Jockey James Slater had a feeling that the $25,000 Sport Of Kings maiden hurdle at the High Hope Steeplechase, May 20 in Lexington, Ky., might be the perfect place for Prep School, and he was right.
Slater and trainer Jonathan Sheppard have always liked the 6-year-old son of Polish Numbers, but he hadn’t really moved up in his running and jumping game this year. Slater wanted a good confidence builder for the young hurdler.
Prep School had started the year with a fourth-placed finish at Little Everglades (Fla.), then moved on to Middleburg Spring (Va.), where he was sixth. He led much of the way at the Virginia Gold Cup but got tired in the softer going and placed seventh.
At High Hope, Slater put the horse in the middle of the pack near the inside. He let Anne Haynes’ Classy Brute (Will Haynes) and William Pape’s Baby League (Danielle Hodsdon) set the pace for most of the 21⁄8 miles. As they made the final turn, Slater asked a little more of his horse, and he found he had plenty. Prep School shot past Classy Brute to win by 1 length. Baby League placed third.
Slater was very proud of Prep School’s first win and is hoping he gets a run this summer at Colonial Downs (Va.) or Saratoga Springs (N.Y.).
“He did it nicely,” Slater said. “I think the firmer ground and smaller field here was in his favor. All he really needed was a little confidence builder. He’s a good jumper, but he’s not the bravest horse. If he gets into trouble he starts to suck back and give up.”
Double Duty For Kingsley
Trainer Arch Kingsley picked up two wins at High Hope. The first win was on a horse he rode, Carrington Racing Stable’s Bold Turn, in the $15,000 maiden hurdle. Bold Turn has been with Kingsley since he was a yearling but didn’t start schooling over hurdles until last year.
Kingsley kept his horse out of trouble in the 11-horse field and made a late surge to win by 2 lengths over Second Approval (Paddy Young).
“He doesn’t have any jumping excuses,” Kingsley said of his charge. “He has been on the farm too long. I just threaded my way through the bumpy field, and we had a smooth trip at the end.”
Next, Kingsley put amateur rider Jamey Price up on Kill Devil Rum for a win in the ARCA training flat.
“Jamey did a good job,” Kingsley said. “This was a nice win. Now, if I can convince him to ride this summer instead of going to the beach, that will be the biggest trick.”
By the time the timber race rolled around, jockey Carl Rafter was thinking maybe flying into Kentucky from Virginia wasn’t such a great idea. In the first race, Gillian Johnston’s Wild Journey got tired, and he had to pull up. In the third race, Over Creek Farm’s Reston also was not up to speed, and he had to pull up again.
But Stewart Strawbridge’s Straight Path was full of run and made short work of the unusual course at High Hope, winning the $10,000 maiden timber race by 8 lengths over Irvin S. Naylor’s Timmy R (Desmond Fogarty).
“It had been a pretty bad day up until the timber race,” Rafter said. “This is a great course. Every jump is different; it gives them a lot to think about. My horse loved the firmer ground. I had wanted to sit third or fourth, but I jumped ahead to lead for the last mile.”
Trained by Kathy Neilson McKenna, Straight Path was making his second start. McKenna has had a lot of success with English native Rafter riding for her this year.
“Carl has been great,” McKenna said. “I generally don’t have to give him any instructions; he has a knack for just figuring the horses out. He’s very professional.”
Won To Watch
But while Straight Path was the winner, many eyes were trained on the third-placed finisher, the 5-year-old mare Won Wild Bird (Will Haynes).
Mare and timber are rarely used in the same sentence when describing great timber horses. Vesta Balestiere’s Won Wild Bird has been a constant in the filly and mare series for the past year, but she has never had the speed of her competition, with her best effort being no better than third.
After Won Wild Bird pulled up at Iroquois (Tenn.) in soft going, trainer Bruce Haynes decided her next outing would be as a timber horse. Haynes had not given up on the flashy gray, a half-sister to the two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Rowdy Irishman.
“I got a lot of grief from the other trainers when they saw she was entered,” Haynes said. “They didn’t think she could do it, but I know she will gallop all day and jump anything you put in front of her. She’s a great jumper, just doesn’t have the serious speed, but she was a very close third. I think Will was a little too conservative with her, but that still is a really good first run over timber.”
The last mare that tackled the world of big timber successfully was Audrey Riker’s Perfect Cast. Ridden by Turney McKnight, Perfect Cast won the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in 1974 and My Lady’s Manor (Md.) in 1978, was second to the legendary Ben Nevis II twice in the Maryland Hunt Cup (1977-78) and third in the MHC in 1979 at age 12.
Haynes is hoping to have the same kind of long career for his mare and is looking forward to the fall season and his newest timber horse.
“She’s about 16.1, pretty scopey looking and still growing,” Haynes said. “She’s actually ideal for timber, and because she’s a mare we get a cut in the weight, which I really like. I will put her away until the fall and then we will point her toward Shawan Downs (Md.).”
Sarah L. Greenhalgh