Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

Hard Ground At Virginia Fall Races Suits Fields Of Omagh Perfectly


Last year the timber horse found the going too soft for his liking—but this year it was just right for him.


You know the ground is hard when a cloud of dust follows galloping horses on the turf like a bad shadow, as it did at the Virginia Fall Races, Oct. 6-7, held at Glenwood Park in Middleburg, Va.

Almost as if to drive course director and trainer Doug Fout crazy, the heavy morning fog brought just a misting of rain.
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Last year the timber horse found the going too soft for his liking—but this year it was just right for him.

You know the ground is hard when a cloud of dust follows galloping horses on the turf like a bad shadow, as it did at the Virginia Fall Races, Oct. 6-7, held at Glenwood Park in Middleburg, Va.

Almost as if to drive course director and trainer Doug Fout crazy, the heavy morning fog brought just a misting of rain.

“It’s teasing us,” Fout said. “It won’t do anything but maybe make it slick. I put all the hurdles on the best ground possible, mostly to the outside. It’s all we can do and just cross our fingers.”

Even though the ground hasn’t seen measurable moisture in more than a month, it still held up well, and the horse ambulance didn’t move either day. Some horses even seemed to like the faster footing, including Randolph Rouse’s Fields Of Omagh, who easily won the $35,000 timber stakes.

Ridden by Carl Rafter, the 12-year-old son of Pleasant Tap hates softer going, so much so that he pulled himself up at the same race meet last year when horses were being inundated by rainfall. This year, a bold Fields Of Omagh took the bit in his mouth and left the other three to play catch up for the 31⁄4 miles.

Augustin Stables’ Noble Bob (Jody Petty) was the closest to challenge but just did not have enough steam to get there and had to settle for 16 lengths back at the wire.

This was the first time Rafter had piloted Fields Of Omagh around the larger timber course, rebuilt this spring. Trained by Rouse, the instructions had been pretty simple—follow along and get a lead, because sometimes he stops. Rafter said those ideas went by the wayside pretty quickly.

“I have ridden the horse a couple of times now, and I seem to have a relationship with him,” Rafter said. “I was looking for horses to come up beside me after the first couple of fences and encourage him to keep going. I kept saying, ‘steady, steady, steady,’ then he hit me in the face with his nose. I realized Rouse’s orders are out the window and we were going on. That’s the best he has ever run for me.”

Rafter said the course wasn’t bad. “It was smooth. It wasn’t rough; it has a nice cover of grass,” Rafter said. “Other than a rain dance, what are you going to do? It’s fast ground, but we can’t help that. Knock wood, the horses seemed to handle it fine.”

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Rouse plans to run Fields Of Omagh at the International Gold Cup (Va.) on Oct. 20, but like many trainers he may have to find another jockey because that is the same day as the Far Hills Races (N.J.), and most of the top jockeys, like Rafter, are heading north.

“He will go to [International] Gold Cup, if I can get the rider,” Rouse said. “It’s a shame they are on the same day again this year.”

While the Gold Cup is always the third Saturday in October, the Far Hills Breeders’ Cup is committed to broadcast networks like ESPN who run the steeplechasing Breeders’ Cup before the flat track version. Far Hills likes to float their meet to fit into the network schedule.

Successful Mission

Paul Rowland is sighing with relief now that all his hard work has paid off, with Holbrook Hollow Farm’s Ravens Rock finally getting his first win in the $15,000 maiden timber.

The long, lanky gray was formerly trained by Jack Fisher, who threw up his hands and gladly gave him to Rowland. The Pennsylvania trainer seems to have a knack for dealing with horses with issues, but he said Ravens Rock was darn near impossible at first.

Rowland and jockey Paddy Young thought this race was going to set up perfectly for their horse with four late scratches. Just the weekend before, Ravens Rock had run at Shawan Downs (Md.), but he had not been pretty. Though he placed second, he was erratic at best.

After the start, Russell Haynes steered Irvin S. Naylor’s Patriots Path toward the front of the field, with Sara Colette’s Genghis (Garet Winants) following along and Ravens Rock not far off the pace.

But Patriots Path wasn’t so keen on the new timber and ducked out of one of the larger fences. After turning him around and much “clucking” from helpful spectators, Haynes got him back on course, only to have a tack problem several fences later that caused the two to part ways.

Young kept Ravens Rock close to Genghis, and by the final two fences Ravens Rock had a second wind and jumped even stronger, taking the lead. At the wire it was all Ravens Rock almost 30 lengths ahead of Genghis. Karen Gray’s Berani (James Slater) was third and last.

This is the third sanctioned start this year for the 8-year-old son of Waquoit, out of Raw Sugar, and he recently had minor wind surgery. Young, who schools the horse, was all smiles.

“Last week was such a disaster,” Young said. “I got really mad with him. He just would not listen. This week was a world of difference. He’s a good jumping horse. He just needed the right race and a chance to shine. For him this is going to be a huge confidence booster.”

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Back in the spring, there was a question if Ravens Rock would ever be quiet enough to race. The issues mostly stemmed around his tack—girthing him up would sometimes set him off.

“He would just flip over,” Young said. “He flipped over three times in the trailer when they tried to tack him up. He even smashed his withers in the paddock.”

Rowland said putting on the bridle sometimes would make him crazy. “At point-to- points you have to use the trailer to tack him up, and that’s too confining. He really needs a nice quiet stall,” Rowland said.

Rowland gives credit to the owners for having the patience to wait until Ravens Rock was ready to go sanctioned.

“They really were great about it,” Rowland said. “But my staff has to take the credit too. We treat each horse as an individual. They all have their own characters. You have to treat them all special. Paddy has done wonders with him.”

But Rowland is not quite ready to reveal his trade secrets on how he got him quiet enough to work around.
“If I tell that, then everyone will be doing it,” he said with a laugh. “I will say this—you just have to have the time and patience and give the horse a good overall experience with whatever you do.”

Way Ahead

To start the meet, Petty went to the front of the $12,500 maiden hurdle field with Crestview Farm’s Slattery and never looked back, winning over Rouse’s One Sea (Roderick Mackenzie). But a little mix up in the stretch made it interesting.

Glenwood is well known for the tight turn into the stretch, and if a jockey is not paying attention, it can get crowded fast. Mackenzie thought he had the line and claimed foul on Petty, but after reviewing the tapes, the stewards ruled there was no infraction and Petty was indeed the winner.

“He galloped down to the start today and was feeling really good,” Petty said. “The first couple of fences felt fine, and the next thing I know when I turned around to look and he was just gone away from them, but it was at his own pace. He was happy there out in front. He’s such an incredible jumper; he could have stayed all day.”

After such a disastrous performance on Saturday with Patriot’s Path, Haynes was vindicated the next day with his mother’s horse, Yokazona, winning the amateur highweight hurdle over Alan Young’s Chime Choir (Slater).

Jockey Diana Gillam played it cool with veteran Mary Fleming Finlay’s Dr. Ramsey in the amateur highweight timber in a match race with Jim Whitner and Chinese Whisper. The observant Gillam noticed that Whitner had missed a beacon twice, disqualifying him, and she was eventually placed the winner.
 
Gillam, who was the 2007 Virginia Point-To-Point Association leading novice rider over fences, returned to racing about a month ago after a bad fall, which required rotor cuff surgery, in May.

In addition to her timber win, Gillam also won two non-sanctioned races for trainer Dorothy Smithwick with Gary Baker’s Rosemont Runner in the Virginia restricted flat and Finlay’s Devil Dinero in the maiden flat, giving Gillam 14 point-to-point wins this year.

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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