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When Without­more­ado (Ire) arrived in trainer Kathy Neilson’s barn from Ireland in 2019, the 5-year-old made a strong first impression –  natural jumper, quick learner, gears, all of it. The runaway winner of an English point-to-point and £60,000 purchase by owner Irv Naylor at the Tattersalls April Cheltenham sale made his American debut at Shawan Downs that September.

And fell in a 3-mile timber race for amateur/apprentice jockeys. His form didn’t get much better as he was beaten 30 lengths when eighth the next month at Middleburg and he finished that season with two losses over hurdles while Neilson fished for answers.

“That was my fault,” Neilson said of the bumpy start. “I was like, ‘This is a good horse, this is a weapon.’ I ran him and I scared him. We had to circle back and start over.”

Never did a restart button pay bigger dividends. 

Withoutmoreado went back to school with Neilson’s daughter Skylar McKenna that winter, returned the next year, won once each in 2021 and 2022 and upset the 126th Maryland Hunt Cup April 29. Owned by longtime Hunt Cup participant Irv Naylor and ridden by Irish teenager Conor Tierney, the 9-year-old stalked back-to-back Hunt Cup winner Vintage Vinnie (Ire) for more than 3 miles, took over after 18 fences and outran Royal Ruse through the stretch to win by 103⁄4 lengths after 4 miles in 8:49.80. They were the only two finishers from a field of eight in the $100,000 timber stakes run on soft turf over its tradition-bound course in Glyndon’s Worthington Valley.

The win completed a turnaround for a horse who looked lost after those first few starts. McKenna credited timber schooling sessions in her aunt Sanna Neilson’s field in Pennsylvania when most of the steeplechase schedule was lost to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

“Sanna has a pretty good timber course of 12 fences, three-railers, four-railers, we jump in and out of fields, all kinds of different fences,” McKenna said. “Every single week, I would lead timber horses around there on him and he just made more and more progress. I really think it helped him.”

They called it the Greenlawn Point-to-Point for the Chester County road that traverses the various horse farms in the area and nobody got more out of it than Withoutmoreado.

“I was so proud of him,” said McKenna, who gallops for flat trainer Jimmy Toner at Fair Hill Training Center when she’s not teaching timber horses how to perfect their craft. “I’ve spent a lot of time on his back and jumped a lot of fences on him. Back when I rode him, he wasn’t relaxed or mature about anything. You’d worry about letting him walk around or stand still at the start. He’d try to scoot out one side or the other. Now, if you left him to his own devices, he’d make the right decision.”

In his Hunt Cup debut, the son of Shantou handled the soft going and answered the questions posed by the 22 fences. The bay gelding, bred in Ireland by John O’Connor and County Carlow’s Burgage Stud, came into the race off a busy 2023 schedule. 

With McKenna in the saddle, he took part in the Foxhall Team Race in Maryland March 19. Two weeks later, he and Tierney won over timber at Brandywine Point-to-Point in Pennsylvania. They were third together at Elkridge-Harford in Maryland and fourth behind Monbeg Stream (Ire) in a fast edition of the Grand National timber stakes a week before the Hunt Cup.

“I knew he was in good form, his coat looked good and he was training well,” said Neilson. “We had not let it all out at the Grand National and when he ran at Elkridge-Harford Conor never picked up the stick and really asked him. They were steps to the Maryland Hunt Cup, but you never know if they worked.”

Not in the Hunt Cup, with its distance, stiff fences, pressure and competition. Every other horse in the race aimed for the historic race, first run in 1894, too along with their owners and trainers. 

The 2023 program covered plenty of Hunt Cup history. Naylor – whose silks fly the green, white and gold of the Hunt Cup flag – rode in the race four times, won it twice as an owner, had started a horse in 20 runnings and in 2000 received the Hunt Cup’s S. Bryce Wing Award for his contributions to Maryland timber racing. Virginia’s Kinross Farm, long in pursuit of a Hunt Cup, came with Blackhall (Ire) from the Davies barn. Sportsmans Hall (a Hunt Cup winner in 2011 with Private Attack) entered Hill Tie, fifth in 2019. Lucy Goelet (a Hunt Cup winner with Twill Do in 2010 and 2012) was represented by 2022 runner-up Rocket Star Red. Charlie Fenwick (who won five times as a jockey and six times as a trainer) and Sanna Neilson (two wins as a jockey and two more as a trainer) sent out Royal Ruse in the old rose and white silks of 1926 winner Billy Barton. Shootist, third at the Grand National, represented Pennsylvania’s Upland Partners. The Armata Stables partnership of Perry Bolton and Ben Griswold IV, Hunt Cup winners in 1991, 2021 and 2022, teed up Goodoldtimes (Ire) and the history-seeking Vintage Vinnie.

He set course records in his Hunt Cup wins in 2021 and 2022 – while winning by margins better measured in furlongs than lengths – and was bidding to become the first horse to win three consecutive years since Blockade in 1938, 1939 and 1940. His trainer Joe Davies had won six in a row, and prepped the 14-year-old with two flat races at point-to-points and a second behind Tomgarrow (Ire) in a record-breaking My Lady’s Manor April 15. 

“I know he’s a year older, but he seems good, and he was really good the last two years,” Davies said a week before the race. “If he does his thing, he’ll be tough to handle.”

Davies worried about the ground, softened by heavy rain after weeks of dry weather, and the loss of his jockey/son Teddy to a broken collarbone at the Grand National. Irish amateur Dan Nevin, aboard Vintage Vinnie for the 2021 win, returned to help ease at least some of the load.

The favorite broke with the field, let Royal Ruse lead for a few strides and took command while soaring over the first fence. Withoutmoreado moved to second, ahead of Rocket Star Red, Royal Ruse, Shootist and the rest. Vintage Vinnie scaled the 4-foot-9 third fence in front. Withoutmoreado rapped it, but recovered quickly. Goodoldtimes went to his nose on landing and Blackhall took out a rail. 

Neilson loved the way her horse and jockey navigated the race’s first few big jumping questions.

It was tight at the third and I was thinking, ‘is he going to sit it?’ He sat it,” she said. “I could see, going into the fifth it looked like he was relaxed, and I could see Conor’s hands. It looked good.”

Withoutmoreado made up ground at that fifth fence, way over by the barns and as far from the finish line as horses get on the course, with a long, in-stride leap. After a left turn, the 4-foot-9 sixth comes up quickly. Vintage Vinnie led by 2 lengths (not 32). Withoutmoreado patted the ground and left from a longer spot. Rocket Star Red flattened the fence, but somehow stayed on his feet as the field strung out behind the leading group.

Goodoldtimes lost Colin Smith at the 11th. At the 13th, companion to the third, Vintage Vinnie and Withoutmoreado jumped well up front. Royal Ruse was less fluid. Rocket Star Red fell. Vintage Vinnie led by 4 lengths at the 14th, where Withoutmoreado chipped in without losing momentum. He flew the 15th and gained on Vintage Vinnie at the 16th, a 4-foot-10 uphill demon which sent Blackhall to the ground. Withoutmoreado chipped in at 17 as Royal Ruse closed the gap from third with a big leap. At 18, Vintage Vinnie and Withoutmoreado jumped as a team – one finding his best stride, the other finally showing a weakness. The two-time Hunt Cup winner landed flat-footed, got passed for the first time in 11 miles over the course and offered no response. He and Shootist pulled up before the 19th.

Withoutmoreado led over the 20th, across Tufton Avenue, over the tricky 21st with its lean and its brook on the landing side and led Royal Ruse by 2 lengths up the hill toward the last. Ears pricked, Withoutmoreado lengthened stride, jumped higher than he needed to and kicked away. Royal Ruse stayed on, but was no match. 

Among the crowd, Naylor and his wife Diane watched it unfold – and were overjoyed.

“When Irv and I first got married, the only thing I heard about was the Maryland Hunt Cup,” said Diane. “He’d say, ‘That’s my dream. I want to win the Maryland Hunt Cup.’ He rode in it, he won it twice before this year and I’ve never seen the man so happy. Irv admires the race; it’s a significant accomplishment for the horses and the riders. This Hunt Cup win feels as good as the first.”

While riding Hunt Cup hopeful Emerald Action (Ire) at the Grand National in 1999, Naylor was paralyzed in a fall. He watches his far-reaching stable from a motorized wheelchair now, but is every bit as involved, interested and invested. Since the accident, the horses have won three Hunt Cups, three Eclipse Awards, six NSA owners’ championships and put Naylor within reach of the career earnings record held by Augustin Stable. 

The Tuesday before the Hunt Cup, Naylor went to the hospital with an upper respiratory infection. By Thursday, he was home. Saturday, he was at the race.

“People ask us for advice sometimes – don’t give up, obviously,” Diane said. “The Hunt Cup is Irv’s dream; it matters to him. You’ve got to have a dream.”

Neilson, who trained 2002 winner Young Dubliner (Ire), would have been happy with a lesser performance.

“I was worried about the height of the fences,” she said. “He’d never been there. Was I surprised? Yes. As the race went on, I was so excited he was jumping as well as he was and if he got around clear, finished, we’d be ready for next year. It would be great to have a horse improving like that, but he kept doing it.”

In the stirrups, Tierney felt the same thing and paid some credit to the third fence.

“He got in a bit tight, but I’m happy he did it now because he learned how much he has to respect the fences,” said the 19-year-old. “I think that helped him early in the race. It told him to back off and jump them as they come.”

The plan would have been simple going in – follow Vintage Vinnie. Tierney did that, but also tried not to put his horse under pressure. Experience matters in the Hunt Cup. Vintage Vinnie had it. Withoutmoreado did not.

“We thought Vintage Vinnie would do what he did the last two years and go off clear by a mile,” Tierney said. “I couldn’t believe how I was traveling. Vintage Vinnie was running and jumping great in front of us and I was really proud of my horse. He’s never jumped a fence that big in his life, and I hadn’t either.”

By the 18th fence, Tierney knew he was traveling better than the leader and let Withoutmoreado pull alongside. The jockey was confident, but worried too.

“I was sort of kicking myself and I was terrified of getting beat because I knew Kathy would be angry with me for going too soon,” he said. “But I didn’t really have a choice. It’s the way the race worked out. I had to go then. I didn’t ask him or push him to do that. He just did it.”

Tierney grew up in County Wicklow. His father and grandfather (who sold insurance for racehorses) followed racing as fans, but nobody participated. Tierney rode ponies, did some show jumping and dressage, dreamed of being a jockey – without ever acting on it.

 “I never really got into it until I was 17 and started riding out for a local stable,” he said, and rattled off a list of point-to-point yards who found time to give an eager kid a leg up. “Prunella Dobbs, then Peter Croke, then Harley Dunne.”

 Neilson reached out to Dunne about an amateur to ride this spring, and he suggested Tierney, whose Irish point-to-point career included all of 11 rides in 2022 and 2023. He’d heard of the Maryland Hunt Cup, but not much else when it came to American jump racing.

“It’s the one race we’ve all heard of back in Ireland,” he said. “We’ve heard it’s tough, but I didn’t realize how tough until I actually got here. I thought I’d be happy just to see my name in the race card. To win it, I still can’t believe it.”

Tierney rode out for Neilson, secured some point-to-point rides, got to know the horses, the people, the courses. He won his first National Steeplechase Association race at Cheshire in March, only to be disqualified for missing a beacon, and came through for real with Fashion Line in the maiden at My Lady’s Manor.

The jockey walked the Hunt Cup course six times – it was scary the first time, “just another course” by the last. Withoutmoreado made sure it stayed that way.

“We were taking it week by week and seeing how it would go each week,” Tierney said of his experience. “I rode him at Brandywine, at Elkridge and last week at the Grand National just to get to know him a bit more each time. I loved him. He was such a good jumper, a pleasure to ride and definitely my favorite now.”

NOTES: Sisters trained the 1-2 finishers. Their father, Paddy Neilson, won three as a jockey; their aunt, Ann Stewart, won three as a trainer; their grandfather, Redmond Stewart Jr., rode in six; their great-grandfather, Redmond Stewart Sr., rode in 15 including the first in 1894 and won in 1904 . . . Despite the pull-up, Vintage Vinnie exited the race in good shape and could aim for another Hunt Cup at 15 next year. “He didn’t get the easy lead, for whatever reason, that he did the years before and I think the going was a little tiring for him,” said Davies. “The other horses were just better on the day, that’s all. He feels great and seems great.”


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