Monday, May. 27, 2024

Hip Hop Rocks At Little Everglades

Running without NSA’s sanctioning doesn’t slow the action in Florida.

Despite running unsanctioned this year, Little Everglades Steeplechase, March 9, had a fair amount of entries, with John K. Griggs’ Hip Hop taking home the $35,000 hurdle stakes feature.
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Running without NSA’s sanctioning doesn’t slow the action in Florida.

Despite running unsanctioned this year, Little Everglades Steeplechase, March 9, had a fair amount of entries, with John K. Griggs’ Hip Hop taking home the $35,000 hurdle stakes feature.

Held in Dade City, Fla., the meet has heralded the beginning of the National Steeplechase Association’s circuit for the past eight years. In January, when conflicts between race officials and the NSA could not be resolved to the satisfaction of the Little Everglades committee members, they decided to run the event without the NSA’s direction.

The meet, which had $100,000 in purses, used many of the familiar NSA stewards, adhered to the rules of racing and had drug testing for all the top finishers. The only major difference is that any wins and money would not count toward a horse’s official record, and any maiden winner would still technically be a maiden until the horse won at the sanctioned level.

Jockey Jody Petty, who rode feature winner Hip Hop for Griggs, was astounded at the condition of the course.

“By far this was the best course I have seen in the last year,” Petty said. “They got about three inches of rain just before Sunday. Anywhere else that would have spelled disaster, but this course just soaked it up. They really take great care of it, and everyone was very friendly and helpful. It ran like a sanctioned meet.”

This was the first time Petty had ridden the horse for trainer-owner Griggs, and he was impressed with the 7-year-old Kentucky-bred.

“You could place him anywhere,” Petty said. “He would do the short spot or the long spot for you. My favorite is the short spot. He would just pat the ground and jump along. I sat about third for most of the race, then when I asked him to go he took the lead.”

He did not just go; Hip Hop won with authority, some 25-plus lengths over Robert Walsh and Long Lane Farm’s Swimming River.

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Popular Win

This was the first meet back for most of the trainers and jockeys since Tennessee trainer Bruce Haynes died on Jan. 24 of a heart attack, and many of the emotions were still raw from losing such a spirited participant.

The tears of joy really started to flow when Bruce’s son Will Haynes won his first big hurdle race on Bounding Cat for trainer-owner Janet Elliot in the $15,000 maiden hurdle.

The 8-year-old grandson of Storm Cat had plenty of run up the hill in the stretch and won by 2 3⁄4 lengths over Gregory Bentley’s Rainbows For Luck (Walsh).

Elliot was pleased that her horse had given the young jockey his first hurdle win. “He’s just a little homebred,” Elliot said. “We use him to pony horses a lot. I use him to teach other horses to jump. He’s like a school horse. Actually, I wasn’t even paying that much attention to him in the race; I was watching my other horse [Green Pro].”

She added, “It almost didn’t happen. Cat froze up real bad on the way to the start and would not budge. Just as we were getting an outrider, he took a deep breath and walked on. Will did a wonderful job of keeping him calm. He just got a little stage fright.”

Several trainers have offered to keep the Haynes spirit alive and help out his wife Anne and jockey sons Will and Russell with mounts. Tennessee trainer Karen Gray is one of them.

“We just want to help out the family,” Gray said. “Bruce meant so much to us all. I took on Summersville for Anne. Russell rode him really well and was a nice second [in the allowance race].”

In that same race, Gray’s other horse, Reflector, refused to start. “He obviously hates this, and I am going to make a hunter out of him,” she said.

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Last-Minute Move

Gray put Liam McVicar up on her horse Cuse for the $20,000 maiden hurdle and squeaked by with a win over Class Shadow (Richard Boucher).

Unfortunately, Gray said, the horse likes to wait until the last minute to get things done.

“It drives me crazy,” Gray said. “You can’t let him take the lead or he will just shut off and quit on you. You have to wait with him. Liam did a nice job; he really listened to my instructions. This is a very difficult horse, but I think he has a ton of untapped talent. I’m just not sure how to get it out of him.”

Elliot also trained flat winner Monsieur Henri (Xavier Aizpuru) for the home team of Little Everglades Ranch.

“He’s another one that is full of character,” Elliot said. “I got him last fall from Graham Motion. He’s a happy little horse. I’m just starting to teach him to jump.”

Carl Rafter piloted Calvin Houghland’s Australian-bred Meneef for trainer Kathy McKenna in the $20,000 allowance hurdle over Summersville (Haynes).

“He was a little anxious,” said Rafter of his ride. “I got him to settle down a bit. There was a soft spot around the second-to-last and we missed that fence, but he got to the front at the end and won it nicely.”
Rafter was also impressed with the event.

“This was no school that’s for sure,” Rafter said. “It was very competitive all day long. As they say, money talks. You could not tell it was not sanctioned. It was run like a proper meet, and it was nice to see some of the smaller trainers do well for a change.”

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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