Tuesday, Apr. 16, 2024

Four Schools Heads The Class At Colonial Downs

The Richard Valentine trainee claims the Zeke Ferguson feature against a strong field.

Trainer Richard Valentine closed out summer racing with authority at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., July 13, winning both steeplechase races for Whitewood Stable and the Ohrstrom family.

In 2007, the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial feature was a little anemic, with only a handful of horses vying for the hurdle stakes. But this year, 12 evenly matched horses entered, including several former Colonial Downs winners.
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The Richard Valentine trainee claims the Zeke Ferguson feature against a strong field.

Trainer Richard Valentine closed out summer racing with authority at Colonial Downs in New Kent, Va., July 13, winning both steeplechase races for Whitewood Stable and the Ohrstrom family.

In 2007, the $50,000 Zeke Ferguson Memorial feature was a little anemic, with only a handful of horses vying for the hurdle stakes. But this year, 12 evenly matched horses entered, including several former Colonial Downs winners.

Ann Stern’s Duke Of Earl had the most mileage with a lifetime of 53 starts including a win in 2007 on the same course, and with two victories this spring he easily became one of the favorites. By post time Calvin Houghland’s Dr. Bloomer (who also broken his maiden at Colonial in 2007) became a choice pick with Kinross Farm’s big burly chestnut Run The Light not far behind.

But Valentine’s horse Four Schools (Carl Rafter) was not even in the same ballpark in the eyes of the bettors, and he quickly became a serious long shot. The 6-year-old, Irish-bred horse—recently claimed for owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom—had not had a stunning showing since his former owner Lucy Horner brought him over from the United Kingdom last year.

Originally slated for the $300,000 Breeders’ Cup at Far Hills (N.J.) last fall, his then trainer Gary Brown opted to run him in the $50,000 race where he finished sixth and last. Four Schools exchanged trainers again this spring but was still running kind of rank and erratic. He would gallop to the lead for most of the race, then get swallowed up finishing no better than third.

After Valentine, who trains in The Plains, Va., snatched him up in a claiming race at Fair Hill (Md.) in May, the horse ran back at Colonial Downs but still was getting nothing higher than third-placed money.

But the Zeke unfolded differently than Four Schools’ other races. Sunshine Numbers (Tom Foley) stole the start with a blistering pace, which meant Four Schools was not in the front by himself this time.

As the field made the final turn, Four Schools easily overtook Sunshine Numbers, gaining more ground with every stride. After the last hurdle, Four Schools broke away to a six-length margin, leaving Duke Of Earl (Paddy Young) and the filly Class Shadow (Richard Boucher) to battle for second in a photo finish. Class Shadow got the call by a nose in a head-bob.

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Four Schools won the race in time of 3:55 1⁄5, breaking the track record of 3:56 set by Swoop And Soar in 2006, and paid a whopping $54.60 for the win.

Jockey Carl Rafter knew it was fast.

“We were flying,” Rafter said. “They worked hard coming to me. He has such a big gallop; his actual speed is very deceiving.

“We knew that there was going to be plenty of pace in the race, but we were not anticipating Foley going off like that,” he added, “so I just put my hands down and tried to get him to relax.”

Valentine said Four Schools’ win has earned the horse a stall at Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) this summer.

Happy At Second

For the third year in a row, one of trainer Lilith Boucher’s horses has come in second for owner Mignon Smith of Mede Cahaba Stables in the Zeke and earned bonus money for being bred in Virginia.

But it was not the $18,540 that Class Shadow came away with that made Boucher beside herself with excitement at the finish; it was her filly’s performance.

“In five generations there has not been a race horse in her family on the mare side,” Boucher said. “It’s just empty. To be honest, as a 3-year-old she was not quite as nice as she was when we broke her. She was big and kind of awkward. And last summer she was on The List, and The List is five horses we think Mignon should get rid of. We ran her at Oakridge Steeplechase [Va.] in the really slopping mud [last October], and she finished second. She tried so hard, so we gave her another chance, and since then she has never been off the boards.”

Running with only 130 pounds compared to Four Schools and Duke Of Earl, who carried 142, there is a distinct advantage to entering a filly or a mare.

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Boucher is toying with the idea of sending Class Shadow to the $150,000 Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) next (Arcadia Stables’ mare, Footlights, won there last year), but she might have another mare to deal with, The Fields Stable’s champion Guelph. Trained by Tom Voss, Guelph has won in filly/mare races and taken the 2005 year-end title, but has yet to be tried in mixed company.

“I don’t really want to run up against Tom’s mare,” Boucher said. “But I think mine is really tough. I don’t think anyone realizes how tired she is because she finished so well, but she had a foot abscess for three weeks earlier this summer and she has only been in training for 10 days. What a trier she is.”

Buzz About It

Valentine also won the first race of the day with Whitewood Stable’s Bee Charmer for owner Clarke Ohrstrom. Formerly trained by Michael Matz, the horse was a nice second to Transduction Gold in Keeneland’s $150,000 Sycamore Stakes on the turf, in October of 2007, just beating out another soon to be steeplechaser, Dreadnaught. But in the next several races Bee Charmer was never in the top three, and up for sale he went.

On March 15, Bee Charmer won a maiden hurdle at Warrenton (Va.), and Valentine switched to sanctioned racing, bringing the horse first for a spin on the flat at the Carolina Cup (S.C.), where he beat the favorite Beverley Steinman’s Dark Equation, easily. But the next couple of races did not go as planned, especially the maiden hurdle at Colonial Downs on June 29, where Bee Charmer unseated his jockey Calvin McCormack.

Valentine called Robbie Walsh for the ride and was looking for a confidence builder for the 6-year-old, bay Irish-bred.

The field came up a little light after two horses were scratched late, and the favorite, Arcadia Stable’s Delta Park, spun off his jockey Xavier Aizpuru at the flag fall. Walsh kept Bee Charmer under wraps for most of the running then cut him loose with three fences to go. By the wire it was Bee Charmer by a healthy 20 lengths.

Valentine said he stumbled over a hurdle in the previous race not because he is still green but because he was too bold.

“He likes to launch himself at the fences,” Valentine said. “He’s a bit cocky that way. He thinks jumping is very easy for him, and it kind of scared him when he almost fell. This was a nice prep for Saratoga for him.”

Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh

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