurdle for trainer Kathy McKenna.
Only five races into the season, the National Steeplechase Association 2010 champion jockey has a good lead on the rest of the riders in the money won category, more than $25,000 ahead of Danielle Hodsdon.