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Virginia Gold Cup
Doc Cebu and Michael Mitchell fly high en route to victory in the Virginia Gold Cup. (Tod Marks photo)
By Vicki Bandure
The Virginia Gold Cup, held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia, is one of the oldest steeplechase race meets in the country, and normally takes place on the first Saturday in May each year, but was moved to June 27 this year. The races were run this year without spectators, with limited people on the grounds (participants and essential personnel only), and without the usual social activities that accompany the races because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coverage of all races was provided livestream on the NSA Network (nsa.network.video).
By Don Clippinger, National Steeplechase Association; photos by Tod Marks
Two-time timber champion Doc Cebu took command late in the $40,000 Virginia Gold Cup on Saturday, June 27, 2020 and drew away with authority in the classic signature race of the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup races at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains.
Hudson River Farms’ Codrington College, who had led from the seventh fence to the next to last on the emerald Great Meadow course, finished second, 12 1/4 lengths behind Doc Cebu, and Irv Naylor’s Super Saturday finished third.
Ridden by Michael Mitchell, 2019’s co-champion jockey, Doc Cebu jumped strongly throughout the Virginia Gold Cup’s four miles and delivered a dominant victory for owners Charles Fenwick Jr., Mike Hankin, and Charles Noell.
The timber classic was the second straight stakes victory for the ownership team, which races other horses in the name of Bruton Street-US, which was 2019’s champion owner. A race earlier, Bruton Street’s Snap Decision scored a similarly dominant victory in the David Semmes Memorial over hurdles.
Both winners were saddled by champion trainer Jack Fisher.
Doc Cebu was second to Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu in Middleburg Spring’s Middleburg Hunt Cup two weeks earlier, and the Virginia Gold Cup shaped up as a battle between the two champions. Trained by Leslie Young, Andi’amu had won last year’s Gold Cup and went on the secure the 2019 timber title.
In the Virginia Gold Cup, Andi’amu had proved that he could stay four miles; Doc Cebu, who was pulled up in his only 2019 start in the Gold Cup, had yet to win at that distance. He was no stranger to Great Meadow, however. He won the International Gold Cup at Great Meadow to lock up the timber titles in 2017 and 2018.
Fisher-trained Storm Team went to the lead in Saturday’s Gold Cup, with Andi’amu stalking him and Doc Cebu toward the back of the six-horse field. The race’s complexion changed before the seventh fence when Storm Team went off course to jump a steeplethon fence and Andi’amu followed him off course.
As both were pulled up, Codrington College took over the lead, and Mitchell moved Doc Cebu forward to shadow the new leader. Through the final mile, Doc Cebu jumped the fences strongly and repeatedly took the lead, only to have Mitchell rein him in and keep Codrington College as a target.
Mitchell allowed the Hard Spun gelding to have his way after the next-to-last fence, and Doc Cebu waltzed home with an overwhelming victory. Now 10, Doc Cebu ran the four miles in 8:15 2/5 on turf rated as good.
Snap Decision takes David Semmes
Snap Decision, the reigning novice champion and also by Hard Spun, became an open stakes winner in the preceding race when he surged late to win the $35,000 Semmes Memorial by 4 1/2 lengths. Naylor’s Chief Justice got up in the final strides to take second, a neck ahead of Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean.
Under a well-timed ride by Sean McDermott, Snap Decision was ahead of only a lagging Iranistan as first Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget and then Jacqueline Ohrstrom’s Winner Massagot set the pace in the 2 1/8-mile Semmes.
Snap Decision moved forward entering the final turn on the Great Meadow course and drew into contention at the next-to-last fence as Winner Massagot began to tire. Snap Decision snapped to the front at the last and easily led to the finish line under modest pressure from McDermott.
Barry Foley pressed Chief Justice through the final furlong to take the second spot for Naylor and trainer Cyril Murphy.
Snap Decision ran the Semmes’ 2 1/8 miles in 3:58 1/5 on turf rated as good.
Purchased from the Phipps Stable in late 2018, Snap Decision had two seconds in his hurdle debut races in the 2019 spring season before scoring his maiden victory at Monmouth Park on July 4.
He demolished a good allowance field at Saratoga Race Course in August before winning Belmont Park’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes and Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle to claim the title for newcomers to jump racing.
Trainer Young and jockey Thomas Garner collected their second victories of the afternoon when Ballybristol’s Mercoeur fought off a late challenge from Invocation and McDermott to win the $20,000 Steeplethon over mixed obstacles.
Pak Yer Tack, who had briefly challenged Mercoeur for the lead near the two-mile mark of the three-mile race, finished third in a field of eight.
Armata Stables’ Some Response grabbed the early lead under Bernie Dalton, with Mercoeur close behind him. Some Response led for the first half of the Steeplethon before Mercoeur moved to the lead. After the leader dispatched the challenge from Pak Yer Tack, Donna Rogers’ Dapper Dan advanced toward Mercoeur before the splash through Swan Lake.
Winner of the 2019 International Gold Cup Steeplethon, Dapper Dan appeared to be poised to challenge Mercoeur but fell at the stone wall in the final mile. Straylight Racing’s Invocation, winner of Middleburg Spring’s Alfred M. Hunt steeplethon two weeks earlier, took up the chase and appeared ready to take the lead at the last.
But Mercoeur dug in through the stretch under pressure from Garner and increased his advantage to the finish line for a 6 1/4-length victory.
Young and Garner had combined forces to take the afternoon’s first race, a $20,000 maiden hurdle, with Gill Johnston’s Emerald Rocket.
Mitchell won the second division of the maiden hurdle with Riverdee Stable’s Lonely Weekend, trained by Todd Wyatt, and he added third and fourth victories with Robert LaPenta’s Fast Car in the maiden hurdle for four-year-olds and DASH Stable’s Shark du Berlais in the first division of the waiver claiming hurdle. Fisher trained both winners to conclude his four-bagger.
Elizabeth Scully, a 10-pound apprentice jockey, collected her first victory over fences when she pressed Naylor’s Elucidation to the lead in deep stretch to overtake Bodes Well in the $25,000 ratings handicap for horses ranked at 125 or lower. Cyril Murphy trained Elucidation.
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