Trading wins at Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point at Ben Venue

Jimmy Day and Neil Morris are friends and contemporaries in the steeplechase world, but on the racecourse they’re competitors. Virginia’s two top jumps trainers traded wins at Saturday’s Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point, leaving the hotly-contested title race with a single point margin with six meets to go on the spring circuit.

Photo by Betsy Burke Parker
Jockey Emme Fullilov rode Neil Morris’ Pathfinder to victory in the novice turf division.

Millwood-based Day saddled open hurdle winner Officer’s Oath and foxhunters’ timber winner Plated in a snow-blown Ben Venue Farm winner’s circle at the April 7 meet.

“These early point-to-points are critical to our spring schedule,” said Day, an Irish native based on the U.S. ‘chase circuit since 1983. “I love the Ben Venue course, especially, and the date suits” prepping for the upcoming rich National Steeplechase Association circuit that begins next week at Middleburg Spring.

Three-year-old NSA hurdle champion Officer’s Oath (Liam McVicar up) made a mid-race move to win the 2-1/4-mile open hurdle headliner handily. Day called it “a good effort” by the 5-year-old Virginia-bred son of local stallion Luftikus. McVicar let Officer’s Oath sit off the early pace of stablemate Foxhall Drive (Bryan Cullinane) early, looming on the Ben Venue backstretch to edge to the lead.

Though Foxhall Drive challenged coming to the last, Officer’s Oath edged away to win by an easy length from Foxhall Drive.

“He jumped well,” McVicar said of the bay veteran. “This is one of my favorite courses on the circuit.”

Day also saddled Maggie Bryant’s Plated (Evan Dwan) to run away with the foxhunters’ timber division. Making just his second start over timber, the former stakes winner over hurdles has taken to the solid timber obstacles easily, Day said.

The 9-year-old was bred for speed — a son of champion Tiznow out of the blue hen Mr. Prospector mare Imaginary Gold, Plated was sold as a 2-year-old in training for $500,000. He never flashed the expected speed on the flat, barely breaking his maiden at 5 before winning his hurdle debut at 6.

A professional jockey from 1983 until he hung up his tack and began training in ‘88, Day won 36 of nearly 400 mounts in his riding career. He’s saddled some 300 winners from 1,700 starters, and has won seven Virginia circuit training titles.

Neil Morris saddled Pathfinder Racing’s Strong (Emme Fullilov) to win the novice turf division, adding his 471st winner from 2,234 runners in his 26-year training career. Longtime private trainer for Middleburg’s Kinross Farm, Morris now operates a public stable out of historic Hickory Tree Farm just south of town.

The single win kept Morris in front for the trainers’ title race, but after four weeks on the circuit, he recognizes it’s going to be a tight contest. “We’re barely into the season, but I’m really pleased with how the horses are running,” Morris said. Morris has claimed 14 Virginia training titles since coming on line in 1992.

Complete results and more photos are at centralentryoffice.com.

Seen here bundled up against the cold are Rappahannock County Supervisor Chris Parrish and his wife, Caroline, whose tailgate offerings included hot beverages and chili. Malinda Brakeman Fletcher, meanwhile, could only admire the wide assortment of springtime hats for sale, choosing instead a wool cap that covered her ears. Photos by John McCaslin