Wednesday, May. 29, 2024

Imagina Makes It Real At Carolina Cup

The mare makes a strong start in the first leg of steeplechasing’s Triple Crown.

A thoroughly drenched Imagina made it look easy as she bested the boys in the $75,000 Carolina Cup, March 29.

Ridden by Jody Petty and owned by Augustin Stables, Imagina came out of nowhere around the second-to-last fence in a torrential downpour to win by 9 lengths at the Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.
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The mare makes a strong start in the first leg of steeplechasing’s Triple Crown.

A thoroughly drenched Imagina made it look easy as she bested the boys in the $75,000 Carolina Cup, March 29.

Ridden by Jody Petty and owned by Augustin Stables, Imagina came out of nowhere around the second-to-last fence in a torrential downpour to win by 9 lengths at the Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.

The race scratched down to five horses with favorite Planets Aligned exiting early in the week after getting saddled with the high weight of 154 pounds. Gil Johnston’s Swagger Stick was a late scratch after he had a minor bout with colic the night before.

All day the rain threatened, finally letting loose the deluge as the horses were in the paddock. At flag fall, Calvin Houghland’s Dr. Bloomer (James Slater) cruised to the lead. By the turn for home Dr. Bloomer was out of steam, and Imagina was just getting fired up.

Gregory Hawkins’ Red Letter Day (Bernard Dalton) was closest to the mare but had to settle for second. Long Lane Farm’s Swimming River (Robbie Walsh) took third.

Imagina won three filly/mare series races in 2007 and had one second-placed finish, but this was the 6-year-old Chilean-bred’s debut in mixed company.

Carolina Cup is the first leg of steeplechasing’s Triple Crown Series. In 2000, when the event was $100,000 and held at Churchill Downs (Ky.), Pimlico (Md.) and Belmont (N.Y.) racecourses, Augustin Stables won two legs of the series with another Chilean-bred named Pompeyo. Augustin is one of the few stables to win two with the same horse. Since its inception in 1999, no stable has ever swept the series.

Petty and trainer Sanna Hendriks used to say Imagina only liked firm going, but after her win in soft footing at Far Hills (N.J.) in November, they realized she is much more versatile, and Camden looked like the ideal spot for her.

“What I will say is she loves a race with a big gallop, and she loves to run them down,” said Petty. “That is just how it set up for her today. She just ran it with authority, her way.”

He added, “She has an amazing engine and is solidly built like a Quarter Horse. She’s so tough.”

Petty said they will probably keep her in the series, which moves next to Middleburg Spring Races (Va.) on April 19.

“We don’t like to think of Plan B until we get Plan A accomplished, but I don’t see why we wouldn’t try for it,” Petty said. “She certainly proved that she belonged today.”

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Timber Novice

Calling last year’s leading National Steeplechase Association jockey a novice normally might get you in a dust up, but when it comes to timber riding, the hurdle expert is just that.

At Carolina Cup, English native Xavier Aizpuru got his second win over the wood with Arthur Arundel’s Monte Bianco for trainer Jack Fisher in the $20,000 three-mile allowance timber.

The 7-year-old Irish-bred had fallen, first at Marlborough Hunt Races (Md.) then at Iroquois (Tenn.) in 2007. After that he vanished from the game only to reappear this spring with new confidence.

Raffetto Focuses On Promotion

In the beginning of March, the National Steeplechase Association named Lou Raffetto as their new Chief Operating Officer. Raffetto is trying to get many of the races this year to work with the community and officials to help increase attendance. He was at Carolina Cup on March 29 to meet the people who care about the unique sport.

Raffetto was a CEO with the Maryland Jockey Club before being let go in November by Magna Entertainment (which owns the major tracks in Maryland). Before the MJC, he has been credited with helping save Suffolk Downs (Mass.) when he was the track’s executive vice president and general manger of operations. In the 1970s, he also trained horses for the track in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for a couple of years.
Many steeplechase enthusiasts are concerned that with all the flat track experience, Raffetto might forget what steeplechasing is all about—the jumping.

“Steeplechasing is still Thoroughbred racing, and it’s still about the horse,” Raffetto said. “My role is going to be dealing more with strategic planning and the future and getting the word out about this sport. It’s not about day-to-day operation. I am leaving that up to Bill Gallo.”

Raffetto said that flat tracks are taking a hit these days. Attendance is down, and he thinks on March 29 the track that had the most attendance in the United States was probably the Springdale Race Course.

“On the flat track side of things most of the tracks are in a major free fall,” Raffetto said. “They watch the races on HRTV or TVG and stay at home in bed and bet online. But when you come to the steeplechasing side, everyone comes to the races for the fun and for the sport. The idea here is to promote this as an event day and a happening and try to make it more mainstreamed. I am trying to make it to where people don’t look at it as a completely different breed, because that is what they do right now.”

One of Raffetto’s ideas for the future is to bring steeplechasing into the pari-mutuel game. Right now, bettors can only play the steeplechase ponies when they are running at the major tracks like in Philadelphia (Pa.), Belmont (N.Y.), Saratoga (N.Y.) and Colonial Downs (Va.). Raffetto sees satellites in the future and simulcasts to overseas venues from the hunt meets.

“Take an event like today and put it up on a satellite and send it out. Even if you could not wager on it here, you could in England or Ireland where the sport is really big. We would get the exposure, additional revenue, and that’s what we are looking for down the line,” Raffetto said. “That’s where I see us going next, and I am hoping we can start some place like Far Hills (N.J.) where we already have established the Breeders’ Cup.”

“Well you know Jack, he can produce them from anywhere,” Aizpuru said. “This horse looked like he was going to be a nice horse over hurdles, and I thought he was crazy to make the switch this soon. Jack has done a lot of work all winter, hunting an awful lot and doing other bits and pieces with him. It just goes to show you all that hard work paid off.”

He added, “The one thing Jack told me to do was not to fight him and let him be happy. He was dragging me all over the place. To be honest he was so happy there it didn’t seem to be a problem.”

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Aizpuru’s other timber win came with Fisher’s Sharp Face at Queens Cup (N.C.), but if other trainers are thinking there is a new timber jockey in the works, he said, they need to look well beyond him.

“I was a little bit unsure of the whole timber thing when I first came over. I am quite happy to ride a nice horse, but I am not going to ride just any horse over timber just for the sake of it,” Aizpuru said. “I think the trainers are better off having someone who has a bit more confidence about the whole deal.”

Take Two

Danielle Hodsdon started off the season with two wins to her name, both for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Hodsdon’s first win came with William Pape’s The Price Of Love in the $25,000 maiden hurdle.

The little chestnut sped around the course, hooking up with Petty and High Hope Stable’s Logaritmo in the stretch, to pull away and win by almost a length.

“Jonathan said to keep him up close, not to let him drop back at the end,” Hodsdon said. “He had a couple of tough runs last year and he got tired at the end, but this was his first race so he was pretty much keen the whole way. He really kicked it before the wire.”

Hodsdon then got on Hudson River Farm’s Sovereign Duty in the $30,000 Woodward-Kirkover Sweepstakes allowance hurdle. Not your ordinary hurdle race, this course has riders piloting their mounts over the Colonial Cup hurdles. These are much larger, wider and stiffer than the National fences.

High Hope Stable’s Pleasant Pick (Jody Petty) showed the way for most of the race, and in fact Petty looked like he had the race in the bag by the stretch run. But Sovereign Duty put his head out just enough to win by a photo finish.

“He’s just such a fighter,” Hodsdon said. “I didn’t want to get out in front too soon cause I know how good a kick he can have at the end. He ran in the Colonial Cup so I knew he could do the fences. Early we were going so slow, I wasn’t sure if I could keep him covered up. I kept thinking, ‘We have to stay with the horse in front of us as long as possible.’ He showed a heck of amount of grit at the end.”

She added, “The last came up so long, I thought, ‘You just have to go for it,’ and he never even hesitated. He’s an exceptionally good hurdler.”

Jockey Richard Boucher also grabbed two wins for trainer and wife Lilith Boucher, first in the flat race with Star Ten Stable’s Class Bopper, and then he maneuvered the dark brown filly Class Shadow to a win over Brigadoon Stable’s World Away (Paddy Young) in the $20,000 Sport of Queens filly and mare race.

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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