Trainer Joe Davies had the same answer to a four-part question posed in mid-March. The query went like, “Did you think we’d be having this conversation four or five years ago? About this horse? About winning three Maryland Hunt Cups? About being compared to Blockade and Winton?
“No, no, no, and . . . no.”
But that’s the thing about horses. You really don’t know anything for sure.
Four or five years ago, Davies and I would have talked about rising timber star Senior Senator. He won the Maryland Hunt Cup as a 6-year-old in 2016 – the youngest since Jay Trump, also 6, in 1963. Owned by Skip Crawford, Senior Senator won again in 2018 and 2019 to become just the ninth horse to win America’s oldest steeplechase three times. First run in 1894, the Hunt Cup has no peer when it comes to American jump races with its past and its challenge of 4 miles and 22 timber fences.
At 9, Senior Senator looked poised to become the race’s first four-time winner, perhaps raise the bar even further or join Jay Trump and *Ben Nevis II in an English or Irish attempt.
Then everything changed. The Covid-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Hunt Cup, Senior Senator died of colic that spring and conversations of greatness seemingly went to the sidelines. Then Davies unveiled Vintage Vinnie (Ire), who set a course record when he won the Hunt Cup in its 2021 return. Back for more at age 13 in 2022, Vintage Vinnie won again and set another course record.
This year, he tries to make history.
He can join Garry Owen, Princeton, Blockade, Winton, Pine Pep, Jay Trump, Mountain Dew and Senior Senator on the roster of three-time winners. And can ascend to an even more exclusive club with a third consecutive win. Only Blockade (1938, 1939, 1940) and Winton (1942, 1946, 1947) have produced that feat, with Winton’s streak being interrupted by the race’s cancellation for three years during World War II.
“I thought he might be the biggest mistake of a purchase, that’s what I thought about him a few years ago,” said Davies of the now 14-year-old gelding. “I didn’t think this was possible, not the way things started.
Imported for the Armata Stable of Perry Bolton and Ben Griswold IV, multiple English chase winner Vintage Vinnie won his first two point-to-point starts in 2018 and finished second in the My Lady’s Manor maiden timber. Shelved until 2018, he opened with two more point-to-point wins and a second at the Grand National in 2019. Then he missed another year, returning to win an apprentice-rider timber and finish a distant third (of three) in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in the fall of 2020.
Mildly successful, while gaining a reputation as a runaway galloper and an erratic jumper, Vintage Vinnie hasn’t lost a timber race since. In 2021, he won the My Lady’s Manor and Hunt Cup. Last year, he prepped in the apprentice race at the Manor before making off with another Hunt Cup. In both Hunt Cups, the first with visiting Irishman Dan Nevin aboard and the second with Davies’ 18-year-old son Teddy, the dark bay sped off to long leads which proved insurmountable for his overmatched rivals.
“He got away with some mistakes the first year, but last year he was so much better at it,” said Joe Davies. “I thought he was 50/50 to get around or something with Teddy’s inexperience, a terrible school we had a couple days before, all of it. Then he went out and ran better.”
Can he do the same at age 14? Davies doesn’t see why not. After a long break – he spends most of the summer doing a water treadmill program at Brenda Godfrey’s Nor Mar Farm in Freeland, Md. – Vintage Vinnie got back to work on Davies’ farm in Monkton, Md. A typical morning training session starts with a jog up and down the driveway twice, then a 1-mile blitz around the front field about as fast as he can go.
“He does that three or four days a week, the other days he trots and goes out with the donkey,” Davies said. “I think it’s all fun for him. He’s happy. He lives out most of the time in a field with a sharp, short hill and he runs up that as many times as he wants to. It’s not nerves, he just likes to do it.”
Hey, whatever works. After forcing his high school Boys’ Latin to break its long-standing “no varsity athletes at the Maryland Hunt Cup” rule, Teddy Davies is a freshman at the University of Delaware and gets a chance to ride the stable star on weekends. He also stays fit by riding out for trainers Keri Brion, Todd McKenna and Leslie Young. Vintage Vinnie will follow the same schedule he did in 2022 – a prep on the flat at Piedmont Point-to-Point March 25, My Lady’s Manor for the stakes this time (he’s no longer eligible for the apprentice race) April 15, and the Hunt Cup April 29.
“He’s 14, he’s got old problems and we never thought any of this was going to happen the first time,” said Davies, who seeks his sixth consecutive Hunt Cup as a trainer, “so we’ll take it as it comes.”
And answer questions later.