ALFA BEAT (#10) (Douglas Lees Photo)

Champion steeplechase owner Irv Naylor will play a strong hand in the $75,000 Virginia Gold Cup when he fields two contenders in a highly competitive field for Saturday’s 88th edition of the four-mile timber classic. Also in the Gold Cup field of nine horses are the winners of several major timber races.

Naylor’s contingent is led by Alfa Beat, an Irish steeplechase stakes winner who pulled away to a five-length victory in the $30,000 Grand National, the second jewel of Maryland’s timber triple crown, on April 20. Billy Meister, who trains Alfa Beat, also will saddle Naylor’s Herons Well, a British-bred import who finished fourth in a division of the John Rush Streett Memorial maiden timber race at the My Lady’s Manor meet in Monkton, Md., on April 13. James Slater will ride Alfa Beat, and Roddy Mackenzie rides Herons Well.

The Naylor contingent will face stiff competition. Nelson & Traveller Stable’s Moonsox won the kickoff race of the Maryland timber triple, the My Lady’s Manor, by 1 3/4 lengths on April 13. Returning to ride Moonsox for trainer Kevin Boniface is Lia McGuirk, who won the My Lady’s Manor in her first sanctioned start.

Reigning champion trainer Jack Fisher (of Saluter fame) entered Straight to It, the 2012 New Jersey Hunt Cup winner who is owned by Sheila J. Williams and Andre Brewster. In his only start of the current season, Straight to It finished second in the My Lady’s Manor. Willie Dowling will ride.

GRINDING SPEED (Douglas Lees Photo)

Michael T. Wharton’s Grinding Speed won the International Gold Cup over the Great Meadow course last fall, and he returns with jockey Mark Beecher, who is coming off a winning ride on Professor Maxwell in the Maryland Hunt Cup on April 27. Alicia Murphy trains Grinding Speed, who was leading the My Lady’s Manor when he fell at the last fence.

Richard Valentine, who sent out Hunt Cup winner Professor Maxwell from his The Plains base, will saddle Magalen O. Bryant’s Dakota Slew and Lucy Stable’s Justpourit in the Gold Cup. Dakota Slew would be making his first start of the season, and Justpourit was fifth in the Grand National at Butler, Md. Robbie Walsh has the mount on Dakota Slew, and George Hundt will be aboard Justpourit.
Trainer Edward Mulligan named Jeff Murphy for a return engagement aboard Holston Hall’s Hot Rize, winner of the $20,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup on April 20.

Maryland-based horseman Bruce Fenwick will saddle Merriefield Farm’s Foyle, who was elevated to the top spot in the Grand National’s Benjamin H. Murray Memorial timber allowance race when the first two finishers were disqualified for going off course. Christopher Read has the mount.

For the first time, the Virginia Gold Cup meet at the Great Meadows course in The Plains will offer pari-mutuel wagering under the supervision of the Virginia Racing Commission.  

Saturday’s program will offer six races with purses totaling $200,000. First post time is 1:30 p.m.