Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2024

High Action Is The Highlight In A.P. Smithwick

Doug Fout’s trainee withstands a soggy Saratoga for a breathtaking win.

Funny how Mother Nature likes to throw a wrench into the best of plans. This season, the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., racecourse has seen unbelievable rains.

More than 30 flat races have been cancelled, attendance is down more than 16 percent, and some turf horses have switched to dirt. Even steeplechasing started a week later because of the excess moisture and standing water.
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Doug Fout’s trainee withstands a soggy Saratoga for a breathtaking win.

Funny how Mother Nature likes to throw a wrench into the best of plans. This season, the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., racecourse has seen unbelievable rains.

More than 30 flat races have been cancelled, attendance is down more than 16 percent, and some turf horses have switched to dirt. Even steeplechasing started a week later because of the excess moisture and standing water.

In one of the premier jumping races, the $80,000 A.P. Smithwick, the two horses that favor hard footing the most ended up battling in the softer turf, but in the end it was High Action and Paddy Young taking the coveted prize on Aug. 7.

And the pair earned every divot they left.

Traditionally, the Smithwick is the prep for the $150,000 Turf Writers (Aug. 28), and this year was no different. Some up-and-coming stakes horses entered, along with old favorites like last year’s winner William Pape’s Mixed Up, while the Fields Stable’s mare Guelph (Padge Whelan) ran against the boys for the first time.

Unfortunately, Mixed Up had to bow out race day with an injury, opening the door wide for several horses, including the Irish invader Salford City.

Salford City landed in the United States on Aug. 5, schooled on the following  day, then ran his heart out on Aug. 7. Once the betting public found out that a horse had flown in from across the pond to take on the U.S. horses, Salford City became the favorite, and it looked like for most of the race they were correct.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, the 7-year-old son of Desert Sun quickly went to the lead and never relinquished it until the last fence, when he was passed by two of Doug Fout’s entries.

Owned by Carl Barnes, High Action paid $8.40 to win. Beverly Steinman’s Dark Equation (Matt McCarron) was second at $9, and Fergus Gavin’s Salford City (Paul Carberry) paid $3.10 for show, and added money sweetened the winnings to $85,600.

When Barnes asked Fout a year ago if he was interested in training a horse for him, the Middleburg, Va.-based trainer was excited. After all, Barnes had led him to his Eclipse Award winner Hirapour many years ago, so he had High Action shipped from overseas.

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But High Action wasn’t quite ready to step into those big plates. In fact, an injury sidelined the 8-year-old son of Theatrical for most of last year.

“I don’t think he was more than 13 hours at my barn before he was laid up,” Fout said. “We hadn’t even schooled him yet. It was very frustrating because Carl Barnes really liked this horse. He
said he could be as good or better than Hirapour.”

After slowly bringing High Action back, the horse won the $20,000 allowance hurdle at Colonial Downs (Va.) on June 15, but then Fout noticed a noise.

“He sounded like a freight train, so we did laser throat surgery on him in June,” Fout said.

And as the rains started to prevail the week of the Smithwick, Fout thought that maybe this might not be the best place to run him back.

“The whole idea of bringing him to the United States is because our ground tends to be so much harder,” Fout said. “I was worried he might not like it [at Saratoga], but he dug in. Salford City was just the front runner we needed. He set us up perfectly.”

Oddly enough, Fout’s other horse, Dark Equation, is also returning from laser throat surgery.

Dark Equation was last seen over fences in the $50,000 Marcellus Frost at The Iroquois Steeplechase (Tenn.) in May. Normally a fast horse, he ended up barely in the money in sixth.

“He couldn’t breathe at Iroquois,” Fout said. “He had not one, but two surgeries on his throat. His was pretty major.”

After surgery, Dark Equation came out to stretch his legs and test out the new and improved windpipe on July 20, besting both Mixed Up and stablemate High Action on the flat.

Fout said they all probably will meet up with Salford City again for the Turf Writers.

Hanging At The Spa

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Salford City has downtime before his next jumping effort, and he’s in the care of former champion jockey Roger Horgan who trains out of Saratoga.

Horgan made history last year when he trained Arcadia Stables’ champion mare Footlights to two wins, including the Turf Writers. The Englishman is impressed with the world-traveling Irish-bred horse, who is turned out for a few days.

“I think this is one of the classiest horses I’ve been around,” Horgan said. “He has lovely ground manners; you could put a child in his stall with him. He really is a good traveler, and he must have logged as many miles as I have.”

Horgan said that the rains were a big disappointment to the Elliott team.

“The whole plan was to run him on the firmer ground, and it’s done nothing but rain here all season,” Horgan said. “You can go canoeing in the streets of Albany. All in all, the horse put on a heck of a performance, and he was carrying 12 pounds more than the winner. Anyone who says that weight doesn’t matter just needs to look at the record books.”

Saratoga So Far

Saratoga jump racing had a false start this season when the first pari-mutuel race on July 24 was cancelled, but after rescheduling the $70,000 Ninepins hurdle stakes for July 30, Maryland trainer Tom Voss ended up in the winner’s circle with Armata Stables’ Dynaski.

Piloted by Whelan, the 5-year-old son of Dynaformer easily moved from the back of the pack, catching Xavier Aizpuru and Mrs. Rufus M.G. Williams’ Seer at the wire by more than a length. Gil Johnston’s Swagger Stick (William Dowling) placed third.

Voss has been the nation’s top trainer since May and now has 15 wins to his name. With his stable jockey Whelan fully recovered from his broken foot, Team Voss is going to be hard to beat the rest of the summer. On July 20, Whelan also won the $25,000 unlimited claming hurdle at Saratoga Jump Start with Dapple Stable’s Gryffindor over Perry Bolton’s Gigger (Matt McCarron).

Don’t look for Gigger anymore at the Voss barn, however. Kinross Farm claimed him in that same race. Gigger, who has made slightly more than $18,000 this year, is now running under the blue and beige of Kinross of The Plains, Va.

Jockey Danielle Hodsdon picked up another win for Pennsylvania trainer Jonathan Sheppard with William Pape’s The Price Of Love in the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Memorial hurdle stakes on July 31, just beating out Alnoff Stable’s Be Certain (Whelan) and third-placed Whitewood Stable’s Bee Charmer (Robert Walsh).

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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