A spectacular point-to-point at Ben Venue

Timber feature winner Canyon Road, bred by Lewis Wiley of The Plains, flies a fence on the final circuit at Ben Venue Farm Saturday, on his way to an easy seven-length victory. Photo by Betsy Burke Parker

Winning over timber and winning over hurdles are as much about the differences as the similarities, explains jockey Jeff Murphy.

“A good horse is a good horse, to be sure,” said the Millwood-based Irish native, winner of both the timber headliner and hurdle feature at Saturday’s Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point held at historic Ben Venue Farm. “But your timber horse jumps different than your hurdle horse. They’re alike, but not alike. It’s all about scope.”

Murphy partnered Gordonsdale Farm’s Canyon Road to win the three-mile open timber, an impressive wire-to-wire score over the Ben Venue oval, and an athletic jumping display, in the fastest time of the day at the distance.

The West Virginia-bred has followed the classic trajectory of a steeplechase horse: first, a career at the flat track more for education than anything else since the horse was always aimed at jump racing, explained Canyon Road’s trainer Chris Kolb.

“I knew this horse was forever a timber horse in-the-making,” Kolb said. “He just has that look,” tall, solid, well put together, he added, and bold.

But Canyon Road was slow to mature, Kolb added, unplaced in three starts at age 2 at Charles Town for breeder Gordonsdale Farm.

“I think he beat one horse,” Kolb said with a sigh.

He was more competitive at 3 and 4 on the turf at point-to-points – second and third, and Canyon Road finished second first time out over hurdles, a promising start, Kolb said.

But Murphy said the horse’s jumping style from the very beginning always suited timber. “He’s a bit careful,” he said. “And that’s what you want over timber.”

Timber jumps are made of wood — post and rail, like at Ben Venue, or board fence; hurdles, on the other hand, are constructed of a soft foam take-off roll backed by simulated plastic “brush” that horses learn to brush through.

Canyon Road found his stride when turned to timber, at last, at the March 2015 Warrenton point-to-point, winning the competitive novice timber. Murphy was aboard. He added wins at Fair Hill and Potomac, then returned last spring to win the open at Warrenton and broke his NSA maiden at Willowdale in May.

The pair returned last fall to win the allowance at Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.