The usual place on the agenda for a steeplechase is the first race. But in deference to the lofty status of the $100,000 grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup, the jumpers were moved down the card a bit, thus moving up, in fact. The 2 3/8 mile fixture over fences went forth as the third and, wouldn't you know it, a 20-1 shot upset the field.
Spy in the Sky, trained by James Day, saddled by fellow trainer Roger Horgan and ridden by Liam McVicar, defeated Sermon of Love, a recent winner on the flat. It was only the fourth victory in 13 starts for the 5-year-old Thunder Gulch gelding, but it was his biggest in a relatively brief career.
Sermon of Love, you'll recall, was the horse that rider Danielle Hodsdon convinced trainer Jonathan Sheppard to enter against marathon runners in a bumper. The result brought Hodsdon a first winning ride in a Saratoga race that didn't require her mount to go up and over an obstacle. Spy in the Sky, by the way, gave McVicar his first win of the meet and his first National Steeplechase Association grade I victory ever.
If trainers were paid by the hours they sleep, they'd be paupers. Wednesday night's Belmont Child Care Association benefit ran to nearly midnight. Auctioneer D. Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Chad Brown, Chip Woolley, Jr., Gary Contessa and co-honoree Kiaran McLaughlin remained to the end. David Donk, the lesser half to wife Fay, the BCCA president, was last to leave. Yet, come morning, there he was on the backstretch, taking care of business again.
For the second time in 24 hours, the paddock was a busy place in the morning. By NYRA's published report, 25 Thoroughbreds scheduled to run this weekend were schooled. Quality Road, the Travers morning line favorite, was among a bunch that took several turns on the grassy patch for Pletcher. The Florida Derby winner, one of two grade 1 stakes winners in the Travers, was joined by Munnings, among others.
Almost all the horses schooled stood a little bit in the enclosed saddling enclosure, giving credence to the expectation that the fans will only catch a glimpse of them on Saturday. These days, very few horses are saddled under the trees, as encouraged. They're tucked far away on the far fence under the tented enclosure. When there's a big race, owners, officials, their friends and members of the press crowd in front and block the view of others. It's unfortunate that people who truly want to see the horses can't.
With a little more than a week to go in the meet, Linda Rice leads all trainers in races won, Ramon Dominguez is the top reinsman and Jeannette Jordan has been to more parties than everyone. She's at a good one tonight - the Travers Celebration at $300 per plate.