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A change in conditions becomes a Cup ratings bonanza
Quality field of nine eyeing Saturday’s $50,000 feature
Willie Jack web.jpg
WILLIE MCCARTHY WILL GET the ride aboard Special Skills for seven-time defending champion trainer Jack Fisher (right) in Saturday’s $50,000 Carolina Cup. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I

For the first time in its history, the $50,000 Carolina Cup will be run as a ratings handicap, and Saturday’s historic race attracted a field worthy of a graded stakes with five highweights.

The 85th annual Carolina Cup race meet marks the arrival of spring in South Carolina’s Midlands, and this year’s edition of the Camden tradition attracted strong, full fields for its six races. First post time is 1:30 p.m. at Springdale Race Course, and the races can be viewed on the Nationl Steeplechase Association’s Network’s livestream.

The Carolina Cup is limited to competitors with National Steeplechase Association ratings of 130 or lower, and five of the prospective starters previously had been rated at 130 by the three-member ratings committee and thus share the 158-pound highweight.

Heading the quality-loaded Carolina Cup is local favorite Show Court, owned by South Carolina attorney Mark W. Buyck Jr. and trained in Camden by Arch Kingsley Jr. The Irish-bred jumped into the ranks of Grade 1 winners last summer when he won Saratoga Race Course’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial.

He closed his 2018 season with an easy victory in an allowance hurdle at the Steeplechase at Callaway in Georgia. Bernie Dalton, who also is based in Camden, has the mount.

Kingsley also will saddle Carrington Holdings’ Boss Man, the strapping winner of Belmont Park’s William Entenmann Memorial Novice Stakes last September. Thomas Garner will ride the Florida-bred, who carries 155 pounds with a 127 rating.

Jack Fisher, the champion trainer for the last seven years, will saddle two highweights among his three entrants. DASH Stable’s Ice It broke through for a victory in last November’s Aflac Supreme Hurdle for novices and will be ridden by Jack Doyle.

Ice It shares a 158-pound weight assignment with Harold A. “Sonny” Via’s Hinterland, who finished second to champion Zanjabeel in last September’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) at Belmont Park before a fourth in the Far Hills Races’ Grand National (Gr. 1). Michael Mitchell has the mount.

Fisher also will saddle Special Skills, who is making his first start in 22 months for owners Sheila Williams and Northwoods Stable. A novice stakes winner in 2016, Special Skills will carry 157 pounds based on his 129 rating and will be ridden by Willie McCarthy.

Sean McDermott, currently leading the jockey standings after two wins at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase last weekend, has the mount on Straylight Racing’s Invocation, who jumped up to a 130 rating with impressive victories last fall in ratings handicaps at Far Hills and the Steeplechase at Charleston for trainer Billy Santoro.

The fifth highweight is Wendy Hendriks’ Surprising Soul, who was guided through a conservative racing program last year by trainer Ricky Hendriks, the owner’s son and last year’s second-leading trainer by wins and purses behind Fisher.

Surprising Soul won Radnor Hunt Races’ National Hunt Cup (Gr. 3) and Saratoga’s Michael G. Walsh Novice Stakes in three starts last season. Ross Geraghty has the mount.

The Carolina Cup was a novice stakes last year, and the winner, Magalen O. Bryant’s Personal Start, was entered for a shot at a second victory in the meet’s premier race. The Jump Start gelding won the Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) after his victory at Springdale.

Trained by Richard Valentine, Personal Start shoulders 153 pounds with a 125 rating and will be ridden by Barry Foley.

Valentine also will saddle Apple Equipment’s Oskar Denarius, a three-time winner in England last year who most recently finished third at Charleston. The Irish-bred is weighted at 144 with a 116 rating has Shane Crimin up.