Saratoga Diary: Weighty Issues

Hirapour, the 10-year-old gelding with designs on a second Eclipse Award as the country's top steeplechase horse, displayed his versatility in winning the A.P. Smithwick Handicap (NSA-II) earlier this meet.

On Thursday, he was asked to carry a load – a really big load of 164 pounds – over 10 fences and 2 3/8 miles of firm turf. And, as the 1-2 favorite in a field of seven horses, he couldn't do it.

Jonathan Sheppard recorded his 12th New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap (gr. I) win by lifting the saddle and Danielle Hodsdon up on to the back of Mixed Up, a 7-year-old Carnivalay gelding from a nondescript mare.

In so doing, Sheppard denied Hirapour a third Saratoga victory. The first came in a betless exhibition on the Open House day, but it was, all the same, impressive, even though the Daily Racing Form had it down as a workout.

Mixed Up finished second to Hirapour in that outing, but this time he ran 16 pounds lighter and 2 1/2 furlongs longer. Perhaps the weight and the distance conspired to his benefit.

The New York Turf Writers Cup is an oddly named stakes because turf writers, as a rule, don't take very kindly to jumpers. What's ironic about this situation is that steeplechasing is prettier and as thrilling as racing on the flat, and one would expect differently.

What explains the lack of interest? Well, it could be that many turf writers aren't writers at all, but touts with a typewriter. For someone who enjoys using words to describe his experiences, steeplechase events should be turn-ons.

In any case, it was good to see a grade I steeplechase as the headliner of the card. With a purse of $159,000, the New York Turf Writers Cup deserved to be the feature.

Chantal Sutherland rode her first winner of the meet in the seventh race. Sutherland, like Hodsdon later, did a workwomanlike job of bringing Cooking the Books home at 9-1. The race was a 1 1/8 mile allowance purse for 3-year-olds and up, and the charming Canadian waited patiently before making her charge.

Last year, Sutherland captured the attention of Saratoga racing fans by riding several long shots to victory in the first couple weeks. She may be over her head in the current jockey colony, but trainer Leah Gyarmati knew that on this one, at least, Sutherland would be shoulders over the rest.