Hudson River Farms' Winston C will look for back-to-back Grade 1 scores at Saratoga Race Course when he headlines Thursday's $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup, a 2 3/8-mile steeplechase event.
One of two entrants for Jonathan Sheppard along with All the Way Jose, Winston C returns for Thursday's test from a convincing 3 ½-length score in the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial on July 25 at the Spa.
The 5-year-old son of Rip Van Winkle was asleep at the break when last of 12 early on, but responded when roused by returning pilot Thomas Garner in the 2 1/16-mile, eight-jump Smithwick to win in a final time of 3:45.99 over firm footing, for his first North American victory.
Sheppard said he wasn't sure about his charge's efforts in the early stages, but was pleased with the end result.
“I'm not sure why, but I think the jockey just wanted to get him settled in a nice position and they went off pretty quick,” said Sheppard. “He's still adjusting a little bit to the American hurdles and maybe he lost a bit of time over the first jump or two. The further he went into the race, the better his jumping got. Obviously, he showed a real good kick in the straight and finished well.”
Winston C has won four-of-seven starts over the jumps and will be making just his third career start for Sheppard after previously being campaigned by Harry Fry in England. The bay gelding finished third in the Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle at Percy Warner in May when making his North American debut.
Buttonwood Farm's 9-year-old All the Way Jose, bred by Sheppard, will make his fourth appearance in the New York Turf Writers Cup, with his best result coming in 2017 when third in an event won by Diplomat. A veteran of 30 starts over the jumps, All the Way Jose has posted a record of 5-6-4 with purse earnings of $430,950.
By Senor Swinger, the gelding's most important score came in 2017 when a 1 ¼-length victor over Smithwick rival Modem in the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park.
Gerard Galligan, aboard All the Way Jose for a fifth-place effort last out in the Smithwick, retains the mount.
“He's a lovely old horse and a favorite in the barn. He's a homebred. He has a bit of age on him now, but he always shows up,” said Sheppard. “He's an honest horse and he should be competitive. He wasn't a threat last time. The jockey thought that he maybe lost a tad of speed going 2 1/16-miles and that 2 3/8-miles might suit him better. The further the better, really.”
Despite holding a pair of strong contenders, Sheppard was cautiously optimistic when asked if he was confident heading into Thursday's event.
“I read a quote somewhere, possibly from Aidan O'Brien, that a trainer always hopes, but he never expects,” said Sheppard with a laugh.
Robert Kinsley's Modem is one of three entrants for trainer Elizabeth Voss, along with No Wunder and Portrade.
The 9-year-old Modem has won four jump races in Europe, but has yet to break through in North America since arriving in 2017. The Motivator bay narrowly missed winning the 2017 renewal of the Grade 1 Grand National Hurdle at Far Hills when defeated a nose by Mr. Hot Stuff. That loss was one of five consecutive runner-up efforts in Grade 1 events for the hard-luck Modem.
Jack Doyle, who piloted Modem to an off-the-board effort in the Smithwick last out, retains the mount.
No Wunder, also owned by Kinsley, finished seventh in the Smithwick under returning rider Kieran Norris. The 8-year-old Rock of Gibraltar gelding, who has won three of 17 starts over the jumps, is in search of his first stakes win.
The Fields Stable's Portrade, a 10-year-old son of Trade Fair, captured the 2016 edition of the New York Turf Writers Cup. The classy bay, a winner of four steeplechase events, was sidelined following a fourth in the 2017 Smithwick.
He returned in April in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle at Glenwood Park at Middleburg and followed up with a run in the Grade 2 David Semmes Memorial at Great Meadow, but was pulled up in both efforts.
Ross Geraghty takes over from Doyle aboard Portrade.
Rounding out the field are Gibralfaro [Michael Mitchell], Hinterland [William McCarthy], Peppay Le Pugh [Darren Nagle], and Belisarius [Bernard Dalton].
The New York Turf Writers Cup is slated as the opening race on Thursday's 10-race card, which also features the $100,000 Riskaverse. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
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