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May 22, 2009

Vinnie Boy Pleases At Willowdale

He gives his connections their first sanctioned win in this amateur contest.

When Adair Bonsal Stifel’s Vinnie Boy (Jacob Roberts) wore down the competition to win for new trainer Blythe Miller Davies, May 10, it was the first sanctioned win for all parties involved—horse, rider, trainer and owner. Always tricky, the amateur timber course at the Willowdale Steeplechase is comprised of ditches, a large water jump, natural hedges and timber fences.

Just coming off a steeplethon win at the Virginia Gold Cup, May 2, the bold jumping Scuba Steve (Darren Nagle) wasted no time getting to the lead. The pair had left Vinnie Boy, Lucy Goelet’s Twill Do (Jake Chalfin) and Long Ball Stable’s Prospector’s Strike (Justin Batoff) long behind, putting some 30 lengths between them.

It appeared that the rest of field was going to have to duke it out for second-placed money until Scuba Steve uncharacteristically chipped in at fence 9 and flipped, sending Nagle into the turf. Both horse and rider were unhurt.

With Scuba Steve suddenly out of the race, the three remaining bunched up together and continued at a good clip to the very end, but Vinnie Boy was the stronger finisher, just edging out Twill Do by less than a length in the stretch.

This is Davies’ first year as a trainer. No stranger to racing, the former leading jockey had 202 wins to her name before retiring in 2002. The Maryland resident also rode the five-time Eclipse Award winner Lonesome Glory into the history books.

She and her husband, timber champion Joe Gillet Davies, have had a strong timber stable this season. She instructed her jockey to ignore the usual signals that the horse is done and to keep after him in the stretch.

“He’s a funny horse,” Roberts said. “He falls into a rhythm, and if you let him trick you into thinking he’s tired or done you will settle for third or fourth. This horse just plods on. He goes all day long and is a careful jumper.”

His fellow jockeys all gave Roberts the obligatory drenching of water that comes with the milestone first win. Despite not picking up a paycheck, Roberts said he loves being an amateur.

“It has been a long time coming,” Roberts said, happy to finally be doused. “Once you cross the professional line you lose a lot of important rides, especially in timber and I love timber.”

Stifel plans to get her horse to the big game: Maryland Hunt Cup.

“He’s won at Cheltenham,” Stifel said. “We knew what I was looking for when we bought him. I raced him at Elkridge-Harford Point-To-Point [Md.] and at My Lady’s Manor [Md.]. If all goes well next year, I hope to ride him in the Maryland Hunt Cup.”

Take Two

Hometown jockey Jody Petty snatched both of the maiden timber divisions, the second one in a disqualification.

Petty kept Augustin Stable’s big gray Brandy Station out of trouble and close to the pace up front. After the final fence he cut him loose with Kiplin Hall’s Native Mark (Mark Watts) on his tail all the way to the wire.

Trained by Sanna Neilson Hendriks, of Cochranville, Pa., Brandy Station had never seen a course like this. “I don’t think he really liked the hedges,” she said. “He has only hunted. He has never run over hurdles.”

Petty’s second ride was for trainer Regina Welsh with Northwoods Stable’s Bold Quest. Again Petty stayed to the front but got tangled up with Vicky Bower’s Wazee Moto (Melanie Williams) as they dueled to the wire. Wazee Moto won, but the elation was short lived.

The stewards agreed with the claim of foul on Williams and ruled accidental interference in the stretch, placing Williams second. She was not fined.

“Coming up the stretch she went from pretty wide to going right in front of me,” said Petty. “I hate to claim foul, but when you lose by only that much… I did have to take a pretty good pull to keep from clipping heels.”

For years the water fence in the timber races at Willowdale has taken its share of victims. As horses launched themselves over the unusual fence some would stick the landing like a Romanian gymnast and end up losing momentum, pitching their riders up on their necks or over their heads.

This year the Willowdale officials decided to raise the landing 53 inches, and for the first time in years, horses negotiated the fence without a hitch. After riding it twice, Petty was amazed how well it rode.

“The water jump rides perfectly,” Petty said. “It used to be when you landed it was a little uphill and horse would land a little steep and peck a little when they landed. Now it is just a fluid jump, and you don't even notice it. They did a fantastic job.”

Hurdle King

Sanna Hendriks was not the only one who brought home some silver at Willowdale. Her husband Ricky Hendriks had two hurdle wins, both for Barracuda Stables, with Paddy Young up.

Hurdles are run over natural hedges at Willowdale with a rolltop placed in front. It is also one of the few right-hand, or clockwise, courses.

Young’s first win was in the maiden claiming hurdle with Kamante. The first-time starter stalked the pace until the end when he let out a burst of speed to win over Aylor Racing Stable’s Meshwaar (Colvin Ryan).

His second win came with Eagle Beagle in the conditioned claiming hurdle. A 5-year-old son of the 1999 Triple Crown spoiler Lemon Drop Kid, Eagle Beagle’s only competition in the stretch, more than 4 lengths back, was The Fields Stable’s King Hoss (Padge Whelan).

“Eagle Beagle is a really nice horse,” Young said. “All heart. You’re going right-handed here over natural hedges, and it’s like a duck out of water for some horses. It should not be that much of a problem, but it is for some horses. He never noticed.”

Marylander William Santoro posted another win for trainer Kathy Neilson McKenna with Perry Bolton’s Haddix in the amateur highweight timber.

The two polished off the course with ease, winning by 7 lengths over Mary Fleming Finlay’s Dr. Ramsey (Diana Gillam).

“He’s a lovely jumper and has great scope,” Santoro said.

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