A fine day in the country: Recap of the 65th running of the Block House Steeplechase
&bsp;The first race of the day, the $15,000 Foster Cup, got proceedings off to a rousing start for seven maiden leapers; Karen Gray&squo;s Bawdy Ballad taking an early lead for the first of three times around the challenging Tryon course. After these first six furlongs of the two and 3/8 miles distance, the four-year-old exchanged the front runner&squo;s role with stablemate BK&squo;s Double Jade and Manown Kisor&squo;s Heir Apparent. However, as the field ascended the long hill for the third time, Double Jade began to fade and Bawdy Ballad regained the lead on the downhill back stretch, Heir Apparent in hot pursuit. Charging around the last turn into the straight, rider James Slater and his Bawdy companion sailed the last fence and pulled away to flash under the wire five and a quarter lengths to the good. Michael Traurig and Heir Apparent held on for second money, with Will Haynes and Honour Emblem another length and three quarters back for third.
&bsp;The Cannon Harmon Memorial, another maiden chase at the same distance, provided more of the same, except that General Roanoke presented Cranmore Stables and trainer Joe Walsh with a wire to wire win by a four and a quarter length margin. Jockey Mark Watts and the ten-year-old had plenty of competition from Karen Gray&squo;s CrackMeUp and Dutch Smoke; but, although the two stablemates took turns trying to overtake the leader, the General, evoking the battle axiom, &dquo;they shall not pass&dquo;, held the lead from start to finish. CrackMeUp and Dutch Smoke held their own, finishing second and third.
&bsp;The third race, a $15,000 claimer for older horses, resembled a class reunion for Tryon &dquo;alumni&dquo;, as River Bed, winner of the 2007 Block House; Fabi&squo;s Legacy, who put on a show last year in this race winning by six and three quarters length after unseating his rider before the start, then making a solo tour of the course; and Pal&squo;s Pride, third in the 2008 Block House … all showed up for another try for gold and glory. For a brief moment at the start, it appeared that the fractious Fabi was about to make a repeat performance. However, although the horse misbehaved again, his jockey stayed aboard, and the only problem was a well-deserved bad start. By the time Richard Spate had Fabi&squo;s head turned forward, the two of them were ten lengths behind. Nevertheless, Fabi flew in pursuit, finally catching the field after the first&bsp;&bsp;&bsp;&bsp;&bsp;&bsp;&bsp; go-around, and actually taking a temporary lead for the last circuit.
&bsp;Meanwhile, Kevin Pallister&squo;s Pal&squo;s Pride and Calvin Houghland&squo;s Bow Strada alternated at the front, with trainer Paul Rowland&squo;s Swimming River challenging. As the field surged down the hill for the last lap, these three regained the lead from a tiring Fabi. Then, at the last fence, Darren Nagle and Pal&squo;s Pride moved ahead and, in a furious stretch run, just barely won the close contest by a quarter-length from a fast closing Swimming River, with Summersville getting up for third.
&bsp;Only four chasers went to the post for the featured $25,000 Block House Steeplechase; however, smallish fields often portend fine racing because the good horses are afforded more racing room … and these were four good horses. At the start, Irvin Naylor&squo;s Dubai Sunday and Linda Klein&squo;s Orchid Princess moved to the fore, while Karen Gray&squo;s Cuse and William Pape&squo;s favored Mixed Up were content to follow just off the pace. However, as the horses climbed the hill and started down the back stretch for the third time on the two and a half mile course, Cuse and Mixed Up made their moves, passing the leaders. Dubai fought back and the threesome rounded the stretch turn as a team, jumping the final fence in a tight group. The drive for the wire was the deciding factor and it was heady rider Danielle Hodsdon who had the most horse left. Mixed Up charged under the wire two and a quarter lengths ahead of a game Dubai Sunday, Cuse another length and three quarters&bsp; back in third. Mixed Up&squo;s victory moved the ten-year-old into second place for money won among active leapers, while Danielle Hodsdon claimed the second spot on this year&squo;s jockey list and Jonathan Sheppard remained the perennial champion of all-time trainers.
&bsp;The last two races were the ever-popular amateur flat dashes, again divided into divisions for thoroughbreds and non-thoroughbreds. The first of the two contests produced three thoroughbreds with Randi Hogan aboard her Seven Sails, Erin Gambrell up on Deadly Liaison, and Jordan Hicks riding Pam and Nelson Minnick&squo;s aptly named Tiger Lion. At the drop of the flag, Seven Sails took a considerable lead, holding it up and down the high hill on the one-mile course. However, as the three horses neared the finish, Tiger Lion forged ahead, winning a decisive victory, with Seven Sails second by several, and Deadly Liaison third by many.
The last race, a six furlong sprint for non-thoroughbreds, drew five horses and riders, including Libby and Robert Arnold on Joel Vaughn&squo;s Betsy&squo;s Special Lace and Pal; Randi Hogan up on her A.J.; Amanda Billharz riding Larry Gardner&squo;s Thirsty Lil Abbie; and Erin Gambrell aboard Mascal Milligan&squo;s Rock Around The Block. The race, a veritable cavalry charge, ended in the above order, wife Libby and Betsy edging Bob Arnold and Pal, with Randi Hogan and A.J. holding on for third.
It should be mentioned that this year&squo;s Block House Steeplechase and the entire race meeting were dedicated to long-time race chairman Tom Mosca, who retired last year after twelve years at the helm. The success of this &dquo;nice day in the country&dquo; has been a fitting tribute to Tom and his leadership.&bsp; &bsp;