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May 15, 2009

Salmo Returns For A Second Virginia Gold Cup Title

He gives owner Irv Naylor his third win in the timber stakes.

Even at the age of 13, Salmo still has the ability to surprise. The seasoned campaigner bested a good field of timber horses to capture his second Virginia Gold Cup title in three years on May 2.

Salmo’s trainer Desmond Fogarty opted to run him just twice on the flat this season, with no previous starts over fences. At the Marlborough Hunt Races (Md.), he placed sixth out of eight. Then he ran at the Fairfax Hunt Point-To-Point (Va.) and was never better than 10th out of 11 starters.

“He has lot of soundness issues, and he’s old. We didn’t want to give him a timber spin just to get him out,” Fogarty said. “We didn’t want to do too much with him, just enough to get him ready.”

Owned by Irv Naylor, Salmo won the four-mile Virginia Gold Cup in 2007 (under a different jockey and trainer), but an injury kept him out for more than a year afterwards. He came back last fall to place second in a shorter version of the same race at the International Gold Cup, but still he was not considered a favorite to take the $75,000 stakes race in The Plains, Va.

Most eyes were on last year’s winner, Arcadia Stable’s Bubble Economy (Xavier Aizpuru), who had won the same race in the spring and fall at the Great Meadow venue. He looked like a sure thing going into the race, especially after winning the open timber at Middleburg Spring Races (Va.) two weeks earlier, but it would not be his race day.
At flag fall, Darren Nagle sent Salmo to the front with J. Alfred Prufrock (Conrad Somers) in his shadow. The horses traded off the lead, J. Alfred Prufrock jumping erratically at times.

By the time they got to the last of the 23 fences, Salmo had the lead, but the gap between him and the others had started to close. As he jumped the last, Bubble Economy was right there with Erin Go Bragh (Paddy Young). Nagle asked for a little more, and the long, lanky chestnut son of Northern Baby stretched out his stride, leaving the rest more than 2 lengths behind at the wire.

This is Naylor’s third Gold Cup victory. In addition to Salmo’s previous title, he owned Make Me A Champ, who won in 2002 with Blythe Miller Davies up, but he will have to win it two more times if he wants to retire the trophy to his home in Pennsylvania.

“I am as happy as a mosquito in a nudist colony,” Naylor said. “He jumped great. He still has it.”

Fogarty said Salmo, who had quite the reputation before his first win in 2007 (mostly for putting jockeys in the hospital), has slowed down over the years.

“I think he has had a problem throughout his career with the big fences,” Fogarty said. “The fences here are not that big. You can meet them long, and he likes that. You can’t get away with that with something a little bigger and straight up and down. This type of racing is what he’s going to do as long as he’s able.”

Nagle, 22, said his run was not as smooth as he would have liked.

“I had a horrible trip until I got out in front of that J. Alfred Prufrock,” Nagle said. “He was just interfering and annoying me everywhere I went. Once we got by him, we quickened our pace, and I tried to draw the sting out of Bubble Economy’s take at the finish. In fairness to Salmo, he gave me everything he had and couldn’t give any more.”

Saintly Run

From the start, the $30,000 allowance hurdle was hotly contested between Augustin Stable’s Raniero (Jody Petty), Bright Brook Farm’s Terpsichorean (Danielle Hodsdon) and Whitewood Stable’s Bee Charmer (Robert Walsh). Bee Charmer led the way for most of the 21⁄2 miles until pulling up sharply before the stretch.

At this point, Kinross Farm’s newest hurdler, When The Saints (Liam McVicar), broke away from the others, gunning down the straightaway to win by a neck over Terpsichorean. Raniero was third.

McVicar was amazed at his horse’s ability. “I looked at the race, and there wasn’t a horse in there you could not have picked to win,” McVicar said. “It was a very nice field. When we got to the stretch I got past Jody, and I could see Danielle coming up, but [When The Saints] really dug down. I think he’s going to be a really nice horse.”

Unfortunately, the race ended in sadness when it was determined that Bee Charmer had broken a back leg between fences and had to be euthanized.

Bee Charmer was trained by Michael Matz on the flat before being sold to Whitewood and trained by Richard Valentine of The Plains, Va. The 7-year-old Irish-bred grandson of Slew O’Gold made $141,395 in career earnings on the flat and over fences.

Valentine was visibly devastated by the loss of a barn favorite. He had some consolation in the next race, when his charge Four Schools (Robert Walsh) won the $20,000 starter allowance for owner Mrs. George L. Ohrstrom.

“Good old Four Schools,” Valentine said. “Robbie did a great job with him. It’s a tough day. One minute you are up; the next you are down.”

The Specialist

Not all horses take to the $25,000 Steeplethon race with glee. But it looks like Perry Bolton may have his own steeplethon specialist with Scuba Steve.

Scuba Steve won the same race last fall at the International Gold Cup and went on to win Middleburg Spring’s version of the race on April 18. With only a few trainers willing to try their horses on this tricky course, Scuba Steve wired it easily.

Run over hurdles, timber, logs, ditches, banks, stone walls and even through the water, the twisty course is challenging for horse and rider. Scuba Steve and jockey Carl Rafter made it look effortless as they galloped around a good 10 lengths ahead of the field to win for trainer Kathy Neilson McKenna.

By the stretch, only Mrs. Henry Stern’s Major Malibu (William Dowling) looked like he had a chance, but Scuba Steve sprinted ahead to leave him more than a length behind.

A real handful to ride and to train, Scuba Steve likes to do things his way.

“He’s a character of a horse,” Rafter said. “We had a blast. He was so rideable today. It’s actually nice to ride a horse that has experience. He’s so bold and goes about his business.”

Quick Moves

With 14 starters in the $25,000 maiden hurdle, it was like a wall of horses at every fence, but somehow Clorevia Farm’s Better Be Ready (Jody Petty) found his way home first.

Stern’s Whistling Deputy (Xavier Aizpuru) took a slight lead for most of the race. As they entered the turn before the stretch, Better Be Ready, trained by Eddie Graham, ducked to the inside and came abreast of Whistling Deputy.

The two horses jumped the last, but Petty had more horse for the stretch run. Only Bruce Smart’s Bullet Dancer (Liam McVicar) came close, settling for second over a length back.

“I wouldn’t say my guy was the bravest of horses,” said Petty. “Eddie told me not to jump the last by himself and to make sure he had a lead. Xav kind of blew the turn, and so I came on his inside. There were definitely a lot of horses in there I was worried about. For him to go up and win like he did was pretty impressive.”

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