For Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, winning the New York Turf Writers Cup (NSA-I) never gets old.
On the afternoon of Aug. 22 at Saratoga Race Course, odds-on choice Italian Wedding took the lead approaching the final fence and held on to give Sheppard his 14th training victory in the Turf Writers Cup, a $150,000 steeplechase at 2 3/8 miles (VIDEO). Sheppard also is the owner and breeder of the 8-year-old gelded son of Alphabet Soup, who came off a runner-up finish in the Aug. 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Stakes (NSA-I).
"He's a tough, honest little horse," said Sheppard, who most recently won the NYTW Cup in 2010 with Sermon of Love. "He seems to like Saratoga; he won up here two years ago. Obviously, he ran well in the Smithwick. It's a handicap, so he was getting a little bit of weight from some of the top horses. He is a horse that I bred myself. I own his dam and his grandmother, and it means a lot. It was a fun race and I was really proud of him."
With Bernie Dalton riding, Italian Wedding settled in mid-pack as Brave Prospect led the field of nine jumpers through the first 1 1/2 miles. With Smithwick winner Mr. Hot Stuff taking over, Italian Wedding began edging closer and took command with a three-wide move on the far turn. He held on to score by one length over the fast-closing All Together.
"He ran really well last time in the Smithwick off about a year and a half layoff," said Dalton. "I didn't feel like he got tired the last time, and Mr. Sheppard said he felt like he had a horse that improved off that run. I had a lot of confidence going into the race."
Part of a three-horse Sheppard entry that was sent off at 9-10, Italian Wedding returned $3.90 for a $2 win bet while carrying 146 pounds. He completed the distance in 4:30.61. The Turf Writers Cup was only his third start since November 2011; prior to the Smithwick he was fourth in the Carolina Cup in March 2012. Overall, he is 4-3-1 from 19 starts over fences. He was bred in Florida out of the Citidancer mare Effervescent.