SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hudson River Farms’ Winston C stayed off the pace and made a strong move from the outside following the last of the eight jumps, taking command in the flat portion of the race and outkicking Vosne Romanee by 3 ½ lengths to win the Grade 1, $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial in the opener of Thursday’s card at Saratoga Race Course.
The first of two Grade 1 steeplechase races scheduled for the summer meet, the 23rd running of the A.P. Smithwick saw 12-1 Sempre Medici lead the 12-horse field through each of the eight jumps over the approximately 2 1/16-mile course over the firm inner turf.
Under jockey Thomas Garner, the Irish-bred Winston C, was second-last entering the penultimate jump but made a hard charge around the final turn, going four-wide to take command. Winston C held the edge in the stretch with Vosne Romanee challenging from the outside, but surged to the wire, extending away to hit the wire in 3:45.99 to give Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard his sixth A.P. Smithwick victory.
“That was great. A great way to start the meet,” Sheppard said. “You always feel a little bit of pressure every year. We’ve had a quite a few good years up here, but every year is a new challenge and it’s nice to get that monkey off our back. The jock gave him a great ride and the horse ran well. ”
Off at 3-1, Winston C returned $8.70 on a $2 win wager. The 5-year-old Rip Van Winkle gelding was coming off a third-place finish in the Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle on May 11 at Percy Warner in his North American debut after posting a 5-1-5 record in his first 17 starts in England.
“I’m not going to say I expected that flat run from him, but I hoped for it,” Sheppard said. “He’s a little quicker than the average European steeplechase type. He ran well in his last race at Iroquois [Steeplechase] in Tennessee, and I thought he was well enough to come back and enter here, and he showed it today. Having the race under his belt certainly helped him.”
Since switching to jumps, Winston C is 4-0-2 in seven starts, with Garner aboard for both of his races in the United States.
“We had it planned in our head that we were going to line up halfway down the field,” Garner said. “It didn’t quite go to plan. We didn’t get the best of starts and went a really, really quick gallop for the first mile. My lad didn’t go as well as I hoped, he wasn’t jumping.
“I just wanted to get him in the rhythm and make sure he was doing his job properly, so I took a pull on him,” he added. “I got his confidence going and got him back jumping. He’s a very good horse. He went four or five-wide because I had no choice and I swung into the straight and he just kept going. He’s a really nice horse and one for the future.”
Vosne Romanee, the 8-year-old veteran making his 51st career start, finished three-quarters of a length ahead of 33-1 Hinterland for second.
Gibralfaro, All the Way Jose, Bedrock, No Wunder, Sempre Medici, Peppay Le Pugh, Belisarius and Modem completed the order of finish. Show Court, the winner of last year’s A.P. Smithwick, was pulled up in the stretch and vanned off. Portrade, an also-eligible, was scratched.