By Jenny Kellner/NYRA.
August 22, 2013. SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - For Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, winning the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap never gets old.
On Thursday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course, Italian Wedding took the lead approaching the final fence and held on to give Sheppard his 14th training victory in the $150,000, 2 3/8-mile steeplechase. Sheppard also is the owner and breeder of the 8-year-old Alphabet Soup gelding.
"He's a tough, honest little horse," said Sheppard, who most recently won the NYTW Cup in 2010 with Sermon of Love. "He seems to like Saratoga; he won up here two years ago. Obviously, he ran well in the Smithwick [second on August 1]. It's a handicap, so he was getting a little bit of weight from some of the top horses. He is a horse that I bred myself. I own his dam and his grandmother, and it means a lot. It was a fun race and I was really proud of him."
With Bernie Dalton riding, Italian Wedding settled in mid-pack as Brave Prospect led the field of nine jumpers through the first 1 ½ miles. With Mr. Hot Stuff taking over, Italian Wedding began edging closer and took command with a three-wide move on the far turn and held on to score by a length over the fast-closing All Together.
"He ran really well last time in the Smithwick off about a year and a half layoff," said Dalton. "I didn't feel like he got tired the last time, and Mr. Sheppard said he felt like he had a horse that improved off that run. I had a lot of confidence going into the race."
Part of a three-horse Sheppard entry that was sent off at 4-5, Italian Wedding returned $3.90 for a $2 win bet. The Turf Writers Cup was only his third start since November 2011; prior to the Smithwick he was fourth in the Carolina Cup on March 2012. Overall, he is 4-3-1 from 19 starts over fences.
Martini Brother, part of the winning entry, was a head back in third, followed by Mr. Hot Stuff, Spy in the Sky, Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, and Hunt Ball. Brave Prospect left the course after the 10th fence.