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October 23, 2009

Major Price Ups The Ante At Morven Park

Alicia Murphy’s winner cops his signature style, finishing far ahead of the field. 

Major Price and Jacob Roberts made short work of the allowance optional claiming timber race at the Morven Park Steeplechase in Leesburg, Va., on Oct. 10, winning by more than 9 lengths.

But that margin was small compared to the 15-plus length lead they held for most of the race, effectively running the rest of the 11-horse field off their legs. Only William Wofford’s Algezir and Jeff Murphy were close at the end in second place.

Owned by Maryland trainer Alicia Murphy, Major Price first jumped into view this spring at the Marlborough Hunt Races (Md.), but despite winning by many there, he missed a beacon and was disqualified. In his first sanctioned start at the Radnor Hunt Races (Pa.), he ran hard out front but faded to place fourth.

This fall, Major Price has been on his game, collecting his first sanctioned win at Shawan Downs (Md.) in late September in the maiden timber and jumping better than ever.

Murphy is thrilled with the 8-year-old son of Allen’s Prospect, but he does give her a bit of a fright when he goes out so far ahead and jumps hugely in the process.

“I know that’s what he’s going to do, but it’s always a little scary,” Murphy said.

“We haven’t done that many races, but he seems to have a pattern of taking a breather and letting them get in shooting distance, then he seems to say, ‘Okey dokey, here we go again!’ And he’s off and running.”

Murphy chose not to put Major Price up for a tag in the optional claiming race. Although she normally doesn’t own the horses she runs, she said that along with the extra hay money, there are some other perks, like not having to call owners with status reports.

“At this point I think I’ll keep him,” Murphy said. “I almost sold him and almost partnershipped him, but he got a little bit hurt and I thought that might be a big deal; he had pulled a hind muscle. I’m so glad I don’t have anyone to answer to right now. In two days he was better, but it reinforced those are not the kind of phone calls you want to make.”

Murphy isn’t sure where she wants to send Major Price next and may hold off running him again until the spring.

Staying Chilly

No water was needed to wash down hot horses at the Morven Park Races with the temps staying in the upper 60s. These were perfect conditions for horses who like blanket weather, and Manown Kisor’s Gather No Moss fits that bill.

Gather No Moss would have liked it cold this spring when he tried to win the $20,000 open timber at the Queens Cup (N.C.), but it was one of the hotter race weekends. He only placed third, and Tennessee trainer Michael Berryman realized the 8-year-old son of Award had some major heat issues and might have to wait for chillier weather to win. That made the  highweight timber at Morven ideal.

Ridden by fellow Tennessean Will Haynes, Gather No Moss sat just off the pace until the end, galloping up the long hill to the wire to win by 2 lengths over last year’s champions, Music To My Ears and George Hundt, Jr.

The 19-year-old Haynes said Gather No Moss feels like a completely different horse in the cooler temperatures.

“I went into the race thinking we had a good pretty chance,” Haynes said. “He was so strong coming up that hill. This hill is where you really see who’s in shape and if there’s a bottom to your horse. Mine was really fit.”

Soaring High

Surprisingly, not one of the horses in the open claiming hurdle went home with a new owner. Among the entries were several stakes winners and Barracuda Stable’s Eagle Beagle.

Ridden by leading jockey Paddy Young, Eagle Beagle hooked up with the only horse to be claimed this year back in September, the former Kinross Farm champion who’s now Michael Smith’s new hurdler, Humdinger. The two horses dug deep, but it was Eagle Beagle again posing for win shots.

Trainer Ricky Hendriks took a chance entering the race, but he banked on the hope that the down economy would still keep owners from picking up nice horses in the claiming races.

“Yup, he’s still ours, so far,” Hendriks said after the win. “He’s a good boy. [He] loves to race and loves to be turned out—that’s his thing. He’s pretty easy.”

A 5-year-old son of the 1999 Triple Crown spoiler Lemon Drop Kid, Eagle Beagle has won five out of his seven starts.

Done For The Season

What was supposed to be a simple 11⁄4-mile training flat race for horses heading to the International Gold Cup (Va.) and Far Hills Race Meeting (N.J.) later in the month turned tragic for one jockey.

Jockey Liam McVicar was riding one of 12 horses in the flat race. As he entered the sharp turn for home aboard Triple Dip for Virginia trainer Jimmy Day, he was hit by Untamed Hero and Scarlett Lovett. Triple Dip went down, sending McVicar into the turf.

McVicar suffered a fractured cervical vertebra (C4) in his neck and ligament damage, and he cracked about eight teeth in the process. He was knocked unconscious, which Day said was a blessing in disguise.

“The best thing that could’ve happened to him was getting knocked out,” Day said. “He never moved, and had he moved, he could’ve been paralyzed.”

The C4 region is one of the most dangerous areas of the spine to damage because it controls breathing and limb movement, so McVicar is out for the season and has a 24/7 neck brace to hold the area stable. Doctors don’t believe surgery is necessary at this time.

Up until the accident, the Scotsman was having one of his best years since making the journey across the pond. He won his first Grade I race with Randleston Farm’s Spy In The Sky in the $100,000 Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) in August and was supposed to ride that horse, Joseph Henderson’s Triple Dip and several others at Far Hills. He’s the leading Virginia Steeplechase Association rider with 45 points and had five sanctioned wins for 2009.

Although happy to be walking and talking, McVicar is a little frustrated.

“I jump in crazy races every weekend, and I get brought down in a bloody flat race,” McVicar said. “It seems so unfair, but I really am lucky it wasn’t worse.

“I remember starting to turn around the flag when she T-boned me,” McVicar added. “[The horse] hit me right behind my leg. My horse spun around, and I guess I hit face first, and that’s why my teeth are messed up. I don’t know if she didn’t see the flag or what.”

Lovett was called up to talk to stewards about the incident twice, but The National Steeplechase Association didn’t take any disciplinary action.

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