When he set a course record while winning the 2021 Maryland Hunt Cup, Vintage Vinnie (Ire) rattled rails, trimmed grass blades, defied gravity, tested stopwatches and scared plenty of witnesses. The performance was akin to watching a Formula 1 car scream down a dirt road. Sure, he got there, and in record time. But it wasn’t necessarily pretty.
And then came 2022.
Vintage Vinnie aced all the gear changes, didn’t spin the tires even once, handled the corners, stayed out of the wall and left seven foes behind while setting another record and impressing anyone who saw the 4-mile, 22-fence race at Worthington Farms in Glyndon, Md., April 30. Steered by 18-year-old Hunt Cup rookie Teddy Davies, Vintage Vinnie galloped to the front with ease over the first two fences, accelerated into the 4-foot-9 third and kept right on going. He jumped with polish, galloped as if part of the foxhunting field on Thanksgiving and hardly put a foot wrong. Officially, he won the $100,000 stakes by 62 lengths in 8:15 (seven seconds faster than last year and about 10 seconds faster than any other horse has run the race which dates to 1894). Rocket Star Red finished second and Goodoldtimes (Ire) third. From the field of eight, Pocket Talk (Ire) lost his jockey at the 12th; Preseli Rock (Ire) and Sideling Hill fell at the 16th; Le Chevalier finished fourth with Blackhall (Ire) last of the finishers.
While never easy to navigate, this year’s Maryland Hunt Cup somehow appeared to be a breeze for Vintage Vinnie, who races for the Armata Stable partnership of Perry Bolton and Ben Griswold IV and trainer Joe Davies.
“Last year was erratic, Herculean jumps, all that,” said trainer Davies, after his sixth consecutive Hunt Cup win as a trainer. “There are so many horses that have won the Hunt Cup in that style and then come back and fallen the next year. That style doesn’t always work the second time.”
Imported in 2017 after a 23-start English career, mainly over chase fences, Vintage Vinnie has been defying the logic of Davies and others since he made his American debut in 2018. He won two point-to-point starts that spring, then finished second – where a 26-length lead evaporated into a 20-length loss – in the maiden at My Lady’s Manor. He won two point-to-points to start 2019, then finished second after opening a big lead in the allowance at the Grand National. A tendon injury delayed Vintage Vinnie’s 2020 return, as did the coronavirus pandemic that canceled the spring timber season. The bay son of Irish-bred four-time Irish St. Leger-G1 winner and Melbourne Cup-G1 placer Vinnie Roe emerged in October and won an apprentice-jockey timber by 30 lengths before losing an allowance timber by 37 lengths a week later. Last year, everything (well, almost everything) changed as Vintage Vinnie won the Manor itself in front-running fashion, then blitzed everyone in that wild and crazy Hunt Cup. Irish jockey Dan Nevin came over for that race, and seemed as gobsmacked as everyone else by the performance.
Nevin was supposed to return for the Hunt Cup this year, though Joe Davies tabbed his son for prep races set up for the Piedmont Point-to-Point and My Lady’s Manor. Second on the flat at Piedmont in March, they went to the Manor with options – take on the top horses in the division Mystic Strike, Schoodic, Le Chevalier and Tomgarrow (Ire) in the stakes or audible to the apprentice race. They chose the latter and Vintage Vinnie responded. He rated early, found a jumping rhythm and edged stakes winner Renegade River by a half-length. In the meantime, Nevin got a fall in Ireland and was doubtful, at best, to make the Hunt Cup with a concussion and a wrist injury.
“I knew Teddy would ride him in the preps, but I wasn’t sure about the Hunt Cup,” said Joe Davies, speaking as a trainer and a father. “I truly wanted it to be a good first Hunt Cup experience and I would have felt more secure with him riding Pocket Talk because I thought, ‘There’s a steady horse. He goes around. He jumps the jumps.’ This horse is a runaway, it feels like a kamikaze ride.”
To everybody but an 18-year-old high-school wrestler with no pre-conceived notions or even any pressure to deliver.
As you might expect of a child with Maryland Hunt Cup winners on the top and bottom of his pedigree, Teddy Davies grew up riding ponies, going to the races and at least thinking about riding over Maryland timber. Actually doing it was up to him, however, as Joe (who won three as a jockey) and Blythe (a Hunt Cup winner in 2011, the National Steeplechase Association’s champion jockey of 1994 and 1995, the daughter of Hunt Cup-winning trainer Bruce Miller) suggested other pursuits.
“We’ve been pushing him the other direction all along,” said Joe. “Please wrestle, please do other sports, don’t worry about this. You’re never going to try to win the Hunt Cup. It doesn’t matter. He was probably going to go out and have a more normal life and not worry about things like this.”
In 2007, Teddy rode Wise Guy in the lead-line trot at the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point, graduated to small pony Hickory by 2014 and was still riding pony races in 2019. He won two apprentice flat races in 2020, added a hurdle win in 2021 and has been busy with mainly timber rides in 2022. A question about his earliest memory of the Maryland Hunt Cup produces a predictable teenage response.
“It has nothing to do with the race,” he said 20 minutes after winning America’s oldest steeplechase in his first try. “It’s me, wandering around playing lacrosse with my friends and not paying attention to what’s happening. It’s hard to believe it came from that to this.”
And maybe that was the best path. Teddy Davies didn’t pin Hunt Cup dreams on the refrigerator door, didn’t get pushed by his parents, didn’t try the race two years ago (jockeys must be at least 16 to ride) and didn’t even count on riding Vintage Vinnie this year.
“I knew there was a chance I’d ride him,” he said. “The original plan was for Dan to come back and ride him, but he’s hurt now and we just figured that wasn’t going to work out. We just tried to take it one race at a time and not to really talk about it until the entries came out. You never know if any horse is going to make the race, so it’s all pretty fragile. We took it one week at a time.”
And on the last Saturday in April, they all got there.
“To have your son win the Hunt Cup, after Blythe and I did, after saying he was never going to win the Hunt Cup, after trying not to worry about it, it’s pretty special,” said Joe.
How it Happened
Play by play is kind of pointless in a wire-to-wire, record-setting, 62-length victory but plenty happened out there. Calm at the start, Vintage Vinnie leaped forward at the drop of the starter’s flag, but settled into an easy gallop toward the first and second fences. In front but not running away, he led across Tufton Avenue as Pocket Talk, Preseli Rock, Rocket Star Red and the others were content to follow. Vintage Vinnie accelerated into and away from the third fence and was soon on his own.
“He walked down there like a lamb,” said Teddy Davies of the start. “When I would get a little nervous, he would start jigging but as soon as I took a deep breath and just made sure he was all right, he did it too.”
He got in a little tight at the seventh, but hiked his knees and got out of the spot. He hit the 10th behind, losing his right timber pad but no momentum. Behind him, Rocket Star Red nearly lost jockey Brett Owings with a mistake at the ninth. Vintage Vinnie scaled the 13th, companion to the third, while the others were just landing over the 12th (where Pocket Talk lost Will Easterby).
“I just tried to make it look like and make him feel like that whatever he was doing was right,” said Teddy Davies. “I didn’t want to take him back. I thought about it. When we were running down a hill halfway through the race and he was still trucking along, I thought about trying to take back and saying, ‘Let’s slow down’ but he does what he wants to do. That’s what works for him. I don’t think fighting with him would help.”
As fast as he went, Vintage Vinnie didn’t look like he was pulling hard or running off with his jockey – though it’s a fine line.
“It’s not really a pull because I’m not pulling against him,” Teddy said. “It would only be a pull if I took a hold. He would run off with me. It’s not pulling if I just let him go. Here I think he just likes to be out in front and by himself. By the time he gets going that fast for that far, there aren’t many horses or jockeys who would or could go with him. You’ve got to really trust your horse to be able to go that fast. At 3 miles, horses can go his pace. At 4 miles, it’s different.”
If you want another reason for Vintage Vinnie’s success over big timber, look no further than his jumping at the 2022 Hunt Cup. He jumped straight and in stride, and landed with forward progress every time. The others often lost time setting themselves for a takeoff stride with a step to the right or left, hung in the air longer, sometimes hollowing out their backs or twisting their hind legs for space and then needed to summon more energy to get back to galloping.
“Typically he sees his spot, but these fences are a little bit different than most of the other fences he’s jumping,” said Teddy. “It’s really the big fences, the third, the 13th, the 16th and now the 19th after they rebuilt it. He really focuses in on those and those seem like the best fences. It really seems like it’s the ones that are a little bit smaller that he doesn’t pay as much attention to. There are always fences that you think weren’t as good as they could have been but there was never a fence where I jumped and thought, ‘Oh, we might fall’ or anything.”
The jockey took a look back after the 16th, the race’s biggest fence at 4-foot-10 with an uphill takeoff, and saw no challengers. A distant second at the time, Preseli Rock and Connor Hankin fell there as Rocket Star Red stood way back to hold second over Le Chevalier, who almost lost McLane Hendriks. Far back, Sideling Hill nearly pulled himself up before falling hard with George Daly.
Officially, by video and human calculation, Vintage Vinnie led by 88 lengths with a half-mile to go. He jumped the last like a steady foxhunter and galloped in with pats on the neck and one small fist pump from his jockey – a Hunt Cup winner on his first try.
“That was a lot of fun,” he said, allowing a bit of satisfaction to creep into a post-race interview. “Vinnie’s just a special horse. I’ve never seen a horse like him.”
Neither has the Maryland Hunt Cup.
NOTES: The win, worth $60,000, gave Armata Stable two legs on the race’s latest challenge cup, which becomes the permanent property of an owner winning it three times – not necessarily with the same horse. Bolton and Griswold have been participating in the race for decades, their families for generations, and won with Welter Weight in 1999 before Vintage Vinnie’s heroics all these years later. . . The new cup (the eighth in history) was put into service in 2021, after Senior Senator retired the previous trophy in 2019. . . Davies tied Charlie Fenwick Jr. and Janon Fisher Jr. with six wins as a trainer. Fenwick’s half-dozen came in with *Ben Nevis II in 1977 and 1978, *Dosdi in 1979, Sugar Bee in 1987 and Buck Jakes in 1995 and 1997. Fisher collected three each with Blockade (1938-40) and Mountain Dew (1962, 1965 and 1967). Davies won three with Senior Senator (2016, 2018, 2019), one with Derwins Prospector (2017) and the last two with Vintage Vinnie.