Thursday, Jun. 6, 2024

Hall Of Angels Heralded At Shawan Downs

Hall Of Angels is not the most aptly named horse because he's not angelic at all.

But the victory trumpets blew hard at the Shawan Downs Races, Sept. 24, when the gelding handily won the $25,000 Ski Roundtop Trophy timber stakes.

Running right-handed on the Hunt Valley, Md., course, Hall Of Angels followed up his second-placed finish in the Radnor Hunt Cup (Pa.) timber stakes this spring by winning the three-mile race handily over Albert's Crossing (Jody Petty) and Chef Bear (Zach Miller), proving that the Radnor score was no fluke.

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Hall Of Angels is not the most aptly named horse because he’s not angelic at all.

But the victory trumpets blew hard at the Shawan Downs Races, Sept. 24, when the gelding handily won the $25,000 Ski Roundtop Trophy timber stakes.

Running right-handed on the Hunt Valley, Md., course, Hall Of Angels followed up his second-placed finish in the Radnor Hunt Cup (Pa.) timber stakes this spring by winning the three-mile race handily over Albert’s Crossing (Jody Petty) and Chef Bear (Zach Miller), proving that the Radnor score was no fluke.

Trained by Paul Rowland and owned by Josh Taylor, Hall Of Angels has always shown talent, but his miscreant ways have prevented him from showing anything but brief flashes of brilliance.

Rowland, who is developing something of a reputation for turning Nervous Nellies into win-producing equines, has been training Hall Of Angels for a year.

He said the bay son of Pleasant Colony is his own worst enemy and can be “quite mental at times.”

Often the gelding simply refuses to do anything he’s asked and tries to wheel away from his rider, or he’ll run backward, or just keep edging off sideways when asked to move forward. Rowland quickly learned that “getting after” the gelding to make him comply was absolutely not a viable option.

“You can’t get after him, you can’t just make him do what you want because it’s a fight you’ll lose,” said Rowland. “He’s at a point in his life [as a 9-year-old] where it’s too late to change him.”

Rowland thinks Hall Of Angel’s brain just short-circuits sometimes due to stress and nerves. When he works the horse he can’t do uphill gallops like so many other steeplechase trainers, who work up a hill two or three times.

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“Once you go up a hill once, often you can’t go again because he just pulls up and then starts stressing out,” he said. “So I’m very lucky that Joy Slater of Fat Chance Farm [Pa.] lets me use her big field to work in because that way I can ‘sneak’ the work in by walking, then jogging, then cantering and then working, and it’s all one smooth, continuous ride.”

Rowland also swims the horse twice a week to stay off his back as much as possible. “When he acts up I just get off and walk him home,” he said.

“People tell me I’m too soft on my horses, but if giving in and getting off and walking home makes him a better horse, then why not do it? Every horse has his own way, and I think we have to compromise with them to help them be their best.”

Obviously the trainer’s philosophy is working for Hall Of Angels because jockey Robbie Walsh was able to drop him out the back of the small, four-horse field, and he just bided his time behind the pace set by Albert’s Crossing.

When they jumped the last, Hall Of Angels was third behind Albert’s Crossing and Chef Bear, and once he landed Walsh just asked him to run. They collared the pace setter easily to win by more than three lengths.

“He has lots of ability,” Rowland reflected. “He has a great turn of foot, and the slower, more relaxed pace of timber racing helps him conserve that turn of foot. He likes to try too, even though he is a bit mental at times.”

Hall Of Angels was not the only mental wreck on raceway. Rowland confessed his nerves get the better of him at times too. “I’m not nervous before my horses race, just during. That’s why I hate timber racing; it takes so damn long to run and I’m pacing around, yelling myself hoarse as I watch,” he said with a smile.

Rowland’s other “somewhat mental” horse, Preemptive Strike, a multiple graded stakes winner, did alleviate his trainer’s nerves by handily winning one of the flat race divisions under amateur jockey Paddy Young.

Rowland used the Shawan Downs flat race as prep for “Striker’s” fall campaign, and he was very pleased with the way the chestnut gelding ran and came out of the race. The Pennsylvania-based trainer topped his weekend off by winning the conditioned claiming race at Foxfield (Va.) the next day with U K Limey.

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Jockey Jody Petty also followed his Shawn Downs win with a Foxfield win the next day. At Shawan he piloted Augustin Stables’ Studio Time to a win in the first division of the maiden hurdle, and at Foxfield, he and Ghost Valley took the maiden timber.

This was the Studio Time’s third start over fences, and Petty said you’d never know it to ride him. “He doesn’t make many jumping mistakes; you can do anything with him in the race, he’s just a classy gentleman, both racing and in training,” he said. “He’s just a really cool horse.”

Studio Time should act classy as he has some classy breeding. By Gone West out of a Caveat mare, the bay gelding was bred in Kentucky by his owner, George Strawbridge Jr.

“He’s definitely one to keep an eye on,” said Petty. “He won easily enough to make you think there’s a whole lot more horse left.”

Ghost Valley Finds Favor At Foxfield

Jockey Jody Petty won the feature race, the maiden timber, at the Foxfield Fall Races in Charlottesville, Va., Sept. 25, by more than 40 lengths. Just how far is 40 lengths? Let’s put it this way: When he jumped the last fence and looked back over his left shoulder to see who was coming, his nearest competitor, Paddy Young on Edited, was only just jumping the second-to-last fence.

“I basically crossed the finish line pulling up,” said Petty with a grin. “We started to go a nice lick with about a mile to go, and he’s pretty strong to begin with. When the pace picked up it rattled him a little, and he charged to the front end and then kept jumping further into the lead.”

Ghost Valley, owned by Augustin Stables, has had a couple of starts over timber, but still Petty was impressed with the way his mount handled Foxfield’s timber course.

“It’s a tricky course for most horses. You have to run down that big hill and then jump a jump at the foot of a hill on the curve. That can get a lot of horses in wrong at the fence. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever jumped around Foxfield where there were no rails down. Those fences are very upright, and they’re not that small,” he said.

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