The feature race of the Middleburg Spring Races, Middleburg, Va., on April 22, delivered everything a Triple Crown race should: The return of the winner of the first leg, a highly competitive field, a thrilling finish, and for the gossipmongers a disqualification and some controversy.
But South Of Fifty took no wrong turns to capture the second leg of steeplechasing’s Triple Crown, the $75,000 Temple Gwathmey Grade II novice hurdle stakes at Glenwood Park.
Randleston Farm’s Top Of The Bill (Carl Rafter) impressively won the first leg of the series, the Carolina Cup (S.C.), on April 1, as South Of Fifty finished fifth. Four other horses that ran at Camden also made the trip to Middleburg.
Matt McCarron was to ride South Of Fifty, who’s trained by Neil Morris and owned by Kinross Farm. But a spill in the maiden claimer the race before took McCarron out of the picture. While McCarron wasn’t seriously hurt, 2005 had been an injury-plagued year for 2004’s top jockey, and it was deemed wiser for him to take the rest of the race day off.
A mad scramble ensued for the Kinross team to find a jockey they trusted and who could make the weight, since South Of Fifty, due to the race’s conditions, only carried 138 pounds. Fortunately for them, veteran jockey Richard Boucher was available. If anyone can catch-ride a horse well, it’s Boucher.
Chris Read, assistant trainer for Morris and the winner on Sur La Tete two days earlier in The Royal Chase, told Boucher everything he needed to know about the horse’s running style.
“Neil’s very good at telling his jockeys how the horse’s mind works and what the horse’s running style is so they can make all the right decisions while they’re out there racing,” Read said. “He told Richard that he was on a big-striding, relaxed horse who doesn’t have a ton of gears, so Richard needed to think ahead for him.”
Armed with that information, Boucher dropped South Of Fifty out the back of the eight-horse field, way off the pace set by Bon Fleur (Bernie Dalton), who won the Callaway (Ga.) novice stakes last fall. Top Of The Bill, Rouge Sensation (Carl Doran) and The Next Man (Rob Massey) were right there too.
The Middleburg course is an undulating, constantly turning track, and with three fences to go the race got really interesting. With Bon Fleur and Top Of The Bill still running just a length apart, Boucher pushed the go button on South Of Fifty, who responded not so much with speed as with ground-devouring strides.
Then, with one fence to go, Massey tried to go up Rafter’s inside, and Rafter shut him down. But a little too exuberantly. The maneuvering caused Massey’s horse to slip on the turn and both rider and horse hit the lush turf.
All of sudden, South Of Fifty topped the hill to the last fence, seeming to appear out of nowhere to grab the lead, just a head in front of Top Of The Bill. Good Night Shirt (Xavier Aizpuru) was sitting in third, several lengths behind. Over the last and down the hill the two horses raced, jockeys furiously riding for all they had.
But it was too much for Top Of The Bill. He’d contested the pace the whole way and he carried 13 more pounds than South Of Fifty. He gamely held on, but the Kinross horse crossed the wire 11/4 lengths in front.
And then the stewards disqualified Rafter for impeding The Next Man and causing him to fall, so Good Night Shirt inherited second place and Bon Fleur moved up to third.
“Richard has one of the best racing minds in the business, and he couldn’t have timed his run any better,” said Read. “He had that race timed to a tee, he was so patient and he had our horse so switched off that he had tons to give at the end.”
Kinross owner Zohar Ben Dov bought South Of Fifty as a 2-year-old at a Timonium (Md.) sale two years ago. Read said he certainly wasn’t the fastest horse who breezed on sale day, but what Morris liked was that his jockey didn’t get him pulled up for almost a turn after he breezed.
Because Morris got him at an early age, South Of Fifty has never known anything but the Kinross way.
“All our horses learn to tailgate,” said Read, with a grin. “We go head-to-tail up the mountain or up over the hurdles at home all the time. It’s important that they learn to relax.”
Maybe that’s why all the Kinross horses seem to want to run from behind. Kinross’ Miles Ahead had no problem relaxing on his way to winning the $20,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup open timber.
Miles Ahead, an ex-hurdler who is now probably the best timber horse in the country (he won four timber races in 2005, including Middleburg Hunt Cup and the Virginia Gold Cup), made short work of a highly competitive field.
Kinross should take a patent out on the races they won at Middleburg. Ridden by Read, Miles Ahead just stalked the pace set by stablemate, Chinese Whisper (Paddy Young). Once again, three fences from home, Read made his move, and Miles Ahead just passed his rivals as if they were standing still. Chinese Whisper faded to finish fifth of five, while Navesink View (Jody Petty) came on strong for second.
Read said Miles Ahead is a phenomenal horse with a few more gears than most, especially for a timber horse.
“He’s got a gear you don’t expect him to have. When you ask him to run, he just seems to get there quicker and quicker. It’s like there’s a sixth gear. I think he didn’t fare well over hurdles because he got run off his feet. The slower pace of timber suits him, yet he’s got the speed of hurdle horse when you really need him to run,” said Read.