Gold Cup headed back to Tennessee | News | – Fauquier Times

Saturday’s International Gold Cup headline feature went from a power-packed field of the nation’s top timber stars to a lopsided match race and a lonely, 50-length victory for Tomgarrow and Tom Garner (no relation.)

How it happened is quite a story.

The International Gold Cup anchored a rich day of racing Oct. 23 near The Plains. Thousands were on hand to watch the eight-race program at the popular pari-mutuel meet. Race co-chair Al Griffin said “everything about the day is perfect” before the races started, signaling a return to near-normal for the events center, the race circuit and the strong fan base. “We’ve been looking forward to this.”

The 84th contest to capture the priceless King of Spain trophy promised to be one for the record books, Griffin said.

And it was.

Timber racing’s current darling, Schoodic had pummeled the field in the Virginia Gold Cup five months ago over the same Great Meadow course, and he’d won the 2019 International Gold Cup and been nearly perfect over timber since. Schoodic was the one to beat.


Tom Garner and Tomgarrow, no relation, draw off for a 50-length score in the featured International Gold Cup. It was Garner’s third win on the card, putting him at the top of the riders’ table with three weeks to go in the season.

Renegade River came into Gold Cup with cred, having beat Schoodic by a neck at Willowdale in early May. And then there was Storm Team, third, behind Schoodic, four weeks ago at Shawan, but Storm Team won the stake at Virginia Fall two weeks ago in what many considered the perfect set-up for the 3 ½-mile race.

Tomgarrow has been chasing them – and nearly catching them – since making the hurdle-timber switch last November. Four times he’s been second this term, including to Schoodic in the May 29 Virginia Gold Cup.

Stand Down, outrun in the 2018 International and unplaced in 30 months, was outsider in the elite field.

But stranger things have happened on the racecourse, so nobody discounted even the out-of-form Stand Down.

Drama was promised on the racecourse, but it started early in the day when Virginia Racing Commission veterinarians gauged morning-line favorite Schoodic slightly lame during their mandated pre-race health check. He was re-presented to the panel by trainer Jack Fisher for a recheck a short time later, but further testing confirmed an uneven gait, and the horse was scratched.

This left confirmed front-runners Storm Team (Graham Watters up for Fisher) and Renegade River (Parker Hendriks) free to tangle for the early fractions without the expected pressure from the famously strong-paced Schoodic.

“They were going a good pace, strong and steady,” said Tomgarrow’s jockey Tom Garner. Garner said he’d wanted to keep Tomgarrow “handy,” just off the pace, and he was sitting just where he wanted to be in the first mile. Stand Down (Eddie Keating) was a few lengths behind Tomgarrow.


Tomgarrow, Tom Garner up, and Stand Down, Eddie Keating, jump together early in the Gold Cup.

As the field rounded the bend and entered the homestretch on the first of three circuits, Storm Team met the fifth fence perfectly, jumping boldly and gaining two lengths on Renegade River. Watters steadied and straightened the chestnut gelding, angling slightly to the right for the approach to the timber jump in front of the stewards’ stand. Keating tapped Renegade River on the shoulder to reengage the battle and followed him to it.

The problem with their strategy? They were headed toward the wrong fence.

Lying third with a clear view of what was happening, Tom Garner recognized the mistake. He tugged urgently on Tomgarrow’s left rein so his horse didn’t follow the leaders off course.

“I knew what they’d done as soon as I saw it,” Garner explained later, saying he’d walked the course and studied the map to confirm that the correct sixth fence was actually a few dozen yards to the left of the jump Storm Team was headed to. “My lad, he did everything right. He wanted to follow them, no doubt, but he stayed honest, and he was pretty bold once we had to step it up and (take the) lead” when Storm Team and Renegade River were pulled up, disqualified for going off course.

Tomgarrow led, Garner said, with increasing confidence, putting almost a fence between him and Stand Down by the time he stopped the clock at 7:34 1/5.

“My heart sank for (the connections of) Storm Team and Renegade River” when she saw the riders’ confusion at the sixth jump, said trainer Leslie Young. “You know, that’s horse racing. You do everything right and a mistake like that changes it all. You know, the same thing happened to us with Andi’amu.” Andi’amu veered off course, to the wrong jump, in the 2020 Virginia Gold Cup, followed closely by Storm Team.

photo_ft_horse_MerryMaker 2.JPG

The fall colors blended with the lush turf at Great Meadow. Here, Merry Maker, no. 7, takes his time in the early running before drawing off to win the maiden hurdle.

Watters was unwilling to comment on the incident after the race, saying he “has to talk to the stewards” in an official debriefing, along with Keating, at the end of the day. “Simple, we were off course,” he allowed, without elaborating on what caused the confusion.

Garner said he thought it could have been the bright sun that came out from behind the persistent cloud cover that marked the rest of the day as the feature got underway. The homestretch is oriented to the west-southwest, so the afternoon sun shines straight down the straightaway.

“You hate it that’s the way it happened, but we’ll take it,” said Mark McMillan, part of the Leipers Fork Steeplechase syndicate that owns the winner. “I mean, who doesn’t want to win a Gold Cup. That’s been on my bucket list for years.”

McMillan and syndicate partner Mark George are both from Nashville, Tennessee, and they said they’re tickled by the Tennessee link to the King of Spain trophy. The solid gold King of Spain trophy was first offered at the old Grasslands Downs just south of Nashville, Tennessee in 1930. “We’re bringing it back home,” joked George. “Yeah, that was a crazy race. All I knew was that two horses were right, and two horses were wrong” when they split up after the fifth jump.

“I hoped Tomgarrow was right.”

It was the first stakes win for Leipers Fork Steeplechase, named for the small village south of Franklin where several other syndicate members live.

The rest of the card

Irv Naylor’s highly regarded Bedrock, an eight-time winner in Europe, delivered a powerful 7 3/4-length victory in the grade 2 $75,000 Ferguson memorial hurdle handicap.

Rider Gerard Galligan handled the 8-year-old for trainer Cyril Murphy and his Maryland connections. Bedrock rated off the early pace set by Iranistan, rallying in the top of the stretch to draw off for Galligan’s second win on the day.

Silverton Hill’s Bodes Well (Garner) gave a jumping-clinic performance over the varied course for the win in just his second steeplethon start. Trainer Leslie Young said she prepared the Irish import for the different jumps he’d find in the specialty division by schooling him over big grids and sending him to Olympic three-day event champion Boyd Martin’s farm, near hers in Unionville, Pennsylvania, to practice jumping up and down an earthen bank and to learn to gallop into, through and out of knee-deep water.

“He’d never done any of that,” Young said. “He was running over hurdles in mid-September, and he made the switch three weeks later, just beat at Virginia Fall (in a cross-country race.)

“He’s a real clever horse, just wasn’t the stakes-level over hurdles. I didn’t want to be ‘filling races’ and running for place money. He’s brave and smart, and made the conversion super easy.”

The win, one of two for Young on the day, gave her the lead heading into the last three weeks on the National Steeplechase Association season. Garner won three to take command in the riders’ race. Complete results and more photos are at

Steeplechasing returns to Virginia at the Nov. 6 Montpelier Races in Orange County.