Tears streamed down Danielle Hodsdon’s face as she rode Mixed Up to the winner’s circle of the $100,000 Colonial Cup Grade I Hurdle Stakes, repeatedly hugging him.
“This is the biggest thing that either one of us has ever done,” Hodsdon said, crying. “ ‘Mickey’ is such an amazing horse.”
Showing the determination of a horse half his age, William Pape’s 10-year-old Mixed Up deftly snatched the $100,000 Colonial Cup, putting himself at the top of the list for the Eclipse Award for steeplechasing.
With the National Steeplechase Association horse of the year title up for grabs and four grade I winners with their hooves well in the door, Mixed Up was just one of 11 horses vying for the Colonial Cup in Camden, S.C., Nov. 21.
One of the longer races of the year, the 23⁄4-mile hurdle stakes is run over the larger Colonial Cup stuffed brush hurdles instead of the National hurdles. As expected, at flag fall Gregory Hawkins’ Red Letter Day (Bernard Dalton) sprinted away to lead the field on the fast Springdale Course.
With the rest of the field tightly bunched the entire race, Red Letter Day didn’t look like he could be caught until the second-to-last fence. At this point Irvin Naylor’s Tax Ruling (William Dowling), Octoraro Stable’s Best Attack (Jody Petty), the Estate of Calvin Houghland’s mare Sweet Shani (Xavier Aizpuru) and Mixed Up entered the fray.
Although Mixed Up didn’t fence the second-to-last well, he stayed in striking distance, and at the final hurdle he landed with a burst of speed. The entire field roared into the endless stretch. Just as it looked like Hodsdon had found the perfect spot to send him through, she faced a wall of horses.
Undaunted, Hodsdon pulled Mixed Up hard to her left and needled her way through Red Letter Day and Best Attack, sending the dark bay and making Red Letter Day work to keep up. As they crossed the wire, only a short neck made the difference between the two. Tax Ruling finished third, and Dale Thiel’s Zozimus (Jacob Roberts) slipped in to place fourth over Best Attack.
A lock for the NSA’s horse of the year, Mixed Up is now the only horse to win two grade I races in 2009, his first being the $100,000 A.P. Smithwick this summer in Saratoga Springs (N.Y.).
Mixed Up is a favorite in the barn, and Hodsdon has ridden him for most of his wins.
“Mickey just tries his heart out for you,” she said. “There was a gap between the horses that I was going for, and I hollered and sent him to it, and they closed up. I had to check back and go on the other side of Bernie, but Mickey’s the type of horse that will do it for you.
“Going to the last, everyone else was hitting their horses,” Hodsdon continued. “I thought, ‘If I can just keep him up to that point without having to get after him, he’ll give me all he has to the wire. He won’t stop until he gets past the other horses,’ and he didn’t.”
Although he placed second, Dalton couldn’t have been happier about Red Letter Day’s performance. Dalton rode the horse, trained by Janet Elliot, to the $150,000 Lonesome Glory Stakes Grade I win at Belmont (N.Y.) in September and knew the horse was trying his hardest at Colonial Cup.
“I thought the horse ran the best race of his career today,” Dalton said. “He jumped super. I’m sure the owner would have liked the win, but he ran his eyeballs out. They were chasing me the whole time.”
His Time To Shine
Mixed Up’s win is even more amazing considering this isn’t a distance the 15.3-hand son of Carnivalay likes. He proved that in 2006 when he placed a tired fourth at Colonial Cup.
For the past few years Mixed Up has run against the long distance Eclipse winners like Hirapour, McDynamo and Good Night Shirt. His Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, sensing he might have lost a step, has pointed him to shorter races of late where the bigger stakes horses might not be.
After a disappointing summer, Sheppard made some tough decisions. He had put Mixed Up in the $100,000 Turf Writers (N.Y.) in August, and he wasn’t the same horse who had won a few weeks prior in the Smithwick; instead he came fifth to Randleston Farm’s winner Spy In The Sky (Liam McVicar). Even more disappointing was his seventh-placed finish in the Belmont race on Sept. 20.
Knowing Mixed Up’s dislike for soft going, Sheppard scratched him in the $250,000 Grand National at Far Hills (N.J.) and pointed him toward the Colonial Cup, thus making Mixed Up the freshest horse entering the race.
“Far Hills might have been a blessing in disguise,” Sheppard said. “He doesn’t seem to like his races too close together, as we saw in the Turf Writers coming off the Smithwick win.”
Sheppard added, “We knew he’s speedy, but our biggest question was whether he could get such a distance.”
A few years ago, Mixed Up was coming into his own; he won Saratoga’s $150,000 New York Turf Writers in 2006 and the Smithwick in 2007. But by the end of the year he was facing Hirapour and McDynamo again and saddled with enormous weights, and he just couldn’t get it done. In 2008 he never saw the winner’s circle.
So for 2009, after nearly collapsing after a race with a potassium imbalance, Sheppard took him off the drug Lasix (Furosemide). Considered a diuretic, Lasix is used to prevent bleeding in the lungs; its use is prevalent in flat track and steeplechasing racing. Controversial overseas, it’s considered a performance enhancer by some racing commissions, and at some tracks its use is banned.
“I hope everyone takes their horses off it now,” Sheppard said. “It’s not always needed. I also think it helped that Dani and this horse know each other so well.”
The two grade I races weren’t Mixed Up’s only successes for 2009. He started the season at Aiken (S.C.) by capturing the $45,000 feature, then he won the $25,000 feature at Block House (N.C.) in April. He was third in deep going to Fox Ridge Farm’s Planets Aligned at Iroquois (Tenn.) in the $50,000 allowance hurdle, and he was second to Slip Away in $50,000 Zeke Ferguson at Colonial Downs (Va.).
Keeping a horse like Mixed Up in training for months without a race in between and preparing him for a longer distance was no easy task.
Hodsdon, who also works as an assistant trainer for Sheppard’s full barn of steeplechasers and flat horses, was concerned a few weeks out.
“To be honest, he was looking a little fat,” Hodsdon said. “He’s been really sharp and kind of naughty, and sometimes when he’s like that he doesn’t train hard enough. He just wants to buck me off. So the past 10 days we stepped up his training, and his last two works we gave him were really stiff. We were hoping that it would be enough. He’s never showed before that he wanted to go this distance, so we treated him a little like a timber horse to give him longer, slower uphill gallops.”
William Pape, Mixed Up’s owner, is no stranger to the Eclipse Awards, but it’s been a long time since he’s been a part of them. Sheppard trained Flatterer, one of the greatest all-time steeplechasers, for Pape and won the Eclipse Award for him from 1984-87. That was also the last time one of Pape’s horses won the Colonial Cup.
Pape, of Unionville, Pa., admitted he hadn’t even considered Mixed Up for any big awards until just before the race, when he started seeing previews in the racing magazines. Only then did he allow himself to think “what if.”
“I’m not that surprised he did it,” Pape said. “When he’s a rested horse, he’s done very well. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such a winner. He’s such an interesting horse and has given us tremendous joy. I see them from Day 1 and used to deliver all of them. I remember him being so small. He still is, but what a fabulous jumper.”
Mixed Up finishes up his year with $184,495 in earnings and the NSA horse of the year title, which is based solely on money won. This victory also catapults him to seventh place in the NSA All-Time Leading Steeplechasers in America, with a lifetime earnings of $642,225.
Unlike horse of the year, the Eclipse Award is voted on, and usually the number of wins plus the money earned picks the winner. Although it’s not a done deal, Mixed Up will likely take this title in January too.
This would be the 11th steeplechasing Eclipse Award-winning horse trained by Sheppard, who has stables in Camden, S.C., and Unionville, Pa. His last chasing Eclipse was in 1989.
Sheppard had his first flat track Eclipse win last year with Augustin Stable’s filly Forever Together and has a chance at a second flat track award with Augustin’s sprinter Informed Decision.
Sheppard topped off the day winning the $20,000 open timber with the Estate of Calvin Houghland’s He’s A Conniver. Ridden by Robert Walsh, the pair decimated the field on the same course in the spring and had no problems going wire-to-wire again in the fall.
Known for his hurdlers, Sheppard is just getting used to having a timber horse in the barn again. When he started training in the United States in the 1960s, his first win was with a timber horse named Haffaday (1966) at My Lady’s Manor (Md.), but for the past several decades, hurdles have been his forte.
“I don’t even really like timber racing,” Sheppard said. “Gradually I’m changing my mind. [With] every race, I’m gaining confidence in him. Robbie does a wonderful job and sits so quietly on him. He doesn’t ask him too much and lets him pick his spots when it comes to the fences.’’
Sheppard still isn’t sure whether He’s A Conniver will be able to manage the bigger fences, but he’s willing to wait to find out.
“We’ll have to see,” he said. “This is the perfect course for him—nice, fast ground and not an uphill battle. He’s always been a very good jumper, but he was pretty wild when he was young.”
Sheppard is happy to see the late Houghland’s family is continuing the long tradition of steeplechasing. He trained many horses over the years for the Tennessee native.
“It appears the family is going to keep racing,” Sheppard said. “Mr. Houghland was a very supportive to all of us and a big contributor to our sport.”
Hometown trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. picked up the rest of the races at Colonial Cup, winning three, all with horses he’s had only a short time.
Kingsley won the maiden hurdle with Here Comes Art (Bernard Dalton), the Raymond G. Woolfe Memorial Hurdle Stakes for 3-Year-Olds with Trade Winds Farm’s Jogja (Jody Petty) and the starter allowance hurdle with George Sensor’s Sunshine Numbers (Dalton).
“I have some great owners,” Kingsley said. “They’re very patient. It’s very rewarding when it all comes together for a day like this.”
Dalton was thrilled with Sunshine Numbers, who won over the big Colonial Cup hurdles.
“Sunshine was a pretty awesome ride,” Dalton said. “He was third in this race last year. He’s matured a bit and was jumping so well.”
Kingsley said Jogja isn’t just new to the barn but to jumping as well.
“At Far Hills we shipped 14 hours up, and I’d only had him for a month,” he said. “He was fourth and ran very well. Pretty good since having never jumped a stick a month prior to that.”
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