Thursday, Apr. 18, 2024

Monte Bianco Steps Up At Virginia Fall Races

He shows he’s “a pretty serious timber horse,” says his rider, Xavier Aizpuru.

A disaster for one meet turned out to be a bounty for another. When monsoon-like rains forced the cancellation of Shawan Downs (Md.) on Sept. 27, the timber trainers rerouted their charges to the Virginia Fall Races, Oct. 4-5 in Middleburg.

The $35,000 National Sporting Library Chronicle Cup feature showcased a solid nine competitors, some of the best from the season.

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He shows he’s “a pretty serious timber horse,” says his rider, Xavier Aizpuru.

A disaster for one meet turned out to be a bounty for another. When monsoon-like rains forced the cancellation of Shawan Downs (Md.) on Sept. 27, the timber trainers rerouted their charges to the Virginia Fall Races, Oct. 4-5 in Middleburg.

The $35,000 National Sporting Library Chronicle Cup feature showcased a solid nine competitors, some of the best from the season.

But in the end, the perseverance of Arthur Arundel’s Monte Bianco (Xavier Aizpuru) landed him in the winner’s circle.

At flag fall, Allimac (William Dowling) sprinted off, leading the field as he has done for most of his victories this year, including the most recent, at Iroquois (Tenn.) in May. Well aware of Allimac’s penchant for putting daylight between him and the others, Aizpuru stalked the champion. But for the others the quick pace started to wear, and many dropped out as the 3 1⁄4 miles progressed.

With only a handful left, the group started the turn for home when Dowling pulled Allimac up sharply. Inheriting the lead, Monte Bianco boldly jumped the last with Irish Prince (Jody Petty), Erin Go Bragh (Paddy Young) and Bubble Economy (Robert Walsh) on his heels. He sprinted ahead, leaving the rest to fight for second-place money.

Erin Go Bragh battled for second, more than 3 lengths back, while Irish Prince took third.

Aizpuru was the 2007 leading hurdle jockey and is poised to keep his title this year. But Aizpuru is starting to warm to timber racing, especially when he gets to ride a horse like Monte Bianco.

He and Bianco won the allowance timber at the Carolina Cup (S.C.) and the $40,000 timber at Radnor (Pa.).

“He’s obviously a pretty serious timber horse, and he has proven it this year,” Aizpuru said. “He has really taken to it, and the horse isn’t afraid of anybody. He ran a little last year, but this year has been his first proper campaign. He has just gotten better and better.”

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Trained by Jack Fisher, of Monkton, Md., the 7-year-old Irish-bred son of King Of Kings finished the 3 1⁄4 miles in 6:37 3⁄5, almost the same time as the 3-mile maiden timber race, which was 6:37 flat.

“He has a great kick,” said Aizpuru. “He had it over hurdles, but he just used to get so upset. I think timber and the different fences have completely taken his mind off of it.”

Aizpuru knows Monte Bianco well, but he had a first-time starter in the maiden timber. Now it appears he, Fisher, and owner Gil Johnston have a new timber horse with Meadow Larking.

Nestled within the 11-horse field, Meadow Larking followed frontrunner Major Frank (Robert Walsh). As the field began to dwindle from pull-ups, Meadow Larking overtook a tiring Major Frank and cruised into the stretch.

On Three

Pennsylvania timber trainer Louis “Paddy” Neilson III was beginning to think he was cursed.

He tried to run Donald Cochran’s The Other Me at Shawan Downs (Md.), and the meet was cancelled. Then he attempted to bring horses to the Virginia Fall Races and spent the better part of Oct. 4 on Interstate 95 behind a tanker spill. On Oct. 5, he finally got a horse to a race meet and all the way to the winner’s circle.

Piloted by Jake Chalfin, the 9-year-old son of Pulpit won the $5,000 amateur highweight timber.

“I was beginning to think I was snake-bit,” Neilson said. “The third time’s a charm. Shawan was a round trip to nowhere, then Saturday was awful; we were caught in what was to be a 12-hour back-up. I gave up after four hours.

“He’s a good horse, beautifully bred and a great jumper,” added Neilson, who may bring the horse to the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, Nov. 2.

“I didn’t need to pick up the stick; I still had a lot of horse left,” said Aizpuru.

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After jumping the last, Aizpuru said he just changed his hands. “He quickened like he had gone 1 mile, not 3. I have
ridden him a bunch of times over hurdles, and we have always really liked him.

For whatever reason he didn’t seem to be getting home. He always jumped like a timber horse, which counts against you in hurdling.”

Aizpuru added, “My only instructions were to go out and have fun. He was nice and relaxed; the further we went the more he got into it.”

In the second division of the maiden timber, trainer Jonathan Sheppard posted a win for owner Calvin Houghland.
He’s A Conniver spun around a course riddled with loose horses and lost riders to finish just more than a length ahead of Irvin Naylor’s Patriot’s Path (Darren Nagle). Only six of the 12 starters finished.

Danielle Hodsdon, assistant trainer for Sheppard, said they have always liked the horse, but after coming in second
to Monte Bianco in March at the Carolina Cup allowance timber, the horse fell ill. They gave him the rest of the year off.

“We always thought he had a good bit of ability,” Hodsdon said. “He has a difficult mentality. He gets himself worked up then gets himself keen. James Slater has worked extremely hard with him at the farm trying to get him to relax. Things have finally started to click with him.”

Several of Saturday’s races had consequences for leading timber owner Naylor. So far this year, Naylor has made more than $145,000 with timber horses Allimac, Hot Springs and now Patriot’s Path. Sadly, Hot Springs has a hip injury and is out indefinitely. Allimac, who just returned after a severely bowed tendon, now has injured his suspensory and is most likely retired.

These injuries have opened the door for the Fisher barn to move up in the standings. Bubble Economy has a slim lead for timber horse of the year with $68,250 in earnings over stablemate Monte Bianco who has $62,000.

Sarah L. Greenhalgh

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