Since 1961, Randolph Rouse, MFH for Fairfax Hunt (Va.), has had an affinity for steeplechasing and has done well in the point-to-point circuit. But after winning the $10,000 Chronicle Cup timber, Oct. 1, he thinks he may have a horse for the more prestigious sanctioned races.
Rouse’s horse, Fields Of Omagh, took to the rock-hard going at Glenwood Park, Middleburg, Va., to win the race with ease on the first day of the Virginia Fall Races.
Rouse started working with the 10-year-old little bay this year. Bought from Kinross Farm with the intention of becoming a hunter, Rouse saw something in the horse that said he could do more. This fall, Rouse put Tom Foley in the irons, and the pair seemed to understand each other right from the start.
“They tell me he is a bit of a cheeky bastard,” Foley said after winning with him at Thornton Hill (Va.). “But he jumps like a stag and he’s fearless.”
At Glenwood, Foley had much tougher competition, up against former stablemate Chinese Whisper (Chris Read), My Lady’s Manor (Md.) winner Pleasant Parcel (Stewart Strawbridge) and former spring Gold Cup winner Joe At Six (Michele Hunter).
Joe At Six set a blistering pace on the dusty ground. Foley and Read kept their mounts in striking distance, but Strawbridge sat uncharacteristically off the pace for the entire race. As the three approached the last fence, Fields Of Omagh shot forward and never looked back, winning by 91/2 lengths over Joe At Six and Chinese Whisper.
Now Rouse and Foley hope he will go the 31/2-mile distance to win the prestigious International Gold Cup (Va.), Oct. 15.
“I think he will be very comfortable in the International Gold Cup,” Foley said. “I could ride one like him all day. He jumps like a stag and he can do the distance. Going so fast at the last, I said, ‘Well, we are going for a big one, and we are going to get it over with.’ Luck was with us for sure.”
Due to the hard ground, many trainers scratched, including Jack Fisher, Tom Voss and Virginia Fall’s own clerk of the course, Doug Fout.
Fout said he tried to keep the track irrigated and even drained the two infield ponds in an attempt to get water on the thirsty turf.
“We just never got a break, not even from any of those big storms,” Fout said, referring to hurricanes, Katrina, Ophelia and Rita.
So how has Rouse kept his little timber prospect fit?
“Swimming,” Rouse said. “We swim him a lot at the Middleburg Swim Center. He is a good swimmer, and he likes it. I don’t gallop him a whole lot on the farm. Just once a week at the Middleburg Training Track and the rest of the time he hacks around the farm and swims.”
Pennsylvania trainer Sanna Hendriks kept busy for the weekend, winning two races during the first day of Virginia Fall, then flying to The Meadowlands (N.J.) to watch her horse McDynamo come in second in a $75,000 stakes race that night. She then traveled back to Glenwood to win three sanctioned races on Sunday, including the $10,000 maiden timber race with The Bruce for her brother Stewart Strawbridge.
She has now increased her National Steeplechase Association races won lead to 25, almost giving her a lock in the category. Fisher is in second place with 14 wins and Voss is third with 13. Hendriks is closing in on Fisher’s lead for trainer money won with $409,007 to his $422,091.
Hendriks would have had both first and second in her first win of the weekend, but the winner, Swoop And Soar (Robert Massey) was disqualified after interfering with Noblest (Read), sending Read into the turf at the last fence. Massey was fined $250 for careless riding.
The second-placed finisher, Noble Bob (Jody Petty) was deemed the winner. Owned by Augustin Stable and stepfather George Strawbridge, Noble Bob is a new addition to the large stable of Hendriks’ winners. Noble Bob’s previous owner, Jeffrey Franz, who had bred the horse and hand-raised him as a baby, passed away this summer.
“I’m not sure where we are going to go with him,” Hendriks said. “Like all my horses, we will have to see how they come back after running on this ground.”
One horse she was very pleased to see making strides was a Chilean-bred Marino Feliz, winner of the maiden claiming hurdle at Glenwood.
“He has been a huge disappointment basically,” Hendriks said. “I thought he was a really nice maiden a couple of years ago. I got him from Chile, and he just never panned out. He is fairly talented, but he hasn’t put it all together. He jumps fine; he is just temperamental. He usually packs it in when somebody heads him up. He just doesn’t want to try, but he did today.”
Just The Trick
Jockey Richard Boucher found himself on a winner in the $10,000 maiden hurdle. Class Vantage, the 3-year-old grandson of Secretar-iat, won for owner Mignon Smith of Mede Cahaba Stables and for Richard’s wife Lilith Boucher.
The Bouchers have been trying to find the trick to make the horse run with more control.
“We had a few steering issues with him so he goes in a steel sliding bar bit,” Richard said. “We tried blinkers at Foxfield [Va.], and he was second. He was a lot easier to control. He is a little single-minded, and he thinks he is really good. It is a little hard for me to trust him this point in his career. But he went around here and ate those hurdles like they were nothing. He is such a cool little horse.”
Richard is afraid the horse has been too perfect in his jumping so far. “He never misses,” Richard said. “He needs to understand that some day he will get it wrong. I have tried to get him to miss when I have schooled him, but it did not work. He took the last fence a little long but that was about it.”
Richard wasn’t too worried about his competition, save one–his step-daughter Remy Winants was in the field on Crossing Again.
“I said to her if you are near me you are going too fast,” Richard said. “But I did tell her if we were head to head over the last, come to the inside I will give you a break there.”
Virginia trainer Jimmy Day was happy for his win with Randleston Farm’s flashy gray Silver Wheat (Carl Rafter), who won a maiden claiming hurdle 10 lengths in front of Otto Stolz’s Artsy (Paddy Young), but this is the horse’s swan song.
“This is his last hurdle race; he has gone as far as he is going to go so we are going to put him back on the flat,” Day said. “He would find it hard to be in non-winners of two. He is good on the flat. He ended his jumping on a good note at least. He has been unlucky all summer being second and third. He will do well back on the flat.”
Preemptive Strike Steals Breeders Cup Prep
Preemptive Strike fired up his after burners and romped home a wire-to-wire winner in the $75,000 Somerset Medical Center Steeplechase Race For Cancer Awareness grade II hurdle stakes.
Over the Meadowlands Racecourse, East Rutherford, N.J., Oct. 1, the leggy chestnut gave notice that he’s a serious contender for the $150,000 Breeders Cup Steeplechase, at Far Hills, N.J., Oct. 22.
Designed wholly as a prep for the “big race,” last year’s race was at Monmouth Park. But that New Jersey turf course is under renovation in preparation for the 2007 Breeders Cup day, the richest day in American flat racing, so the Meadowlands offered the race instead.
“We want this prep race to stay in New Jersey as we are trying to develop a relationship between the Far Hills races and Monmouth,” said Bill Gallo, the National Steeplechase Association’s race director. “This was the first time we’ve had a race at Meadowlands since 1980.”
There’s not much to say about a race when the winner streaks to a 30-length lead, manages to hold on to rebuff a lone challenger in the stretch and then finds enough to pull away again to win by 5 lengths. But that’s exactly what “Striker” did.
“He was pretty much running off with me for the first mile or so,” said jockey Robbie Walsh ruefully. “He was keen for sure and that’s not what I wanted to do, but on Striker, sometimes you don’t have much choice.”
Striker has a ground-eating stride and a will of his own, and he jumps for fun. Walsh said he just got toted.
“He did settle down after the first mile or so of the [2 1/2-mile race],” said Walsh. “He relaxed and had a really good breather. Nobody came with me. They knew how fast I was going and were probably afraid to go that fast themselves, scared they’d fall aside after a while.”
McDynamo (Rob Massey) got the closest, to within 2 lengths of the leaders. “But Striker just picked up again going to the last and pulled away by 5 [lengths],” added Walsh.
Trained by Paul Rowland and owned by Polaris Stables, Striker is definitely being pointed toward the prestigious Breeders Cup Steeplechase.
Walsh said even though he knows his horse will face two Eclipse Award winners in McDynamo and Hirapour at Far Hills, there’s not much strategizing he can do between now and then.
“Striker pretty much does what he wants, and I have to ride him as I find him,” he said. “Some days he’ll relax and run behind horses and some days not. I just have to go with the flow with him.”