Delta Park, right, won the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup for trainer Jack Fisher. Cornhusker (not pictured) finished second, with Hot Rize (center) in third.
Sean McDermott on Delta Park won the $35,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup on a windy Sunday, November 2 near Unionville, PA. This was the 80th running of the prestigious steeplechase over a four-mile course with 22 timber fences.
Delta Park, owned by Arcadia Stable and trained by Jack Fisher, laid off the pace for most of the race, letting Justin Batoff on Major Malibu lead the first lap. The lead changed to Sovereign Fund with Annie Yeager up for the latter half of the second lap, while the rest of the six horse field followed, remaining in striking range.
By the time they hit the final fence at the top of the stretch the early leaders had been left behind, with Mark Beecher on Cornhusker, Delta Park and Willie McCarthy on Hot Rize jumping close together for the lead. McDermott had the most horse left for the final run, pulling out the win by a two length margin over Cornhusker with Hot Rize another two lengths back in third, in a winning time of 9:20 4/5ths.
Delta Park had finished second at the Hunt Cup last year, but had taken a fall earlier this season. Following the race, McDermott credited Fisher for having brought him back into winning form. "It's a testament to Jack Fisher's training to bring him on so well-schooled, and he jumped beautifully today," he said. "A lovely man to ride a winner for is Mr. Brewster, and a lovely lovely horse."
McDermott's plan for the race had been to wait before going for the lead, a strategy that worked well on the challenging course. "He jumped beautifully today. It's a safe track you need a good horse to jump around here."
In spite of the victory, McDermott's day at the Hunt Cup races was marred by a fall in the Lewis C. Ledyard Maiden Timber race, with Tennessee Bend. "I'm sad about that as we lost the horse, but that's racing," McDermott said. "He was actually jumping too well and he hadn't rubbed a fence all the way, unfortunately he rubbed and it is very sad, He was a beautiful horse. My heart goes out to (trainer) Willie Dowling."
In that race, there were just two finishers out of the seven starters. Willie McCarthy and Wingo Star also fell and three others pulled up. The safest place was on the lead, where the ultimate winner Senior Senator and second place finisher Vine Hill with Robert Walsh were. Those two traded the lead several times while managing to avoid the problems behind them to make it safely under the wire, with Senior Senator winning in a time of 6:40 1/5th.
Jockey Eric Poretz had his worst troubles with 4-year-old Senior Senator before the start. He was thrown on the way to the starting line and had to jump back on by himself. Poretz explained that Senior Senator can be a hard ride, and the only time he is good is when he is on the front. "He settled up about half way through. He's so big, when he jumps he gets a length on everyone."
The remaining timber race was the Arthur O Choate, Jr., Memorial Allowance Timber, which was won by Jacob Roberts on Irvin S. Naylor's Almarmooq.
This was Robertsí second race on Almarmooq, having finished second two weeks earlier in the Gold Cup. "We had a bad third to last at the Gold Cup or I think we might have won it. It's just a different track (here at the Hunt Cup), I think he'd prefer this," Roberts said. "He jumped great. He's an absolute Cadillac to ride."
Wrapping up the day of racing was the Athenian Idol flat race, which was won by Wantan, ridden by David Byrne for Rosbrian Farm. Wantan covered the 1 3/8 mile turf race in a time of 2:38 4/5th.
Junior riders get their chance to race as the day opens, with horse and pony divisions of the PA Junior Hunt Cup Races run in a Fieldmaster's Chase format. The entries follow the fieldmaster over a course of fences just as they would in the hunt field. They must stay behind the fieldmaster, until released after the final jump. At that point, they are free to race to the finish line.
In the junior horse race, the first finisher was 15-year-old Virginia Korrell on Cortona. "She's a home bred. She ran on the flat for a while, and ran here last year. She was a little bit easier to hold this year," said Korrell, who would like to follow in her father's footsteps and become a jockey.
In the same race, the first non-thoroughbred to finish is also recognized with a trophy. This year the non-thoroughbred winner was Jeanie, owned by Work to Ride and ridden by 14-year-old Malachi Lyler. He has been riding three years, and this was his first appearance at the Hunt Cup races. "It wasn't too tough. After my first lap I got used to it," he said.
The Large Pony race was won by 13 year old Ella King Brophy on Modernly Millie. She's a family horse, everybody rides her," said Brophy, who also hunts. The windy day contributed to making it a challenging race. "All the ponies are fresher, itís harder to stay behind (the fieldmaster). Most of the ponies aren't fooled that itís a fox hunt."
There were no small pony entries this year, but the Medium Pony race was well filled with Skyler McKenna of Unionville riding to the win on Fiona. "It was pretty good. At some points I thought I was going to pass the fieldmaster," she said.