Mulahen redeemed himself after a disappointing summer by winning the $30,000 hurdle feature at the Virginia Fall Races, Oct. 2-3 in Middleburg, Va.
The 9-year-old stayed in the pack until the last, when David Bentley asked for a burst of speed, and the pair galloped down to the turn at the homestretch. Seafaring Man (Danielle Hodsdon) was not far behind but had to settle for second at the wire. Raise A Storm (Robert Massey) placed third.
This is Mulahen’s first win in more than a year, but Pennsylvania trainer Kathy Neilson is happy she gave the horse a second chance. This summer, Mulahen was not jumping well, and Neilson debated sending the English-bred to his owner Gill Johnston’s Wyoming ranch to become a trail horse.
“He had been training really well [over the summer],” Neilson said. “Then we ended up pulling him up after a bad second fence of the Turf Writers Cup [at Saratoga (N.Y.)]. He had wrenched his back pretty bad. I took him down to my vet in Maryland, and he said this will heal up on his own but would take some time. I [thought] maybe I should send him home to Wyoming, but then I decided to give him one more chance and here we are.”
Although he ran third in last year’s Breeders Cup at Far Hills (N.J.), that race will not be on Mulahen’s schedule again this year. “I think the Breeder’s Cup is going to be awfully stiff competition so the Appleton Stakes [at Far Hills] would be a safer place for him. He needs confidence now,” Neilson said.
This win moves Bentley closer to the top of the National Steeplechase Association’s races-won category. Bentley has 11 wins for the season, one less than Danielle Hodsdon, but it is going to take quite a few lucky weekends to catch Matthew McCarron, who tops the list at 18.
Bentley had an even better day on Sunday, with two wins. One of those came for Neilson’s sister Sanna Hendriks, aboard Irvin Naylor’s Blue On The Rocks in the maiden hurdle. Bentley scored again in the next race for Hendriks’ husband, trainer Ricky Hendriks, in the maiden timber, with Jennifer Patterson’s Valay Pass.
If you were placing bets at the start of the open timber, Kinross Farm’s Chinese Whisper (Chris Read) definitely did not look like a sure thing.
The pace of the three-mile race was agonizingly slow. Rosbrian (Tim Maddrix) made a half-hearted attempt to take the lead but switched off. By the last circuit the jockeys had increased the pace. The lanky gray Kebo Valley (Paddy Young) looked the strongest two fences from home, but then Read woke up Chinese Whisper.
By the last fence, Chinese Whisper was rolling and had closed the gap on Kebo Valley and Neruda (Jody Petty) coming into the home stretch. A few more wake-up taps, and Chinese Whisper had passed the others at the wire by 1 length.
Read acknowledged it was not his prettiest race but one he will probably play over in his mind for days to come. “They went down the backside, and he didn’t want to go,” Read said. “I started to wonder if I wasn’t out of the race, but I just kept asking him and coming to the last two he just ran them down. He will run all day if you ask him.”
Part of the problem for Chinese Whisper, said Read, is the small fences on the Glenwood course, which don’t back him off. “He just sort of show jumped a few of those fences; it was not pretty. I was very worried about Kebo Valley because he can stay all day, and he can jump.”
For Chinese Whisper, the Virginia Fall was just a prep for the International Gold Cup (Va.) two weeks later. Kinross Farm is still in the lead in the NSA money-won category with $250,860, over Johnston, who has $180,529.
Tom Foley started out the weekend with a stretch duel on Kingfisher Farm’s Potentially for trainer Jack Fisher in the maiden 3-year-old hurdle. Potentially almost got beat by Jazzitupgeorge (Cyril Murphy), but he still had another gear at the end and pulled away to win by 3