Irv Naylor’s Almarmooq, ridden by Gerard Galligan and trained by Kathy Neilson, won the 81st Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.
The steeplechasing season in Chester County wrapped up for the year with a beautiful day of racing at the 81st running of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, run Sunday, Nov. 1 in Unionville.
Top honors in the $35,000 PA Hunt Cup went to Irvin S. Naylor’s Almarmooq, trained by Katherine Neilson and ridden to the win by Gerard Galligan.
A field of six went to the post for the four-mile race over 22 timber fences, but Darren Nagle pulled up Schoolhouse Woods after the first fence. Kieran Norris on Renaissance Stable’s Aero was left in the lead going at a leisurely speed. “There was no pace. The pace setter was taken out of the race so we just went on a leisurely gallop,” Galligan said after the race.
Last year’s PA Hunt Cup winner Delta Park was stalking Aero for the first half of the race until he lost rider Sean McDermott about half way through the race. “I stayed closer on the second lap because everyone had just so much left it would be a sprint. Rather than make up the ground on a sprint, it’s better to be closer on the end,” Gillian said.
The stretch run was dramatic, with Almarmooq pulling out the win by a neck in a time of 10:18:3/5. Running second was Cornhusker with Mark Beecher up and Aero in third.
“Cornhusker is a solid horse in the divisions. It was a wide open race. Aero’s a good horse. We were just very lucky it was our day today,” Galligan said. “Kathy (Neilson) was confident. Obviously it was a wide open race, a very tough race it was, but Kathy said the horse was in great form.”
This year’s Hunt Cup card included two other timber races as well as a flat race and the Pony Hunt Cup.
Ledyard Timber Race
The sanctioned races began with the $15,000 Lewis C. Ledyard Maiden Timber Race. The winner, in a time of 6:47:2/5, was Leffingwell Lion, owned and trained by Elizabeth C. Korrell and ridden by Steve Pateman. This was the first win in America for Pateman, who is from Australia where they have racing over hurdles, but no timber racing.
The pace was set for most of the race by Annie Yeager on Spectacular Squall, but when it came to the stretch it was a three horse battle between Leffingwell Lion, Touchdowntony with McLane Kendriks, and Kieran Norris on Adios Diablo, with the three finishing in that order just heads apart.
“He’s a very good jumper,” Pateman said after the race. “He ran at Middleburg. He probably appreciated the bigger fences here. He went a lot better.”
The $20,000 Arthur O. Choate Jr. Memorial Timber race was won by Darren Nagle on Grand Manan, an entry of Donald Reuwer Jr., trained by William Meister.
“That horse is a nice horse and he’s green still. He doesn’t even know what he’s doing yet,” Meister said after the race.
Grand Manan didn’t look green, taking command of the field for the entire race and winning easily with a 24 length lead in a time of 6:29:4/5.
The horse has had problems getting to this point, including a bout with liver failure that nearly killed him. Meister has stuck with him in spite of health and training issues. “I’ve found three of the screws and tightened them up. Once I find the fourth one, he can go anywhere.”
The day finished up with the Athenian Idol Flat Race for apprentice jockeys. The win here went to Going For It, owned by William L. Pape, trained by Jonathan Sheppard and ridden by Keri Brion.
“I actually got left at the start a little bit. I was a little worried. My instructions were to be close and I was last early, but he just drug me out there and did it all himself. I never really asked him,” Brion said after the race. “He did it all on his own.”
The Hunt Cup is also a good day of racing for junior riders, with PA Pony Hunt Cup races offered in a field master chase format.
Small and medium ponies ran together with awards presented for the first finishers in each size division.
The small pony trophy went to Theo Sushko on his pony Fun Size. “I was really happy with my pony. This is my last race since I’m outgrowing her. I finished out well,” he said. Going to the start, Fun Size was full of energy and ready to run. “She thinks she’s a horse. She knows that it’s a race so she gets excited.”
First under the finish line was medium pony Fiona with rider Skyler McKenna. “I’m just really happy for my pony,” said McKenna who won the race last year as well. “She ran a lot better this year. She acted like she knew what she was doing and was relaxed. I’m getting too big for her so my younger sister (Nina McKenna) is going to race her in the spring.
There was a separate race for the Large Pony division, with 12 year old Maggie Buchanan taking the win on Mookie Monster. “This is my first win here,” Buchanan said after the race, explaining her strategy. “She was pretty strong, but the paint pony Super Sally is her friend so I just stayed right behind her and she didn’t pass the field master. Ella Brophy and I were head and head.”
In the junior horse race trophies were presented to the first finisher and the first non-thoroughbred under the wire.
The race winner was 16-year-old Tatiana Sushko on Christian Star; “I was in fourth, and then I kept moving up because the horses in front were a bit slower,” she said. Sushko raced in the pony division last year at the PA Hunt Cup, but has now moved up to the horse division. “I love him. He’s awesome.”
The first non-Thoroughbred finisher was 15-year-old Malachi Lyles on Jeanie, owned by Work to Ride. “She’s a pretty good horse. She threw a couple of bucks today but I hung on,” Lyles smiled. “She’s a little older so she’s a little bit slower. She’s a polo pony. She does pretty good in both, but she likes racing better.”