Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard and owner William Pape kept their perfect meet record intact when Sermon of Love came from off the pace to win the $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup (NSA-I) (VIDEO) steeplechase Aug. 26 at Saratoga Race Course.
It was the fourth victory in as many starts over fences for Sheppard and Pape at the Spa, and the second for Sermon of Love, who also captured the $70,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes at Saratoga July 29.
“He seems to like Saratoga,” said Sheppard, who won the meet’s premiere steeplechase event for the 13th time in his career. It was his first since 2006. “He’s a useful horse, but his first couple of starts this year were very disappointing. He just seemed kind of flat. I think the blinkers made a big difference.”
Ridden by Brian Crowley, Sermon of Love rated comfortably behind the pace set by 21-1 shot Swagger Stick, who was making his first start since May 8.
A 7-year-old Pulpit gelding, Sermon of Love gathered momentum on the outside approaching the final stretch run, cleared the last of 10 fences and sprinted to the wire in 4:36.83 for 2 3/8-mile distance. Arcadius, one of three Sheppard-trained horses in the race, made a bid along the inside to finish second, beaten a length.
Swagger Stick held on to finish third, a half-length in front of Divine Fortune, the second half of the even-money favorite entry with Sermon of Love.
“We figured there were two or three horses with some speed, and to tuck in not too far behind them and don’t leave him with too much to do, and if he’s going well enough, try not to hit the front too soon,” Sheppard said. “[Crowley] rode a picture-perfect race. He did a very good job."
Sermon of Love returned $4.30 on a $2 win bet for his second win in six starts this year. It was his fourth in 25 career tries over jumps. He improved his earnings to $275,901.
“He traveled great, as he normally does,” Crowley said. “I had a terrific session with the jumps, and he just hit every one, spot on. He was traveling everywhere that I wanted him to. I just didn’t want him to go to the front too soon, but I got a great jump over the last and I had to send him on his way. He was just brilliant today.”