After a gutty score at Saturday’s Old Dominion Hounds steeplechase at Ben Venue Farm, 2011 looks like a breakout year for Kinross Farm’s Sand Box Rules — though things didn’t start out that way.
He didn’t win in three starts on the turf, and failed to fire in 11 over hurdles. A talented jumper, making the switch to timber was the next natural step last spring. But Sand Box Rules remained winless through five starts in the first half of the year before lighting up the board with a big surprise win in the Steeplethon over varied obstacles in October.
On Saturday, though, Sand Box Rules (Chris Read up) earned every inch of his half-length victory from Maryland Hunt Cup-prepper Professor Maxwell (Gus Brown) and sets himself up as one of the powerful stable’s most promising young timber horses.
The 7-year-old — five years Professor Maxwell’s junior — finished third in his 2011 debut two weeks ago at Piedmont. Professor Maxwell won his seasonal bow at Warrenton the week before, and the Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point feature promised an excellent match for two early circuit standouts.
They didn’t disappoint.
Off well from the flag, Maryland shipper Across The Sky (Fritz Boniface up) took command early, but jumped erratically and lost his rider at the 13th of 18 fences. Professor Maxwell (Gus Brown) inherited the lead and fenced flawlessly to lead by five on the tight final turn. He looked a winner down the long backstretch, traveling well in hand and galloping strongly on the lead.
But Sand Box Rules hadn’t yet given his best, said rider Chris Read. “He really responded” when asked to quicken downhill to the last, Read said. The bay gelding loomed outside Professor Maxwell to jump the last a half-stride back, then inched to — and past — to win by a half-length at the line.
It was a huge win — Professor Maxwell won at Old Dominion in 2008 for former owner George Hundt before joining the stable of current owner Jacqueline Ohrstrom for the 2010 season. He was sixth in the Grand National last April before losing his rider at the huge 16th in the Maryland Hunt Cup.
Professor Maxwell was third in the four-mile Pennsylvania Hunt Cup last November and came into the Old Dominion headliner aiming for another run, trainer Richard Valentine said, at Maryland’s big timber this month.
Sand Box Rules is “really coming together,” said trainer Morris of the score. “We’re looking at maybe the (April 23) Grand National next,” where the two Virginia-based runners could clash again. Sand Box Rules was a good third to the talented Fort Henry last April at My Lady’s Manor, proving himself over the testing course at Monkton before the big Steeplethon win at Great Meadow.
Morris has historic precedent targeting the Grand National — he won the allowance race there in 1999. That year, Kinross Farm’s Stopped Silence beat eventual Maryland Hunt Cup winners Swayo (2000 and ’03) and Solo Lord (2001.) Sand Box Rules is “a very good jumper,” Morris said, pointing out that the big, upright post-and-rails at the Butler, Md. course call for experience and “scope.”
It was the third win on the card for trainer Neil Morris. Formerly private trainer for Kinross, Morris opened a public string last year. Saturday, he also saddled Bert Firestone’s homebred Lake Placid to win the open hurdle. Third-generation Firestone stock, Lake Placid outgutted Fantastic Foe down the backstretch, turning back a late challenge, drawing clear by the last and pulling off for the nearly five-length score in the fastest time of the day for the two miles — 3 minutes 53 seconds. Matt McCarron was aboard. His other winner was Last Noble in the maiden hurdle for the Noble Stables syndicate.
There were five fallers at the meet, but there were no serious injuries to horses nor riders. The most frightening was Freddie’s Fortune (Molly White up), who upended at the last jump in the ladies’ timber, and, winded, stayed down for several minutes. The gelding got up after being attended by a veterinary crew and walked back to the vans.
Junior horses. 1. Questioning, o/r Zoe Valvo; 2. Lone Arrow, o/Billy Eyles, r/Isabella Eyles.
Novice rider turf, first division. 1 ½ miles. Times: 3:01. 1. Call You In Ten, o/Peggy Steinman, r/Victoria Lawrence; 2. One Sea, o/Randy Rouse, r/Eiligh Grant; 3. Manhattan Boy, o/Maggie Bryant, r/Sarah Green. 7 started.
Second division. Time: 2:57. 1. Better Be Ready, o/Clorevia Farm, r/Keri Brion; 2. Pitched Perfectly, o/Joe Henderson, r/Sam Frederickson; 3. Crookshane Lad, o/Cranmore Stables, r/Nial Molloy. 7 started.
Virginia-bred turf. Purse: $2,000. 1 ¼ miles. Time: 2:16 2/5. 1. Daytime, o/Jim Falk, r/Jeff Murphy; 2. Snowbuster, o/John McCormack, r/John Delaney; 3. Rockmani, o/Celtic Venture, r/Jacob Roberts. 6 started.
Ladies timber. 3 miles. Time: 7:12. 1. Katie’s Prince, o/r Lucy Horner. 4 started, 1 fell, 2 pulled up.
Maiden Hurdle. 2 miles. Time: 4:03. 1. Last Noble, o/Noble Stables, r/Jacob Roberts; 2. Temple Fair, o/Randleston Farm, r/Jeff Murphy; 3. Sharif Al Medina, o/Sharon Sheppard, r/Chris Read. 4 started.
Owner-rider timber. 3 miles. Time: 7:24. 1. Westbound Road, o/Lucy Stable, r/George Hundt Jr.; 2. Cool Fellow, o/r Ken Shreve. 5 started, 1 lost rider, 3 pulled up.
Open hurdle. 2 miles, Time: 3:53. 1. Lake Placid, o/Bert Firestone, r/Matt McCarron; 2. Fantastic Foe, o/Julia Thieriot, r/Jeff Murphy; 3. Zulla Road, o/Celtic Venture, r/Jacob Roberts. 5 started, 1 pulled up.
Open timber. 3 miles. Time: 7:29. 1. Sand Box Rules, o/Kinross Farm, r/Chris Read; 2. Professor Maxwell, o/Jacqueline Ohrstrom, r/Gus Brown. 5 started, 2 lost rider, 1 pulled up.