He holds off Private Attack to win the Maryland timber stakes by a neck.
The $25,000 Grand National timber stakes in Butler, Md., featured a photo finish between two of the country’s top timber contenders: Armata Stables’ Coal Dust (Blair Wyatt) and Sportsmans Hall’s 2008 Grand National winner Private Attack (William Santoro).
Mr. Liberator, ridden and trained by Billy Meister, went to the front of the field of eight at the drop of starter Bill Wylie’s flag on April 18. Meister held the lead as the horses made the first circuit of the course, with Private Attack, Make Your Own (Patrick Worrall) and Shady Valley (Russell Haynes) 5 to 9 lengths behind. First- and second-placed 2008 Maryland Hunt Cup finshers, Askim (Charles C. Fenwick III) and Coal Dust, were content to settle off the pace.
Over the largest fence on course, Michele Marieschi, piloted by George Hundt, Jr., overtook Mr. Liberator, with Private Attack running comfortably just behind. Heading across the Fenwick driveway Askim, Coal Dust, and Make Your Own began closing on the frontrunners.
Rallying strongly, Coal Dust and Private Attack met the last fence head and head. Coal Dust gave his all coming up the stretch, but Private Attack offered no quarter. While Western Fling (Jason Griswold) and Shady Valley were clearly third and fourth several lengths back, the placing judges declared a photo for the first two finishers. Upon extensive review, Coal Dust was announced the winner by a short neck, with Private Attack second.
“This is the most impressive group of timber horses I’ve seen in years,” said Julie Fisher Colhoun, part of the family partnership, Sportsmans Hall. “This was Private Attack’s first real race this year, so we didn’t know quite what to expect. We were very pleased by his performance.”
Wyatt said that Coal Dust jumped perfectly and she was just waiting for the right time to move on the leaders.
“Billy [Santoro on Private Attack] looked like he was going well,” Wyatt said. “And I didn’t want him to get away from me. Then my horse got in tight at the last fence, so I went to the inside in the stretch and rode as hard as I could.”
Private Attack twisted badly over the third last. “And the final fence wasn’t too good either, but we landed running a bit better than Coal Dust, in my opinion,” said Santoro.
Last year, Private Attack didn’t make the Hunt Cup because he tied up, forcing his connections to scratch the day of the race. “Since that time Alicia [Murphy, the horse’s trainer] and our vet, Debbie Kelly, have really worked hard on that issue and we are seeing the positive results,” said Santoro.
Last year’s Maryland Hunt Cup winner, Askim, finished seventh. “He just got a little tired, I think,” said trainer Ann Stewart.
Another photo review was required for the amateur allowance timber to decide between Irvin S. Naylor’s Patriot’s Path (Blake Curry) and Joe Davies’ Fort Henry (Molly Forlano). Fort Henry set the pace while Patriot’s Path brought up the rear of seven starters in the early going.
Making the final turn for home, Fort Henry was joined on the front end by Twill Do (Billy Meister), as Patriot’s Path picked off his competition one by one. At the second last Twill Do’s challenge faltered, while Patriot’s Path burst forth up the stretch to best Fort Henry in another crowd-pleasing run to the wire. King Lear (Suzanne Stettinius) was a comfortable third, and Music To My Ears (Hundt) got up for fourth.
In the amateur highweight timber, Meister commanded a considerable advantage from the flag, as he had in the feature race, aboard Yin Yang, with Little Dewey Know (James Stierhoff) and Bon Caddo (Worrall), making up the next flight. Perry Bolton’s Haddix (Santoro), winner of the previous week’s heavyweight race at My Lady’s Manor (Md.), had difficulties at the start and trailed the field.
Five lengths to the good of the rest, Yin Yang suddenly took a sharp right turn, running down the fence and depositing his rider on the far side.
At this point, And The Eagle Flys (Jake Chalfin) inherited the lead. Moving away from the others by 8 to 10 lengths, And The Eagle Flys galloped in front of Little Dewey Know and Bon Caddo, with Haddix now challenging to get into the fray. With six furlongs to go, Bon Caddo jumped into second over the third last, then Haddix quickened sharply to lead at the second last.
For the third time that day, two horses battled each other stride for stride, Worrall driving Bon Caddo up the inside to catch Haddix in yet another neck victory under the finish line.
“I thought that Bon Caddo handled the fences well enough for only his third race,” said Worrall. “But I didn’t know if he could beat a nice horse like Haddix. Then, after the last, Bon Caddo just dug in like the trouper he is.”
At the end of the day, Santoro, 59, came away with two seconds and a strong prospect for the Maryland Hunt Cup. Worrall, with his first sanctioned victory in 15 years, is trying for a second go at race riding after an early start as a teenager, the youngest rider to win the Virginia Gold Cup and the winner of the 1992 Maryland Hunt Cup.