Aiken Spring Steeplechase has sunny outcome despite rainfall
There are so many adjectives and phrases that can be used to describe George and Sue Sensor’s Sunshine Numbers, the venerable veteran, old war horse, durable campaigner, but there aren’t enough words to define the size of the 11-year-old dark bay gelding’s heart as he cruised to an easy victory Saturday in the day’s feature race, under the confident handling of Arch Kingsley, Jr., in winning the Grade 3, $50,000, 2 mile Budweiser Imperial Cup at Ford Conger Field.
The early fractions of the race were dictated by the winner of the 2012 edition of the race Pullyourfingerout (IRE) and Karen Gray’s Cuse, but Arch Kingsley, Jr. kept the pace setters within his sights. However, as the field began turning for home, Kingsley, Jr. and Sunshine Numbers commandeered the lead at the race’s eighth fence, repulsing the bid of Oakwood Stable’s Country Cousin, and drew away in the stretch for a comfortable victory.
“Everyone thinks he’s just one dimensional, and has to have the lead,” said a jubilant Arch Kingsley, Jr., who also conditions the son of Polish Numbers. “Ross (Geraghty, Pullyourfingerout (IRE)) was determined to take it away from him. and so was Gus Dahl (Cuse). He (Sunshine Numbers) was content to sit behind what he thought was an unreasonable pace at least in that ground, and he didn’t want to go any quicker than that. And thankfully, at the end, I had a horse that saved enough that had something to finish.”
Sunshine Numbers has scored victories by large margins previously, where he’s set the race’s pace and never looked back in capturing the 2011 Carolina Cup by a 27 1/4-length margin, and winning the Hobkirk Hill allowance last November at Springdale Race Course in dominating fashion by 10 1/2-lengths.
“He has that intangible quality of rising to the occasion, and always overcoming the problems that come his way,” said Kingsley, Jr. “He’s not been a horse without problems. He’s like all the good ones. He’s had soundness problems and issues along the way. He always seems to get right at the right time, and bring it when the chips are down. I’d like to tell you that I had something to do with that, but honestly I think the horse just has some inner clock that puts him right. I think he’s better than the company he’s running in.”
It was Sunshine Numbers 12th lifetime victory, and the New York-bred gelding had breen training well coming into Saturday’s race, said Wendy Kinglsey, the trainer/jockey’s wife, who had high expectations for the veteran runner in the Imperial Cup.
“If he’s even close to being right, he shows up and performs better than you could ever expect,” said Wendy Kingsley, the trainer/rider’s wife, and a former upper level eventer. “He’s just a really special animal to us. We are thrilled for Sue and George.”
Arch Kinglsey, Jr. was the leading rider by money earned in 1997 and 1999, and the veteran jockey who has won more than 125 races, was in the irons on Sunshine Numbers Saturday.
“I was a little nervous,” said Wendy Kingsley. “My hands were shaking a little and I had to take a few breaths. I’ve been a wife of a jockey for so long. One would think that I would be used to it now. I have as much confidence in this horse as Arch does, and when he says, ‘What do you think about me riding him,’ I say, ‘Absolutely.’ There is no question in my mind. The two of them of just know each other better than anyone else. I have the absolute utmost confidence in the both of them. I will admit, I had a little shaking of the fingers.”
Gregory Hawkins’ Alajmal won the W.C. Jackson by daylight, coasting to an 8-length win in the day’s opening race, a 1 1/4-mile training flat race, that was used as a prep for this week’s Carolina Cup at Springdale Race Course by Hall of Fame trainer Janet Elliot. The winner was ridden by jockey Ross Geraghty. Alajmal finished third in last year’s Grade 1 Colonial Cup, and the son of First Samurai scored wins at Saratoga and Penn National during his 2012 campaign.
“He’s a young horse, a 5-year-old,” said Elliot. “I bought him in England as a 2-year-old for Gregory Hawkins, who is a wonderful owner. He started over fences last year for the first time. He’s looking like he might be the real McCoy, with any luck.”
Farm d’Allie’s Pleasant Woodman was convincing in scoring an impressive victory in the day’s second race and first over hurdles at the 47th renewal of the Aiken Spring Steeplechase. The 5-year-old chestnut gelding conditioned by Doug Fout, was ridden to victory by Jeff Murphy. The son of Woodman went to the lead early, and didn’t look back en route to winning by a wide margin. But, it hasn’t always been easy for the Louisiana-bred, and some adjustments were made for Saturday’s race.
“He’s been a bear,” said Fout. “We ran him last year, and we had some thirds and seconds with him, and then he’d be off the board. He’s been a very difficult horse. He’s tough to train. He’s tough to get settled. So, we took a lot of the gear off him. We used to run him with a running martingale, try to rate him, hold him back, and he just seemed to fight and fight it more.”
Fout did add a pair of cheater blinkers to limit the gelding’s peripheral vision to keep the horse straight for Saturday’s race.
“What he had been doing before, when he got inside the wings, was that he had wanted to jump across the fence instead of straight, so we tried a couple of different things, and had him fit,” said Fout. “So, I knew this being a tight course, a small course with a lot of turning, it would give him a chance to get back and not see a bunch of fences in a row, and not get rambled.”
Dale Thiel’s Meeting seemed to save the best for last, and his closing kick allowed him to make up enough ground late, collaring and then turning back the challenge of Apostasy to win the G.H. Bostwick handily under jockey Paddy Young. The 4-year-old gelding is conditioned by Ricky Hendriks. Young wasn’t discouraged with the early pace set by Lucky Will.
“It didn’t bother me,” said Young. “I just rode my own horse where he’s comfortable, and then took it from there. The second half of the race is the more important part.”
Dale Thiel’s Sir Dynamite raced close early, and then raced unhurried before advancing into contention, and would eventually edge forward to a clear advantage for the victory over Dugan and More Tea Vicar in the Charlie S. Bird, III Stakes.
The winner is trained by Britt Graham and was ridden to victory by jockey Mark Watts.
“Sir Dynamite is a nice, lovely horse,” said Watts. “He’s a nice, big horse, traveled really well today, and I was really happy with the way he went. I got to the lead a little bit too soon. Bernie’s (Dalton) horse (More Tea Vicar) got tired, and that left me in front, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I picked it up going down to the last pretty well, and finished winning pretty easy.”
Laura Thiel Shull’s Moving Violation should have been ticketed for speeding as the gelded son of Medaglia D’oro dominated the field. The winner was trained by Britt Graham and ridden by Mark Watts.
“His jumping kept him in it,” said Watts. “I was glad to have two winners for Britt Graham. She does a great job with her horses. She’s an excellent trainer. She told me to let them do their own thing, and try to get them to relax, both of them.”
The Aiken Steeplechase Association is extremely appreciative for the support of the community, who came out for Saturday’s races despite the rain and cooler temperatures, said Georgianna Conger Wolcott, Aiken Steeplechase Association.