Darren Nagel celebrated his 100th career victory after winning the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup with Irv Naylor’s Ebanour. Photo credit Marcella Peyre-Ferry
The 83rd running of the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in Unionville, PA was held Sunday, Nov. 11 under cloudy skies, on turf that was wet from rain the previous night yet firm for good going.
For the second year in a row, Ebanour, owned by Irvin S. Naylor and ridden by Darren Nagel, was the winner of the $35,000 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, even though trainer Cyril Murphy had not originally planned to run the horse in this race.
“We planned not to come last year. We didn’t get to the (Virginia) Gold Cup. At Geneseo (the Genesee Valley Hunt Cup in October) he turned over and stung his stifles and this was a backup,” Murphy explained. After that fall last year, Darren Nagel replaced Gus Dahl for a winning ride his first time on the horse in last year’s PA Hunt Cup.
Once again this year, Murphy had hopes of taking Ebanour to the fall Gold Cup. “After this spring, winning at the Gold Cup, the plan was to try to get back to the International Gold Cup in the fall. We went to Shawan Downs (in September) to give him a run around and we finished where we anticipated he would finish. We went to New Jersey (Far Hills) and he ran and jumped terrible. You couldn’t put a finger on it. He just didn’t seem to have any enthusiasm to run and jump on the day.”
Although he was entered for the International Gold Cup this fall, his poor trip in New Jersey forced a change in plans. “He rapped an ankle behind and he was just a little sore. There was just too much at stake to go down there and not do himself justice. With an extra week off coming up here and have him perform like he did last year, it was a good alternative for him,” Murphy said. “Four miles suits him to the ground, he just travels and he jumps. Between Gus and Darren they know how to get a tune out of him.”
Ebanour ran in the middle of the pack for most of the race. In the final stages of the race, when other horses were tiring, Ebanour kept up the pace, overtaking the leaders to win by an 18-length margin in a time of 9:20 for the 4-mile course.
“People have been misled into thinking he’s got a good turn of foot because of how he’s finished his last few races. Going four miles, he’s a very good staying horse, and he outstays everyone and they’re backing up in front of him and it exaggerates the turn of foot he has,” Murphy said. “It’s great to finish the year like this because we put a lot of time and effort into him. He’s got plenty of idiosyncrasies at home and when you get him to the races and he performs like he did today, it’s just a big ‘we did something right’.”
The trophy presentation was delayed when a claim of foul was lodged against Nagle and Ebanour. Eventually, the claim was not upheld.
“It’s always in your mind that it can go one way or another. But he was a superior horse on the day. He put plenty of distance between himself and everyone else, so it would have been a big disappointment if he had lost it,” Murphy said. “Everything I could see, it looked pretty clean for everybody.”
The win on Ebanour was a landmark 100th steeplechase victory for Nagel, who came prepared with a sign to mark the occasion when he came in first.
Beecher Wins Two
The two other sanctioned timber races on the card were both were wins for jockey Mark Beecher.
The first race of the day, the $15,000 Lewis C. Ledyard Maiden Timber race, was a battle of attrition, with early leaders El Jefe Grande and Our R J both losing their riders on the first lap. Beecher on Bruce Fenwick’s Daddy in the Dark came into the last fence just ahead of Jack Doyle on Durer.
Durer rubbed the top rail of the last fence and flipped over, leaving Daddy In The Dark to run uncontested for home. Touchdowntony was a distant second place finisher with the remaining horses being pulled up.
“That last fence is like a bloody brick wall, so you want to make sure you’re right when you come to it, but you can’t be trying to set him back either because you lose too much time,” Beecher said.
The $20,000 Arthur O. Choate, Jr., Memorial timber race was also a win for Beecher on Rosbrian Farm’s Class Brahms and trainer Tara Elmore.
Byron Moorcroft fell from early leader Secret Soul, cutting the three-horse field to two. In a competitive stretch run, Class Brahms won by a neck over Darren Nagel on Bruce Fenwick’s De Chera.
“It was just kind of judging when to give my horse a breather and when to go after the other horse,” Beecher said. “I just had to make use of my jumping over the last two and I just about did enough.”
Also on the sanctioned racing card was the Athenean Idol flat race where a field of ten took on the 1 3/8 miles of turf. At the finish it was Sea of Erin under Lydia Rose with a win by three lengths. Sea of Erin is owned by William Pape and trained by Edward Graham.
Side Saddle Returns
This year, the PA Hunt Cup continued the recently added side-saddle race, but this time in the format of a Field Master’s Chase. The new structure kept the field in a pack behind the Field Master over the course and jumps. It produced a much more competitive race when the pack was released to run at the top of the stretch.
“That makes it a little more interesting,” said Julie Nafe, who was first under the wire on McCrady’s, a horse owned and trained by Lauren Schock. “This mare likes to run in the front. It’s a little more difficult for her to understand why there’s somebody in front, but she rated beautifully for me the entire time.”
McCrady’s is hunted regularly with Radnor Hunt, and the Field Master’s Chase is more like being in the hunting field than racing. “There’s thoroughbreds and non-thoroughbreds, so it’s a little bit of a slower pace with some nicer fences and it really keeps everybody together for a nice idea of how a lady should look out on the hunt field,” Nafe said. “She’s truly a wonderful horse. She has a soft mouth that allows you to work on you, not your horse. The fences here are extremely inviting, so it makes it a lot of fun.”
A prize was also awarded to the highest finishing non-thoroughbred horse. That award went to Telly, ridden by the only male rider in the race, Andrew Camp of Middleburg, VA. Camp rides in accurate tradition for side saddle of earlier years, when trainers were all male, and had to learn to ride aside to properly train horses for lady riders.
“In the 20s and 30s, in the heyday of side saddle, all trainers were men so they had to ride aside; they just were never photographed,” Camp said. “I am wearing tweed today and not my formal. I’m supposed to be dressed as a stud groom, I am technically the second horse for my lady. She would get done with her horse, then she would be going to my horse for her second and I would take her first horse home.”
A warmblood cross, Telly was not at the front of the race, but did a good job of staying with the pack. “She moves those legs nice and fast against those thoroughbreds, so I’m really happy with how she finished. Getting the first-place non-thoroughbred, I’m super proud,” Camp said.
The Field Master’s Chase format was also used for all the junior races. The first race of the day was for junior riders on horses, with fourteen-year-old Skyler McKenna first under the wire on Embarrassed, a horse trained by her mother.
“It was awesome. He’s a really fun horse,” McKenna said. “Sometimes I get too scared I’m not doing the right thing and go too soon or too late. I listened right to my mom’s directions,” she said.
Winning honors were also given to the top finishing non-thoroughbred. That award went to thirteen-year-old Parker Hendriks on his Irish Sport Horse, Ted. “He’s great. He’s big and strong, but if you can control him he’s great,” said Hendriks, who hunts the horse every weekend with Cheshire Foxhounds. “He’s big and strong but he doesn’t try and run off with you.”
Small and medium ponies raced together with the Medium Pony win going to Count Chocula, ridden by thirteen-year-old Teddy Davies of Monkton, MD. This was just the second time Davies had raced the pony, with his first time out in a flat race at Geneseo. “He was a little strong but really good. This time I had a lot of competition. I had good ponies to compete against and my good friends too.
The first small pony to finish was Chewy, ridden by thirteen-year-old Anna Farber of West Chester, PA. “He was actually very good. He was cooperating, he was doing everything perfect,” she said. She enjoys the Field Master’s Chase format. “I like it because it’s very orderly. You’re able to organize yourself a little bit better than if you were just going straight in a line.”
The last of the Pony Hunt Cup races was for large ponies. The win went to Bailey, ridden by fourteen-year-old Theo Sushko. “This race was a good race. I kept right up there behind the field master,” he said. Sushko also likes the race format. “It’s a totally different thing. It’s fun and all, but it can be tough holding them back and obviously there’s a lot more tactics to it, because you have the whole long jumping as opposed to going straight down the stretch.”