Wednesday’s $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard H. (G1), the 2 3/8-mile hurdle formerly known as the New York Turf Writers Cup, features Baltimore Bucko‘s quest to become a dual Grade 1 winner during the Saratoga meet.
When last seen, in the July 22 A.P. Smithwick Memorial (G1), Baltimore Bucko led from flag-to-finish, scoring by 5 3/4 lengths as a mild favorite. He figures to be more heavily backed Wednesday while toting top weight of 156 pounds, 14 pounds more than in the Smithwick.
“It’s amazing how fast he’s come through the ranks,” said Keri Brion, a former assistant to Sheppard who saddles half of the eight-horse field for Wednesday’s race. Also among Brion’s other entries is French Light, a clear runner-up to Baltimore Bucko in the Smithwick.
“I had both of these horses in Ireland with me over the winter and they ran over there, so they have that added experience, which I think helped bring them along a lot quicker than maybe some others,” Brion said. “(French Light’s) first race back in the states was the Smithwick, so I think he has a lot of improvement in him, just having that run in him.”
The Mean Queen, who threw away what appeared an assured victory in the July 28 Jonathan Kiser Novice when unseating her rider late in the stretch, also starts for Brion.
Others among the field are Grade 2 veteran Gibralfaro, a distant third in the Smithwick, and Redicean, the 2020 Turf Writers Cup runner-up who finished fourth in the Smithwick in his season debut.
Sheppard, the Hall of Fame trainer who retired last winter, won at least one race at Saratoga for 47 consecutive years, from 1969 through 2015. He was leading trainer at the track in 1984-85, and trained 12 winners of the Turf Writers Cup.
Sheppard-trained horses won 13 champion steeplechase titles from 1973-2019. Topping the list was four-time champion Flatterer. Sheppard also trained flat champions Forever Together and Informed Decision.