Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete, the leading steeplechase earner of 2004, won his first open grade I stakes with a stirring stretch run in the $150,000 Iroquois (NSA-I) Saturday at Percy Warner Park.Trained in Virginia by Neil Morris, Sur La Tete made the lead exiting the final turn but was quickly joined by a surging McDynamo who had gradually worked his way into the race after being last of eight in the early stages. The 2003 Eclipse Award winner reached even terms with Sur La Tete, but came up short in the final yards. Sur La Tete found more in the last furlong, drawing off to score by 2 1/2 lengths for jockey Chris Read. McDynamo (Craig Thornton) was second with Bow Strada (Matt McCarron) third. The winner covered the 3 miles and 18 fences in 5:47 3/5."The horse proved himself today," said Morris. "He's been almost, but in the top three, in these grade I races. I think he's even closer to the top today. It's everything, a dream, these are your fantasies as a trainer."Second and third, respectively, behind Hirapour in the Royal Chase (NSA-I) at Keeneland three weeks earlier, the two horses confirmed their quality but Sur La Tete proved just a bit better. The 7-year-old son of Sky Classic, bred in Kentucky by Rutledge Farm, won for the second time this year and lifted his NSA-leading total to $148,665 for the year with the $90,000 winner's share.The win was easily the most important of Read's career. Also Morris' assistant trainer, the jockey lost his apprentice allowance two weeks earlier, and rode like a veteran at Nashville."McDynamo came right at us at that turn, and I could feel him," said Read. "I knew I just had to get a clear shot at those last two fences in the stretch. He hit the ground running at both of them. We just missed at Keeneland. To come back and do it here is great."Sur La Tete, McDynamo and Hirapour will likely continue their rivalry this fall, if not sooner. The next grade I comes at Saratoga with the $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup in late August. October's $175,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase will no doubt be on their agenda as well.
Other stakes winners (with trainer, jockey) Saturday were Whitewood Farm's Understood (Richard Valentine, Calvin McCormack) in the $50,000 Marcellus Frost Stakes (NSA-III), Irv Naylor's Albert's Crossing (Sanna Hendriks, Jody Petty) in the $50,000 Mason Houghland timber stakes, and Lee McKinney's Feeling So Pretty (McKinney, Michael Traurig) in the $30,000 Margaret Henley filly/mare stakes.