Trainer Tom Voss had a surprise up his sleeve in the Grand National.
Up until a few weeks ago, trainer Tom Voss’ charges were circling the National Steeplechase Association’s horse of the year title but not quite part of the contest. That all changed with Your Sum Man’s impressive win in the $250,000 Grand National Grade I Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills Race Meeting, Oct. 17.
Not only does Voss have the leading horse now, but he trains the runner-up Left Unsaid as well. Both owned by Betty Merck of The Fields Stable, the two horses put on the best performances of their careers on the soggy course, winning both Grade I races in Far Hills, N.J.
On paper, Your Sum Man was unimpressive. In his last three starts he had fallen and weakened at the end, and it was almost unbelievable that the 7-year-old son of the Irish-bred Pistolet Bleu, who looked sadly outmatched against the sport’s leading champions, was even in the race.
But anyone who knows the crafty Maryland trainer expects him to have a plan. Voss knew after seeing the horse finish a driving third on the flat at Morven Park (Va.), on Oct. 10, that this horse had something. He paid the supplementary entry fee for his shot at the big prize.
Ross Geraghty placed the novice hurdler in the back of the 12-horse field, giving him plenty of lead over the 2-5⁄8 mile course. One by one the veterans started to fade, and only Red Letter Day (Bernard Dalton) and General Ledger (Jason McKeown) showed the way as Your Sum Man waded through the others to the front.
By the turn for home, Irv Naylor’s Tax Ruling (William Dowling) had broken free and, along with Your Sum Man, chased the invader from across the pond, General Ledger, to the last. Your Sum Man put in an awkward final fence, and it looked as they landed like General Ledger was going to make back his pricey flight money in spades. But Your Sum Man was hardly done and dug deep to pull away, winning by more than 3 lengths at the wire.
With his grand plan coming to fruition, Voss was all smiles, patting his horse enthusiastically in the winner’s circle.
“We bought him in Ireland and just fooled around a little bit with him in the summertime and didn’t have any expectations for the fall,” Voss said. “He ran a flat race at Morven Park, and he ran really well. The winner was another flat horse of mine, and the horse that was second was a stakes horse of Doug Fout’s, and my horse was going to beat them both if we had another 100 feet. So I thought, ‘Hello, I got something here.’ ”
Geraghty said there was no way he was going to jump the last well. “We met it totally wrong, but I had to let him muddle through it,” he said. “He was traveling very easy the whole way, and I knew even if I missed the last, I still had so much horse.”
Geraghty arrived this fall to work for Voss, replacing jockey Padge Whelan who retired from an injury. With several wins to his name already, Geraghty, 32, appears to have found a fruitful partnership.
“I really enjoy riding in America,” Geraghty said. “It’s a great bunch of lads I ride with, and everyone looks out for each other. The racing is a little different; the horses here have more pace. In England they go a bit quicker early on and go home fairly slow. Here they gallop home fairly strong. I like it.”
In the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle, Geraghty had the better last fence, which set him up for the win with Left Unsaid. Star Ten Stable’s Class Crash (Dalton) bobbled badly, and Left Unsaid galloped away to win by 4 lengths.
These wins place Voss and Merck firmly in the horse of the year and the Eclipse Award game, and The Fields Stable is the leading owner for the first time this year.
Your Sum Man enters into the last of the big-money meets with $150,000 to his name, while Left Unsaid has $137,700. William Pape’s Mixed Up (who scratched out of Far Hills because of the softer going) has $124,495. Not out of it, Red Letter Day has $112,160.
Eye For Horses
Voss had a third win for the day in the $50,000 Appleton restricted hurdle stakes with Riverdee Stable’s Dictina’s Boy.
Ridden by Xavier Aizpuru for the first time and owned by Riverdee’s Sean Clancy, the gray put on a tremendous effort in the softer going. Only Silverton Hill’s Torlundy (Paddy Young) challenged him but had to settle for second 7 lengths back.
Upon retiring as a champion steeplechase jockey, Clancy started a bloodstock agency. Although flat track horses are a major part of his business, he’s made a name for himself by seeing a horse’s future potential, including many who have gone on to win big steeplechase honors.
Clancy’s more well-known finds include the two-time Eclipse winner Good Night Shirt, stakes winner Sheila Williams’ Rare Bush and two-time timber horse of the year Arcadia Stable’s Bubble Economy. Sean Clancy Bloodstock sold three of the six winners at Far Hills, including Dictina’s Boy, Left Unsaid and $50,000 Gladstone winner, Arcadia Stable’s Hope For Us All.
When Clancy first saw Dictina’s Boy, he knew the horse had to come off the track and go over jumps, and he had a specific trainer in mind.
“I have always respected Tom, and I thought he would do a nice job. The horse is kind of a man’s man,” Clancy said. “Actually, both the horse and trainer are like that, and that is why I thought they would get along. I thought Tom would understand him, and he would take his time, and they would kind of humor each other.”
But things did not go as planned this spring and summer. They discovered the horse had some underlying heat issues and could not handle the higher temps.
“Tom and I both agreed we had to get on top of the heat stroke thing and regroup,” Clancy said. “We took him off Lasix and ran him in a little point-to-point this fall, won that, and I am glad it worked. Then I texted Xav [Xavier Aizpuru] and told him, ‘if you are open in the allowance, think of my horse.’ I was such a meddling owner, but it worked.”
With the misting rain, cold temperatures and icy wind, there was no chance for heat issues at Far Hills. One of the leading jockeys, Aizpuru has sat on 70 sanctioned horses this year and was amazed with the jumping ability of this relatively green horse.
“I knew after two fences I have not had this much fun over a course since [stakes winner] Paradise’s Boss,” Aizpuru said. “And this is not taking from all the wonderful horses I have ridden. It’s just he felt like he had been doing this all his life, and he’s still pretty new to this game. It was probably one of the fastest times of the day, so it shows he has a lot of heart.”
Confined went on the record as one of the only winners at the 2008 Shawan Downs (Md.) mud bath, which ended up getting cancelled halfway through the meet due to bog-like conditions. She crossed the wire with her ears drooping, full of water and covered in mud, but she had won.
The question was, would she run so well in soft going again?
Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, her owner Sherry Fenwick thought a softer Far Hills might be ideal for the 5-year daughter of Mojave Moon, but this was a tougher field of non-maidens.
Confined (Robert Walsh) put in her best effort to date and drew away over the top mares in the filly/mare series, Octoraro Stables’ Dynaskill (Jody Petty) and Jelly-berry (Paddy Young), winning the $50,000 Peapack-Guelph Sport of Queens Filly/Mare Stakes by 5 lengths.
“Those conditions at Shawan were so severe that I hoped she would do well, but I wasn’t completely expecting it,” Fenwick said. “Clearly she likes the soft ground because she goes so happily. She’s such a professional; it’s so much fun to watch her go. She gets a little worked up in the paddock, but I think that is just the Northern Baby in her.”
Dowling rounded out the day with two wins for trainer Jack Fisher with Gill Johnston’s 4-year-old son of Dynaformer, Ambersham, in the $50,000 maiden hurdle and with Arcadia Stable’s Hope For Us All in the $50,000 hurdle stakes for 3-year-olds.
This put Fisher at the top of the NSA trainer list with 20 wins this season over Voss (17) and Sheppard (13).