Sunday, Apr. 21, 2024

Earmark Earns The Win At Pennsylvania Hunt Cup

The 11-year-old horse pairs up with 57-year-old William Santoro to win a tough timber race.

No one could have predicted the way the last big timber race of the season was going to unfold, Nov. 4 in Unionville, Pa.
   
Five horses started in the $30,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, three of them timber veterans, but only two finished under the wire, with the winner Irvin S. Naylor’s Earmark.
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The 11-year-old horse pairs up with 57-year-old William Santoro to win a tough timber race.

No one could have predicted the way the last big timber race of the season was going to unfold, Nov. 4 in Unionville, Pa.
   
Five horses started in the $30,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, three of them timber veterans, but only two finished under the wire, with the winner Irvin S. Naylor’s Earmark.

Many unanswered questions surrounded the entries before the 4-mile race. On paper, the 2004 National Steeplechase Association’s timber horse of the year, Arcadia Stable’s Bubble Economy (Diana Gillam), had the most miles clocked over larger timber. But after winning the $30,000 Grand National (Md.), he had not had a great couple of months and was pulled up after a lackluster performance at Far Hills (N.J.).
Naylor’s other entry, Patriot’s Path, had flat-out refused at the Virginia Fall Races, and Shady Valley (Russell Haynes) had completed several courses but had yet to jump over this one.

English trainer Gary Brown imported several horses this season, including Music To My Ears, but this was the first time owner-rider Lucy Horner’s horse had seen fences of this magnitude.

Earmark (William Santoro) had plenty of experience as an 11-year-old and had won many a steeplethon, but his refusal in his last outing at Genesee (N.Y.) put a question mark next to his name.

As the entries went to the start, racegoers were treated to a celebrity sighting of Michael Moran’s three-time Eclipse Award and five-time Breeders’ Cup champ McDynamo.  He posed for photographs and led the post parade with trainer and former champion timber rider Sanna Neilson Hendriks aboard.

The Chaos Begins

The first fence of 22 turned out to be the undoing of several riders. Music To My Ears never really picked up his legs and flipped, sending Horner into the turf. Bubble Economy, who was right behind, took a long, hard look at the fall and ducked out of the fence, pitching Gillam into the wooden wing. Both horses and riders walked away from the incident.

Then Patriot’s Path (Will Haynes) started jumping halfheartedly and after several awkward fences lost his rider. Haynes landed on his feet.

Now a match race, brother Russell Haynes sent Shady Valley on at a good clip for most of the running, but with two fences to go, the gray started to tire. Earmark steadily closed the gap, passing Haynes at the second-to-last and increasing the margin between the fences.

At the last, Earmark launched himself, landed well and galloped away to win by more than 8 lengths.

Trainer and champion timber jockey William Meister, of Cockeysville, Md., said he has been pointing the horse toward this race all fall. Because he wanted to enjoy the races from the ground as a trainer, finding an amateur rider was the hard part. But when Santoro became available, everything fell into place.

Meister, who has ridden the course for several decades, was not worried when he saw Shady Valley leading.

“It’s 4 miles,” he said, “And Earmark is not a speed demon; he doesn’t need to be. I was very happy with his pace. I knew he would be fine by the end.”

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At 57, Santoro is one of the oldest jump jockeys on the circuit, but he was up for the challenge.

“Billy said to ride him with confidence because he had stopped,” Santoro said. “I had to yell at him a couple of times and just rode him forward. He was great. It was a wonderful ride and such a great opportunity for me.”

Earmark’s road to this prestigious win was quite bumpy.

“He’s not even a horse you want to school a lot,” Meister said. “He’s pretty tough. When he gets to the races he does his thing. He has had a lot of bad luck in the past. He was on death’s door at one point. He’s the poster child for A-Cell.”

In 2004, Earmark won the steeplethon at the International Gold Cup (Va.) and then was disqualified a few weeks later for a banned substance. To add to the misery, Earmark bowed his tendon in a way that could have easily been a life-ender.

“He bowed from above the knee to his ankle,” Meister said. “It was unbelievable. We saved him using A-Cell.”

A-Cell Vet Therapy is biological product used to help heal damaged tendons and ligaments. Described as a mini-ecosystem, it helps regenerate damaged areas by giving them a favorable growing environment.

Commonwealth Invaders

Two Virginia trainers brought timber winners to Pennsylvania. In the first race Richard Valentine of The Plains, Va., trained Lucy Stable’s Professor Maxwell (George Hundt) to the win in the $5,000 foxhunters timber.

Hundt, who is new to the game this year, was pleased with the year-long series.

“It was great fun,” Hundt said. “I learned so much. I worked a lot on my riding with Richard and tried to become a little more aggressive. The horse had a lot of reserves. He’s so scopey he actually is a little timid at times; he scares himself.”

After Matt McCarron slightly injured his neck in a fall at Montpelier (Va.) on Nov. 3, trainer Doug Fout switched riders for Brigadoon Stable’s Erin Go Bragh in the $10,000 allowance timber.

He placed Colvin “Gregg” Ryan, who had piloted the New Zealand-bred to a second place in an amateur allowance race at My Lady’s Manor (Md.), in the irons.

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The only timber race at the meet open to both professionals and amateurs, the field scratched down to a hearty eight. Sara Collette’s Gengis (Woods Winants) and Kinross Farm’s Noblest (Chris Read) went straight to the front.

Ryan kept Erin Go Bragh right up with the pace. With only a few jumps to go, Noblest fell after one of the fences and Ryan inherited the lead.

The rest of the field raced gamely behind him on the approach to the last fence. Erin Go Bragh sailed the last, but Ryan shifted suddenly on the landing and seemed to scramble a little. He regained composure, and Erin Go Bragh staved off the others, winning by more than a length over Lucy Goelet’s Why Not Baby (William Dowling).

Earlier in the day Ryan took a fall off his horse Hotspur in the foxhunters timber. He said there was a reason he was fussing in the saddle after the last fence with Erin Go Bragh.

“My shoulder sort of popped out,” Ryan said. “It was pretty painful, but I got it back in.”

This win ties the 47-year-old Ryan with the all-time amateur record holder Rigan McKinney, who rode from 1929-1940 and had 147 career amateur sanctioned jump victories.

Central entry director and steeplechase historian Will O’Keefe said this is a huge accomplishment for Ryan, whose career started on the pony race circuit in 1979. He survived a horrific accident that broke his back in the early 1990s, but he came back to win on champion hurdler Circuit Bar.

“I think Gregg’s record is a major accomplishment, especially considering his accident,” O’Keefe said. “I’m afraid this record will come with an asterisk since some of the wins were accomplished as a pro, but that shouldn’t diminish it. I am not sure of McKinney’s status throughout his career.”

Ryan, who hoped to beat the record last year, said he only started winning again when he got married to his good luck charm, former three-day eventing Olympian Linden Wiesman this summer.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s race was marred with Noblest’s fall. The horse suffered a catastrophic leg injury and was vanned to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, where it was determined the fractures were too severe and he was euthanized.

Noblest (Deputy Minister—Plenty Of Grace, Roberto) had $87,880 in lifetime earnings, $61,000 from jump races. The 8-year-old had two wins and one second out of four starts this year.

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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