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With more divergent storylines than a Shakespearean drama, the 2010 Virginia Gold Cup turned out one part Dick Francis mystery, one part “My Friend Flicka,” with a side order of The Keystone Cops.
Arcadia Stable’s Bubble Economy pulled off a second score in the 85th anniversary running of the timber classic. But from before the start it was a win that nearly wasn’t.
The $75,000 headliner attracted 11 of the division’s elite, including 2008 Gold Cup winner Bubble Economy. The story became compelling Saturday morning when Bubble Economy’s stablemate Seeyouattheevent was a surprise defection a few hours before post time. Morning-line favorite on the strength of a solid April 17 win, Seeyouattheevent was mysteriously scratched, late, by trainer Jack Fisher. Fisher was predictably tight-lipped but allowed that Seeyouattheevent had been injured and would have the balance of the year off. Artist’s Stroke was taken out of the race late on Friday.
It was up to the two-time national champ, then, to secure an 11th Gold Cup score for Maryland-based Fisher. All that stood between Bubble Economy and the historic stake were four grueling miles and 23 sturdy fences. And nine competitors. At least there were nine when they left the saddling enclosure. The field soon contracted once again.
The plot thickened down at the start when one horse, Meet At Eleven, was kicked by another fractious entrant after the eager field clumped up when recalled from a false start. It was an accident, but one with serious consequences. The course veterinarian was on hand within minutes, quickly determining that while Meet At Eleven was not visibly injured, the direct blow to his lower leg could have lasting effect. The horse was scratched and sent back to the stable, further delaying the start as he left the course.
At last away from the flag, J. Alfred Prufrock and He’s A Conniver were off smoothly to set blistering early fractions, 2009 division champ Patriot’s Path and Fort Henry in their wake. Defending champion rider Paddy Young allowed Bubble Economy to settle into rhythm, finding stride mid-field as the group circled the Great Meadow oval.
“My horse was jumping well” in the early going, Young reported, “but just dawdling along. I kept him back . . . ” Young noted that Bubble Economy, a notorious “thinker” on the racecourse, should not be allowed to get the lead too early in his races, as he was likely to “just up and quit running” if alone on the front.
After completing three of the four miles, Fort Henry and He’s A Conniver were outpaced and eased, undone by the torrid pace and hot, humid day.
Young said he was unconcerned when shuffled back in to sixth headed to the pivotal water jump at 19. Nonchalance turned to alarm as Bubble Economy flew the fence, drawing even with the leaders.
“I was thinking, “’that horse is some kind of bastard,’ ” said Fisher of his thoughts as he watched timber racing’s “bad boy” take the lead with three fences, and a half-mile, to go. “You don’t know what he’ll do. He stops. He’ll screw around. He’s like a naughty schoolkid, always getting into trouble when he’s left alone. I was thinking lots of bad words.”
Young, too, worried. “I looked around for who was coming,” he said. Turning left, then right, searching for company, Young locked in on a looming Bon Caddo, lightly regarded but fencing superbly and taking dead aim on the leader from 10 lengths back in second.
“I saw Paddy keep looking back,” said jockey Patrick Worrall, at once confused by Young’s apparent hesitation but buoyed by the response from Bon Caddo. “I thought we had it.”
Bon Caddo advanced steadily to collar Bubble Economy on the long run from the north turn. And when the champ faltered with a casual step over the final jump, he surrendered the lead as Bon Caddo gained a length landing the last. “I set my horse down to the wire,” Worrall said. “But I could hear Bubble Economy coming back to me.”
And the race was on.
The world-class loafer was, at last, provoked into action. With encouragement — hands and heels only (“He’s not a horse you can use your whip on,” said Young) — from his jockey, Bubble Economy sparked up with the challenge and picked up his pace to the wire to win by a half-length.
“I was never so glad to have a long run-in,” Young said.
The winning time, 8:22 4/5, is second-fastest since the Gold Cup moved to Great Meadow near The Plains in 1985.
Owned by the Arcadia Stable syndicate, the winner adds to a steeplechase career that began as a 3-year-old back in 2002. Once part of trainer Rick Violette’s flat stable, the Pennsylvania-bred won for the 12th time over jumps and pushed his career earnings past $388,000 with the $45,000 payday.