There’s a fascinating race occurring on American shores on Thursday, as several formerly British and Irish trained horses clash in a Grade 1 Steeplechase at Saratoga!
Steeplechases are a rarity over the Atlantic, especially at the top level, but Saratoga hosts a fascinating contest on Thursday. The Grade 1 A P Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Stakes is a two-mile race over the smaller obstacles and the majority of the field is recognizable for British and Irish viewers.
The race is one of two Grade 1 events staged over obstacles at Saratoga, with the other being the New York Turf Writers Cup, scheduled to take place in late August.
The early favourite for the contest is the formerly Dan Skelton trained Optimus Prime, who, who was placed at Grade 1 level back in 2018 at Punchestown. He joined Richard Hendriks in 2018 and landed the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap Hurdle just 103 days later. He’s been absent since May 2019, where he took home the Grade 2 David Semmes Memorial Chase at Great Meadow.
Pravalaguna was a very useful mare for Willie Mullins, rated 144 at her peak and even aimed at the Cheltenham Festival. She left Mullins after winning a Conditions Hurdle at Far Hills in October 2019. She will be joined in the line-up by Gibralfaro, a useful handicapper in his prime for Alan King who has yet to show his best form in the States since joining Jack Fisher.
Other horses who were formerly trained in Britain & Ireland are Moscato (Oliver Sherwood), Chief Justice (Gordon Elliott), Redicean (Alan King/David O’Meara), Beslisarius (Aidan O’Brien) and Winner Massagot (Dan Skelton).
A race of variables
The standard-setter is course and distance Grade 1 winner Optimus Prime, who was rated 145 at his peak and although he’s been absent for a long time, he’s the one they all have to beat if he returns at anywhere near his best. That being said, Pravalaguna has only been absent since October and she receives weight from her main market rival. Her best form puts her straight into the argument alongside Surprising Soul, who was a Grade 1 winner at Belmont Park last year, albeit over 2m 4f.
Another Grade 1 for Garner?
Winning the 2016 Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, Tom Garner has been based in the United States for a number of years now. A familiar name for many National Hunt fans, he’s a dual Grade 1 winner over the pond, winning both of the top-grade contests that Saratoga offers. He’ll bid for a hat-trick and a second victory in the A P Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase aboard Redicean. He finished third in the Grade 1 Far Hills Grand National in October behind Brain Power, but he should be a different proposition on Thursday dropped to two miles.