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May 1, 2009

Isti Bee Surprises At Middleburg Spring Races

Doug Fout’s trainees claim the top two spots in the feature stakes race.

The Middleburg Spring Races, April 18, was a case of, if he does not enter, they will come.

With multiple stakes champion Good Night Shirt taking the weekend off, trainers took the opportunity to unload their hopefuls into the $60,000 Temple Gwathmey Grade III hurdle stakes. Spectators were treated to a spectacular upset victory and some of the best runners this side of a major track.

The eight horses boasted considerable stakes accomplishments. The only horse that had a real question mark next to his name was Magalen Bryant’s newest acquisition, the New Zealand-bred Isti Bee, and he ended up putting all the well known-runners on notice, besting even his stablemate Dark Equation (Carl Rafter) at the wire.

Isti Bee (Paddy Young) did not wait for Preemptive Strike (Jody Petty) to make his usual front running move and set the pace. Instead, he took off like demons were chasing him, forcing Preemptive Strike to settle in to second.

With good rains all week and excellent turf, the course was perfect, and Isti Bee took advantage of the light weight of 142 pounds at every turn. By the last fence, Preemptive Strike looked like he might have a second wind, but as he rolled down the hill to the stretch turn it was Planets Aligned (Padge Whelan) and Dark Equation who were going to be the hard ones to hold off.

Young asked for a little more, and Isti Bee lowered his head and dug in. In a photo finish, it was Isti Bee’s head just over the wire and in front of Dark Equation. Planets Aligned took third, and Preemptive Strike picked up fourth-placed money.

Trained by Doug Fout of Middleburg, Va., Isti Bee has been plagued with mishaps and medical issues.

“This win is huge,” Fout said. “We have always liked this horse, but it has taken a long time to get him here. When he came to the United States last year he arrived on the plane with a temperature of a 105, and we had to send him to Morven Park [Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center].”

Later in the year, Fout took him to Far Hills (N.J.) and ran him in the Breeders’ Cup, where he ran well until he fell. A few weeks later at the Montpelier Races (Va.), he bled.

This spring, Fout entered him in the $75,000 race at the Carolina Cup (S.C.), where he made it to the stretch but was shut out by winner Good Night Shirt and second-placed Preemptive Strike.

“I think he should have beaten Preemptive Strike that day,” said Fout. “He wasn’t going to beat Good Night Shirt. He bled badly, but we think we have it under control now.”

Fout said they planned to make Preemptive Strike work for it at Middleburg. “If you can get loose on the front end in the stakes race here no one is going to catch you,” Fout said. “That’s why we wanted to get the jump on Preemptive Strike so quickly. It worked. Jody has not seen another horse in front of him for most of his races, but he did today.”

Fout was happy with Dark Equation’s second-placed outing as well. A nervous horse and a nightmare to school, Dark Equation has never liked to run at the hunt meets and normally runs at the major tracks. Fout thinks this was a good test for him and liked the way Rafter handled him.

“Carl did a great job,” Fout said. “I think we might try the [$150,000] Iroquois Stakes [Tenn.] with both horses.”

Top Form


Rafter, who is making his comeback after missing the majority of the 2008 fall season with a broken leg, went on to win two more races.

His first was with Margaret Littleton’s Bethpage Black in the $10,000 maiden claiming race. Although Bruce Smart’s Bullet Dancer (Liam McVicar) had crossed the wire first, a steward’s inquiry and claim of foul revealed Bullet Dancer had come over and made contact in the stretch with Rafter’s horse.

Trainer Julie Gomena was floored that the claim of foul was allowed. “I thought I was going to get kicked out,” she said. “I can’t believe it; we were really lucky.”

Rafter said it was an honest mistake. “Liam’s horse is still green and was looking at the crowd,” Rafter said. “The stretch here comes up quite sharp, and the temptation is to drop them inside the rail.”

Gomena had just won the previous race as well, with Colvin “Gregg” Ryan’s Dynantonia in the $20,000 allowance.

“Dynantonia is a really nice horse,” Gomena said. “This was big for Gregg too, because he is just getting over breaking some ribs. I think we are hoping to point him to the three-mile amateur race at Iroquois.”

Rafter’s second win came decisively in the Alfred Hunt Steeplechase on Perry Bolton’s Scuba Steve. Ridden over a myriad of unusual fences, the course includes timber, large natural hurdles and a U-turn in the middle of the course. Horses have to be clever over both types of fences, and because it is less than 3 miles, speed becomes a major factor in the end.

Scuba Steve hooked up with Naylor’s NJ Devil (Jeff Murphy) for most of the running and faltered a little at the water jump. Scuba Steve picked himself up again and bided his time until the last brush fence of the race, where he drew away to win by 9 lengths over He’s A Conniver (Robbie Walsh).

Scuba Steve had won the steeplethon at the International Gold Cup (Va.) last fall, but he is another horse that is not so easy to train at home. Pennsylvania trainer Kathy Neilson McKenna said foxhunting is out of the question with him.

 “I had Janice Dugan help me with him in the ring,” said McKenna. “He’s such a bearcat to ride. James Slater has really helped me get him to settle too.”

Rafter said the horse really can get keen, and he was worried about the sharp turns: “When we made that U-turn, I had his head by my foot, but he still was going straight. It was all I could do to hold him. He landed on his head a little bit over the water jump, and I think that actually helped him because he respected the fences a little more after that.”

Return Of The King

The National Steeplechase Association’s 2008 timber horse of the year, Arcadia Stable’s Bubble Economy, has tackled Middleburg Spring’s timber course before, but his best showing was third in 2005. Last year, he placed a tiring fourth at the Virginia Fall Races, also held at Glenwood Park, before going on to win the $50,000 International Gold Cup and clinch his NSA title.

Without the usual prep race, trainer Jack Fisher entered him cold at Middleburg, and the 10-year-old son of Rakeen never missed a beat, besting stablemate Arthur Arundel’s Seeyouattheevent (William Dowling) by a head in a stretch duel to win the $20,000 open timber.

Just as well known for his ability to refuse a fence as his winning ways, Bubble Economy has had 12 jockeys in his career, but only a handful have ever made it to the winner’s circle with him.

Ridden by last year’s leading jockey Xavier Aizpuru, the big bay jumped along happily behind Seeyouattheevent, Irish Prince (Petty) and Erin Go Bragh (Young).

But it wasn’t until the last fence that Aizpuru put the pressure on Dowling’s horse. The two gunned down the hill toward the stretch, and it looked like Seeyouattheevent might wire the race. But Bubble Economy engaged that infamous backside and caught him at the wire by a head.

Aizpuru, who likes riding timber about as much as most people like going to the dentist, was all smiles in the winner’s circle. This is his second start and second win on the horse—the pair won last fall at Colonial Cup. Bubble Economy had been showing off in the paddock with several unsuccessful attempts to break free of his handler, assistant trainer Mary McGlothlin.

His pre-race antics did not go unnoticed by Aizpuru. “He always gives you a hard time. That’s why he is the boss and we are just the passengers,” he said. “It’s a good sign. When he thinks he’s in charge you know you are in for a decent day, win, lose or draw.”

New Hurdler

Despite finishing fourth in the Temple Gwathmey, Petty had a good day, winning two races, including the $25,000 Sport of Kings maiden hurdle for trainer Fenneka Bentley on Gil Johnston’s It’s My Choice. The first-time starter stole the start and never looked back.

Bentley, wife of former jump jockey David Bentley, has six race horses in work but only two hurdlers.

Johnston was impressed with her newest ’chaser: “He ran on the flat in California with Graham Motion. He didn’t really show me anything so I said, ‘looks like jumper to me,’ and here he is. Pretty impressive on the front end and he wasn’t tired. I have stood in the winner’s circle many times and held their heads up, but not today.”

David took over for his wife in the winner’s circle while she cooled down It’s My Choice.

“He really took to the soft ground,” David said. “Going out front was not exactly the plan, but he seems to like it there. He fought back well. He is from New Zealand so he appreciated a cut in the ground.”

Petty picked up a second win with Augustin Stables’ Flight Briefing in the training flat.

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