Good fishermen know when it is time to leave their line be and when to start cranking the reel when a fish grabs hold of the hook.
There is no knowing whether Jack Doyle is an angler, but in Saturday’s 85th running of the $50,000 Carolina Cup, he displayed all the nerve and dexterity of one who has taken to the chilly waters of the Irish Sea in his homeland with rod and reel.
Riding atop DASH Stable’s Ice It for trainer Jack Fisher, the 29-year-old Doyle, sat toward the back of the eight-horse field as Barry Foley took defending Carolina Cup champion --- when it was run as a novice chase in 2018 --- to the point. A slow beginning gave way to a quick finish as Doyle took his mount to the lead at the 11th and final fence and went on to a six-length win over Invocation and jockey Sean McDermott at the Springdale Race Course. Personal Start was two lengths back in third.
The winning time for the 2 3/8th mile trek over a lush course listed as firm was 4:03.80.
As he made his way from the winners’ enclosure, Doyle made the stops from doing an interview on the National Steeplechase Association’s live stream and then, to the print media. He was in no particular hurry to return to the jock’s room, which was just the way he rode the 7-year-old gray Tapit gelding minutes earlier.
“I was quite happy to take my time,” he said of his ride in the afternoon’s feature. “My horse kind of has only one pace. They were quick early and they came back to me. He was able to travel into it easy. He jumped super … he did everything right.”
Personal Start, trying to become the sixth jumper to successfully defend its title in the race, broke alertly and carried Foley to second behind Special Skills with Willie McCarthy up as the duo set up rapid pace. Personal Start overtook Special Skills just past the first half-mile and carried the field with him for nearly two miles.
The pace was quick, maybe too quick, said Personal Start’s trainer Richard Valentine. In the same breath, he said Personal Start likes to run on the lead which is what he did in winning this race last year, albeit at the shorter 2 1/8-mile distance.
“I kind of always know that he wants to go there. You probably shouldn’t disappoint him. That’s the way he wants to run,” he said. “There’s a way you would like them run and a way they like to run. I’ve given up micro-managing my horses. I can micro-manage everybody around me, but not my horses.”
When Personal Start met the fourth fence, he had a two- to three-length lead over Special Skills as the field passed before the grandstand for the first time. The two jumpers were some six lengths ahead of the second group led by Surprising Soul, with Ross Geraghty up. Included in that grouping was Ice It, which lagged behind in fifth while Doyle bided his team before making his eventual move later in the race.
The field lost a jumper when Special Skills had a scary fall at the fifth fence in which he was able to recover from before being led back to its nearby barn.
Meanwhile, Doyle climbed into the thick of things down the back stretch. A slight hiccup at the ninth fence did not slow his momentum as Ice It surged toward the lead. “He made a little mistake, but not much,” Doyle said of the third from last fence. “He landed galloping and two strides after, I knew I was still traveling well.”
Drawing even with Personal Start and Invocation as the lead trio of jumpers met the final fence, Ice It was on the outside with Invocation inside with Personal Start the meat in the sandwich. Ice It met the last clean while Foley pulled back the reins after his mount did not have a clean jump. Invocation, meanwhile, gave itself work to do down the stretch against Ice It, which never broke stride and galloped along.
“I was quite happy to get a lead going down to the last. Then, it opened quite nicely for me,” Doyle said. “He winged it and from there, it was pretty straight forward.”
The first three finishers were chased to the finish line by Surprising Soul in fourth followed by Hinterland (Michael Mitchell), Show Court (Bernie Dalton) and Oskar Denarius (Thomas Garner) in a starting field of eight in which all but Special Skills (157), Personal Start (153) and Oskar Denarius (144) carried the high weight of 158 pounds as the Carolina Cup was run for the first time as a Ratings Handicap Hurdle.
Ice It, a $310,000 purchase by Steven Young at the November Keeneland Sales in 2012, was sent to trainer and Graham Motion. In two starts on the flat as a 3-year-old for the former assistant trainer to Hall of Fame conditioner Jonathan Sheppard, Ice It was never better than sixth in maiden races at Laurel Park. Its debut over fences, after being sent to Fisher, was a second at Maryland’s Shawan Downs in September of 2015. Three weeks later, Ice It broke its maiden in a $25,000 chase at Far Hills, N.J.
A horse which had high expectations, Ice It won the Queens Cup MPC Chase Hurdle Stakes in Charlotte in the spring of 2017. It would not return to the winner’s enclosure until taking the $75,000 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle Stakes at Callaway Gardens, Ga., in its most recent start before the Carolina Cup, which came last November. In between, in those nine starts, Ice It was second in the $75,000 William Entenmann Memorial Hurdle Stakes at Belmont Park last September. A fourth in $125,000 Foxbrook Champion Hurdle Stakes at Far Hills was followed by the victory in Georgia.
“It’s his first run in proper open company. He’s been in novice company the last two years,” Doyle said of Ice It, whose trainer was tending to Special Skills and was not included in the post-race winners’ photos. “This was a big step up.”
As the regular rider for trainer Elizabeth Voss, who did not have jumpers ready or entered onto the Carolina Cup card, Doyle picked up the ride aboard Ice It for Fisher. It was the first time the National Steeplechase Association’s 2015 earnings champion had the ride aboard Ice It, whose regular rider, Darren Nagle, is recovering from a leg injury sustained in training during the winter.
Doyle said he felt fortunate that he was able to pick up the mount aboard Ice It.
“I was delighted to catch a ride on him,” said Doyle who spent most of the winter in Ireland, in which he rode a handful of races, before returning to Maryland to work with Voss and her jumpers. He paired with Ice It for the first time in a point-to-point race in Warrenton, Va., two weeks earlier. Doyle left that event believing he had a live horse coming into Camden.
“He seemed in really good form. I had a good feeling for him after that day,” Doyle said. “I was happy to be riding him today.”