SARATOGA, N.Y.--Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard saddled his 15th winner in the $150,000, G1 New York Turf Writers Cup as Winston C became the first horse in 20 years to win the Saratoga double of the G1 A.P. Smithwick and the G1 Turf Writers.
Ridden by Tom Garner and owned by Ed Swyer's Hudson River Farms, Winston C saved ground while running sixth for the first two miles of the 2 3/8 mile race on Thursday, Aug. 22.
The 5-year-old bay gelding began to pick up horses after the last fence on the backside and drove clear in the stretch under a light drive to win by a dominating 8 3/4 lengths.
Riverdee Stable's Gibralfaro, trained by Jack Fisher, and Brous Stable LLC, Gary Barber and Wachtel Stable's Belisarius, trained by Kate Dalton, battled it out through the stretch with Gibralfaro just edging up to place second by a nose.
Winston C gave 10 pounds to Gibralfaro and 12 pounds to Belisarius.
"I was somewhat concerned about the weight," said Sheppard. "Ten pounds in a lot. But he handled it like a plum, as they say."
"I HAD A very willing partner," said Garner. "The horse did everything right. I couldn't put him wrong, really. He's such an honest, classy little horse. I think there is a lot more to come from him. He's still improving."
Winston C is the first horse since Campanile in 1999 to sweep the Smithwick - Turf Writers double.
"It took a little pressure off, winning the Smithwick, but it also added a bit more pressure because the Turf Writers and Smithwick haven't been both won for a long time," said Garner. "It's definitely something I have enjoyed, especially winning the two, but it was all done by the horse. I was just a passenger."
After the Smithwick, Garner said that Winston C hadn't jumped well in the beginning of the race, but he jumped beautifully in the Turf Writers.
"It was a very nice win," said Sheppard. "He definitely jumped better. He was always on target."
Winston C covered the 2 ⅜ miles over a yielding course in 4:38.16 for his second victory in three North American starts this year, having finished third in the Marcellus Frost Championship Hurdle in May.
Since converting to hurdles in England, Winston C now has five wins and two seconds in eight starts, and he has won $190,000 over fences this year.
He had had a hard winter in England, winning a maiden race at Wincanton in January, winning a novice race at Sandown in February, winning a handicap at Kelso in March and running fifth in a top novices hurdle at Aintree in April before shipping to Sheppard's in May and running third at Iroquois on May 11, so Sheppard gave him time off to recuperate, gain back some weight and condition, and he didn't make his next start until July 25 in the Smithwick.
He returned $3.10 for a $2 win bet as the 1-2 favorite in the field of eight in the Turf Writers while carrying 154 pounds, 10 more than he had in the Smithwick.
"Ten pounds is a pretty good shift but he was able to overcome it fairly easily," said Sheppard, who last won the race with Italian Wedding in 2013. "They were just a tad closer earlier this time. It was probably a little slower pace and he was able to have some closer contact to the leaders.
"It never gets old. Each race is a new challenge. He's a very superior horse, I think. We just have to keep his trainer from messing up and we'll be in business."
Hinterland was fourth followed under the wire by All the Way Jose, Modem, No Wunder and Peppay Le Pugh. Portrade was scratched.
Sheppard said his next start will possibly be in the G1 Lonesome Glory Handicap at Belmont, and that he would then go to Far Hills.