Salmo did two things when he won the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup—he silenced his harshest critics and he gave jockey Chip Miller his first Virginia Gold Cup win in many tries.
Owned by Irvin S. Naylor, the quirky chestnut entered the race, May 5 at Great Meadow in The Plains, Va., with quite the reputation. A regular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 2006, Salmo had ducked out of a fence like a bad pony at the Grand National (Md.) sending jockey Roger Horgan to the hospital with a shattered leg. Miller bravely boarded him to a win at Winterthur (Del.) a few weeks later, and Robert Walsh rode him to a win at Radnor Hunt Races (Pa.) after the favorite fell.
But in the fall Mr. Hyde was back at Shawan Downs (Md.), and Salmo dumped Matt McCarron into the turf, re-injuring the jockey’s shoulder. He did not run again over fences until the Middleburg Spring Races (Va.) in April, where he was bested by 9 lengths in the stretch.
The Gold Cup shaped up as an 11-horse field of the who’s who of timber racing, but Salmo was the one horse nobody wanted to ride. When his usual jockey Robert Walsh was seriously injured at Plumsted Hunt Races (Pa.) in April he was almost scratched out of the race.
But Miller agreed to take on the unpredictable steed, making Salmo one of four mounts Fisher saddled in the richest timber race in America. Included in Team Fisher were the 2006 Far Hills (N.J.) $75,000 winner Harold Via Jr.’s Mr. Bombastic (Paddy Young), the 2007 Grand National winner Bubble Economy (Diana Gillam) and Arthur Arundel’s Seeyouattheevent (William Dowling). The rest of the field all had big wins to their names.
Salmo left the field at flag-fall in the rain, dragging J. Alfred Prufrock (Conrad Somers) for most of the running of the 4 miles. The rest of the field never got close until the last of the 23 fences, where Salmo found stablemates Bubble Economy, Mr. Bombastic and Seeyouattheevent closing the gap fast.
But Bubble Economy chipped-in at the last, pitching Gillam and dislocating her shoulder. Salmo kept Mr. Bombastic behind him as the four roared down the generous stretch, digging in to win by more than a head.
Doing His Job
Miller is only one of a handful of professionals who have won the race in the last 25 years. The majority of wins have gone to the amateur-only jockeys. He was floored by the horse’s performance.
“It was a dream ride,” Miller said. “At Winterthur, he was looking at the crowd, looking at me, totally unfocused. Today, he was all business. He’s a massive horse with a big steady gallop. This is the most competitive Gold Cup I have ever been in since I have been riding and I was really pleasantly surprised when we were left alone for so long.”
Miller added, “Salmo is not the brightest horse in the world—that’s what has gotten him into trouble in the past. Today he was all about doing his job. He did not make a mistake. It’s pretty unusual in a 4-mile race not to make a mistake. We had a couple of untidy fences, but they were not mistakes. At the end he had every right to give up; he had done all the running, the donkeywork, but refused to give in. It just gives me goose bumps thinking about. He was so genuine.”
This win is especially sweet for the Coatesville, Pa., resident. For all the years Miller has been riding on the Great Meadow course, he has never won the spring meet. A three-time International Gold Cup winning jockey (including on the timber champion Saluter) he’d never been better than second in the Virginia Gold Cup.
“I have never actually ridden this race very well,” Miller said. “I have only had a couple of really live rides in this race, and I messed those up. Some days and some races you ride really well, and other days you get on a horse and you are like, ‘have I ever done this before?’ Up until now, the Gold Cup was one of those races.”
Where Do We Go?
Earlier in the day, Miller won the $25,000 Steeplethon on Never Better Stable’s Brimson, a horse he trains. Per usual, the Steeplethon had its share of controversy. Some jockey usually goes off course in this race, and this time was no different.
Naylor’s Bon Fleur and Jeff Murphy crossed the wire first, but after a steward’s inquiry they were ruled off course for missing a beacon. During the race, Acorn Hill Farm’s Northern Thinking (Paddy Young) also went off course at the water crossing in spectacular fashion, but Young doubled back and still picked up third place money behind Anne Haynes’ Navesink View (Will Haynes).
Miller was happy that Don Yovanovich, the director of racing, had now placed numbers on the fences for the jockeys and modified the large bank hurdles.
Murphy was pretty upset about being disqualified for being off course. He claims the beacon that he missed was way outside of the path the horses were traveling on in the inside of the course.
“This is how the course has gone four years in a row,” Murphy said. “It makes no sense. I have ridden in this race four times before, and that is the way I have gone every year. Make up your mind.”
It appears Armata Stable’s stakes hurdler Orsay has taken a liking to the rolling Great Meadow course. A winner on the flat in the fall, the big bay jumped to victory in the $30,000 allowance hurdle for Cyril Murphy winning by a half a length over Miller on Sarah Jeffords Radcliffe’s Best Attack.
Murphy really likes the horse, who is trained by Tom Voss, and is looking forward to this summer at Saratoga (N.Y.).
“He has great street sense, he knows when the jumps are coming and he’s very fluid and tidy over his fences,” Murphy said. “He’s a horse that only does as much as he has too, so every time I called on him, there was always a little more left. As long as he jumped and did not lose his momentum, it was going to be
difficult for someone to run by him.”
Unfortunately a series of tragic events in the last race on the card tarnished the day.
Only five horses in the maiden claiming hurdle placed in the money out of the 14 starters. Problems first arose when Carl Rafter’s horse, Stone Valley Farm’s Notable Contender, slipped on the turn, taking out Cyril Murphy’s horse, Coppertree Farm’s Ed’s Empire in the process. Unable to avoid the fallen horses, Miller’s ride—Focus On A Star—tried to jump Rafter’s horse but lost his rider.
One of the U.S. Park Police officers stationed in the infield immediately responded to the fallen jockeys. When Officer Markland found them up and unhurt with the field on its way for the second time around, he backed his horse into a nearby hedge away from the turn. However, Markland’s horse Jack became unsettled in the confined space, started spinning around and then ran backwards into the approaching field.
The first couple of horses glanced off the officer’s horse, but James Slater’s mount—Competence—hit the officer’s horse broadside, spinning Markland off Jack and under approaching horses’ hooves.
With his saddle under his belly, Jack got up and ran with the field, jumping one fence in the backside of the course until he fell and died, presumably of internal injuries. Markland sustained several injuries to his arms and hands. Competence also sustained a leg injury in the accident, but at press time it was not life threatening.
Miller was grateful he came away unscathed and his colleagues were not injured.
“It’s a shame someone lost a horse in all of this, but it was a miracle that Carl and Cyril and I were okay,” Miller said. “At one point all three of us were on the ground, either on top of or under a horse. I rolled over once and all I saw were brown horse legs and bellies.”
In the end, front-runners Xavier Aizpuru and Kingfisher Farm’s Shiny Emblem won the race over Danielle Hodsdon and Warren Dempsey’s Desert Vigil. Will Haynes and Anne Haynes’ Classy Brute placed third. Four horses lost their riders, one horse fell and two other horses were ruled off course due to missing a flag.
Sarah L. Greenhalgh