Virginia Gold Cup Highlights from May 4 Steeplechase Races at Great Meadow

Bad weather played a role in the weekend’s action, which was punctuated by rain, clouds and cool temperatures. Yet, the dreary conditions didn’t stop fans from turning out in large numbers at both the Virginia Gold Cup Races on Saturday in The Plains and Winterthur Point-to-Point outside of Wilmington, Del.

Rampoldi wins the Grade 1 Commonwealth Cup at Great Meadow on May 4th with Jamie Bargary up. This was the first Grade 1 stakes held during a Gold Cup program (Douglas Lees photo)

Nine races were on tap at Great Meadow Race Course in Virginia, highlighted by the inaugural Grade 1 $150,000 Commonwealth Cup, a handicap hurdle at 2 1/8 miles, along with the historic $75,000 Virginia Gold Cup at 4 miles, one of the most prestigious timber stakes in America. The results of the Commonwealth Cup shone a bright light on one of the sport’s rising stars and the Gold Cup celebrated yet another remarkable milestone in the incredible career of a remarkable warrior.

Terrier races kicked off festivities at Great Meadow (Douglas Lees).

There were standout performances on the human side, too. Leading NSA trainer Leslie Young had another big weekend with a combined five winners (four over jumps). Besides taking the Commonwealth Cup, Young scored with Silverton Hill’s Kelmscott in a maiden special weights hurdle and Runnymoore Racing’s Clifton Down in the Speedy Smithwick stakes at Gold Cup, and Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Fast Vision in the Winterthur Bowl allowance and Potter Group USA and Ashwell Stable’s Right Tempo in the Middletown Cup training flat contest (that doesn’t count in the standings). The wins gave the NSA’s leading trainer the past two seasons, 15 for the spring, nine more than Jack Fisher. She also has a commanding lead of more than $220,000 in earnings over the Hall of Fame conditioner.

Jockeys Bernie Dalton, Jamie Bargary, and Stephen Mulqueen also doubled at Gold Cup, while Freddie Procter doubled at Winterthur. Keri Brion had a training double at Gold Cup.

Rider Jamie Bargary & trainer Leslie Young celebrate after Rampoldi’s Grade 1 stakes win (Douglas Lees photo).

Rampoldi Plan romps in Commonwealth Cup

Coming into the race, Leipers Fork Steeplechasers’ Rampoldi Plan had made five NSA starts after a career in England, breaking his maiden and finishing second in an allowance appearance. In the Commonwealth Cup, the five-year-old Florida-bred son of Hard Spun stalked pacesetter West Newton, took charge on the final turn, and had the lead with two fences to go. At the wire, he was two lengths clear of hard-charging Welshman, who closed stoutly from seventh. 2023 novice champion L’Imperator was third.  The winner was sent off at 13-1 at the meet, which once again offered pari-mutuel wagering. For jockey Jamie Bargary, it was his first Grade 1 score.

Schoodic scored his second Virginia Gold Cup win May 4th. The 14-year-old has also won two International Gold Cups at Great Meadow fall meets (Douglas Lees photo).

Schoodic is spectacular, again, in Gold Cup

Dolly Fisher’s 14-year-old, ridden by Graham Watters and trained by Jack Fisher, captured his fourth straight stake with a blockbuster victory over a tough Awesome Adrian in the Virginia Gold Cup stakes. The 2023 timber champion, who won his first start of the season at Middleburg two weeks ago, showed his competitive fire hasn’t diminished one bit. The ageless star and 2-1 betting choice closely stalked Bogey’s image (Teddy Davies) and overtook Nancy Reed’s Awesome Adrian, who rallied from last to take the top spot with two fences remaining, collaring the leader in deep stretch to score by 2 lengths. Bogey’s Image was far back in third.

Connections for Schoodic celebrate in the winners circle (Douglas Lees photo).

For the winner it continued a remarkable skein of 10 consecutive top-three finishes dating back three years. Overall, it was his 17th career win and elevated his bankroll to $634,606. It was also his second Virginia Gold Cup victory. In addition, Schoodic owns two wins in the race’s fall counterpart, the International Gold Cup.

Clifton Down is “speedy” in Smithwick

Another relative NSA newcomer, Runnymoore Racing’s Clifton Down showed spark when he finished a distant second to runaway winner Lightning Ridge in his stakes debut at three in the Alston Cup at Charleston last fall. After a close second to Hold Hard to begin 2024 at the Old Dominion Hounds meet in April, the Irish-bred was untouchable in the $50,000 Speedy Smithwick Memorial four-year-old stakes, romping by 10 ¼ lengths for the rider-trainer tandem of Bargary and Young. The 2-1 favorite moved up to second after the opening mile, took command on the final turn, and extended his advantage after the final fence. Layton Register’s Haint Blue (Bernie Dalton), who broke her maiden at Aiken in her NSA debut in March, was second. The aforementioned Lightning Ridge was third after leading for a mile and a half.

Speedy Smithwick Memorial winner Clifton Down leads the field over a jump (Douglas Lees photo).

Southpaw Mike, Kitten Around, Juulstone rise to the top in maiden claimers

The Gold Cup card featured a trio of $20,000 optional claiming hurdles for maidens, with jockey Stephen Mulqueen and trainer Keri Brion combining for two of them. In the second race, Joseph Fowler’s Southpaw Mike came from off the pace at 14-1 under Bernie Dalton to defeat Hurricana Farm’s Fingal (Ryan Treacy) by 4 lengths for trainer Kate Dalton. In the eighth, Upland Flats Racing, Darkhorse Racing, and The International Venture’s Kitten Around outgutted Clarke Ohrstrom’s Giantsbane (Virginia Korrell), to prevail by a half length under Mulqueen, who struck again in the finale with Christopher LaBerge and USA Steeplechase’s Juulstone. The latter came on with a flourish at the final fence to defeat Turks Head Turf’s Exuma (Dan Nevin) by a length and three-quarters.

Maiden claiming race winner Juulstone drives to the finish on My 4 (Douglas Lees photo).

Kelmscott beats back big field in maiden special weights hurdle

Silverton Hill’s flashy gray son of European Group 1 classic winner Mastercraftsman was never worse than third in the field of 10, drew even with pro-tem leader Noble Speaker on the final turn, then took charge over the final fence. But the race tightened considerably when Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s 14-1 Blue Nile, under Virginia Korrell, closed powerfully to come within 1 ¼ lengths of the winner. Paddy O’Hanlon, riding for trainer Leslie Young, earned his fourth victory of the season.

Kelmscott (in blue & green silks) with Patrick O’Hanlon up, shows the way in a maiden special weight (Douglas Lees photo).

Hold Hard makes it two for two in 2024

Rolling Tide’s Hold Hard, 7-1, gave jockey Bernie Dalton his second winner on the card following a spirited duel with Gill Johnston’s Pure Courage (Elizabeth Scully) in a $45,000 hurdle event for non-winners of two races. The margin of victory was three-quarters of a length. Pure Courage, who set the pace for a mile and a half, battled gamely but was simply outfinished by the Doug Fout-trainee, who was exiting a maiden score at the Old Dominion Hounds meet in April where he defeated, among others, Speedy Smithwick Memorial Stakes winner Clifton Down.

Maiden special weight winner Hold Hard scored in one of two maiden special weights on the Gold Cup card (Douglas Lees photo)..

Crealion is last man standing in $20,000 Steeplethon

Plenty of odd things have happened during the running of the Steeplethon over mixed obstacles at Great Meadow over the years. And on Saturday it was no different when two of the four runners went off course and the winner, Sheila Fisher and Northwoods Stable’s Storm Team, missed a beacon and was subsequently disqualified. When the dust cleared, it was Armata Stables’ runner up, Crealion, trained and ridden by Tom Garner, who was declared the winner in his first NSA start following 29 in Europe.

Crealion, a French-bred eight-year-old, led most of the 3-mile contest after betting favorite Court Ruler and recent My Lady’s Manor Stakes winner Our Friend went off course midway through. From there on, Storm Team and Graham Watters tracked Crealion closely over the timber and natural brush fences and through Swan Lake. Storm Team assumed the lead two fences from home, crossing the wire 2 ½ lengths in front. But after review, stewards disqualified the winner for missing a beacon.