Jonathan Sheppard broke out in a laugh when asked about Orchestra Leader after it jumped to victory in Saturday’s $25,000 Ratings Handicap Hurdle which was part of inaugural Cup Runneth Over race card at the Springdale Race Course.
“He’s like me, improving like a fine wine,” said the 78-year-old Hall of Fame trainer of the 10-year-old Van Nistelrooy gelding which snapped a six-race skid. Keri Brion booted her mount home to a ¾-length victory over Pik Em and Willie McCarthy with Ack Fiesty and Gerard Galligan getting up for third in a race which went off with 14 starters with a dozen finishers.
The winning time for the 2 3/8-mile race over 11 National Fences over a course listed as good was 4:13.60.
The victory was the seventh over hurdles in this country for Orchestra Leader and its first since coming to Sheppard’s barn after having won five times over fences for trainer Jimmy Day and once for Ricky Hendriks.
The one constant for Orchestra Leader, which broke its maiden at second asking at Ireland’s Navan Racecourse in 2011, has been Brion. The rider was in the irons for three of Orchestra Leader’s previous four wins; three of which came at the Foxfield Races in Charlottesville, Va. It was Ross Geraghty who got the call when Orchestra Leader last made a visit to the winners’ enclosure in Charlottesville in a $25,000 allowance hurdle on Sept. 24, 2017.
Brion settled her mount in the middle of the pack and jumped the fourth of 11 fences second behind Castle Hill and Thomas Garner in a neatly packed group of 14 which passed in front of the grandstand for the first time. As the field headed toward the 11th and last fence, Brion took her mount along the inside rail to the point, with the Sheppard-owned and trained Wigwam Baby (Aaron Sinnott) a half-length behind.
Orchestra Leader, the grandson of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, went to the middle of the track and jumped the last ahead of Barhanpour (Geraghty) before the winner held off a late charge from Pik Em in deep stretch.
Brion settled Orchestra Leader into a comfortable rhythm in the early stages before asking him for one final kick at the 11th fence and galloping to the wire.
“In a better field, he needs to step back,” Sheppard said. “(Brion) did a good job rating him in the first part of the race and then, moved up nicely. He hung on gamely and was actually drawing on at the end.”
Brion asid she altered Orchestra Leader’s running style Saturday.
“He used to run quite free and on the front end with blinkers on,” she said. “It worked for a long time, but we just decided that he’s getting older and didn’t just want him to be the bunny rabbit, per se, on the front end. I tried to settle him early and he had cover for the first couple fences.
“His jumping is just so good. He’ll jump any horse into the ground when he’s jumping well. I knew I could use that. It was just a matter of what he had left (at the end.)”
Brion said that under Sheppard’s tutelage, Orchestra Leader has become a different horse with a change of barn an direction. “It paid off today,” she said of the switch.
With a win in a race for jumpers rated at 115 and below, Orchestra Leader should climb in the ratings and find itself against better quality jumpers. That, Brion said, makes it almost impossible to plan the next start for her mount. She hinted Orchestra Leader could be headed to the Iroquois Steeplechase in Nashville on May 11 to run in the three-mile, $35,000 Bright Hour Ratings Handicap Hurdle.
A win in a point-to-point race last month in Warrenton, Va., set Orchestra Leader up nicely for its 10-year-old debut in Camden.
“Everyone has stayed in on him and we’re just so grateful,” Brion said, “because today it finally paid off.”
The afternoon of jump racing was originally slated to be the Georgia Steeplechase until slow ticket sales forced its organizers to cancel the event with the Carolina Cup Racing Association agreeing to host a second consecutive weekend of racing after the Carolina Cup seven days earlier.
The crowd was much smaller Saturday, but the racing itself was a step up from the Camden spring classic. Here is a brief recap of the afternoon’s races:
A Change is gonna come: Change Maker and Sean McDermott stalked the early pace set by Ross Geraghty on Capo Dei Capi in winning the afternoon-opening $15,000 maiden claiming hurdle.
McDermott held the lead entering the 10th and final fence in the 2 1/8-mile trek. They hugged the inside wing in jumping the last fence alone and went on for the 2 3/4-length victory in a time of 4:09.80 for trainer Alicia Murphy.
Naval Gazer (Kieran Norris) was second with Moorland (Willie McCarthy) coming home third in the field of nine starters.
Say it again: Kieran Norris took Repeat Repeat to the front early and stayed there, fending off a furious charge from Jump Ship (Richard Boucher) in deep stretch to win the $30,000 Sport of Kings Maiden Hurdle.
Trained by Julie Gomena, Repeat Repeat made the 2 1/8-mile trip in a clocking of 4:05.
Boucher, who was fifth on Jump Ship at the last fence, was a neck behind in second with Gaye Breeze (Sean McDermott) hanging on for third in the field of 10.
Reeling him in: Crazy Bernice (Graham Watters) enjoyed a double-digit length lead for the first half of the $20,000 Filly & Mare Maiden Hurdle only for Michael Mitchell to bide his time aboard Amnicalola, trained by Jack Fisher.
Mitchell’s patience paid off as he took his mount to the lead on the turn for home, met the 11th and final fence ahead of Forgiving (Jack Doyle) which was coming on the inside to Mitchell’s left. Amnicalola had too much left in the tank for the stretch run, winning in fairly easy fashion by 4 ¼ lengths.
The final time for the 2 1/8-mile trip over ground listed as good was 3:45.60.
Choklitcoverdonut (Gerard Galligan) was able to hold off Inverness (Keri Brion) for second in a field which went off with 10 jumpers.
Make it to go: Camden-based trainer Arch Kingsley Jr. ended the day by saddling Two to Go for a winning ride in the 1 ¼-mile training flat race.
Michael Mitchell was aboard for the 1 1/4-length victory which took 2:09 to complete.
That’s That (Eve Ledyard) came home in second with Diplodocus (Ross Geraghty) third in the field of nine.