January 31, 2023

Pistol Whipped totes top weight versus Brion trio in A.P. Smithwick

The 2021 A.P. Smithwick Memorial went to Baltimore Bucko (Coglianese Photography)

Steeplechase action returns to Saratoga on Wednesday, with the $150,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial (NSA-G1). Pistol Whipped ranks as the 8-5 morning-line favorite as well as the 158-pound highweight, but the Leslie Young charge has to handle a trio of contenders representing Keri Brion – Iranistan, Historic Heart, and French Light.

Pistol Whipped, formerly based in England with Nicky Henderson, was runner-up in his stateside debut in the May 14 Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle (NSA-G1) at Percy Warner. Although no match for the imperious Snap Decision, he fared much better than Historic Heart and Iranistan, who both pulled up.

Brion expects her runners to rebound back at Saratoga.

“We didn’t really have a great day for the Iroquois,” Brion said. “Our horses were too sharp for the course and had to relax and settle. We’ll throw out that race. Both are doing good and I expect both to run really well.” 

Two starts back, Iranistan toppled Snap Decision in front-running fashion in the April 23 Temple Gwathmey Hurdle H. (NSA-G2) at Middleburg. Iranistan is proven over the Saratoga course, sporting a 4-2-1-1 local mark including placings in the 2018 A.P. Smithwick and New York Turf Writers Cup (now the Jonathan Sheppard) (NSA-G1).

“Iranistan is fabulous,” Brion said. “He’s had some injuries so he’s quite lightly raced, but he’s in great form. He loves his job and loves to run and compete. He’ll show up. To beat Snap Decision, he was at the top of his game.

“He breezes just as good as the young horses do. We train them similarly to the flat horses because they have to run home that last straight. He can work three quarters in 1:15 in hand. He shows no signs of backing up or slowing down.”

Historic Heart found the three-mile Iroquois too far. The hero of the April 2 Carolina Cup at Camden will appreciate the cutback to 2 1/16 miles here.

“He doesn’t want three miles,” Brion said. “He’s a sharp, speedy type and Saratoga will suit him. My stable jockey (Parker Hendriks) had his choice of the three and chose to ride him, and he’s won on all three of these horses.”

French Light rounded out a Brion exacta in last year’s Smithwick and a barn trifecta in the Jonathan Sheppard, when third to divisional champion The Mean Queen. After capturing his 2022 premiere in the April 30 Queen’s Cup at Charlotte, French Light resumes at the Spa.

“He won his only start this year and runs his best races fresh,” Brion said. “He won a stake in April and he’s been training really well for this. He loves Saratoga and hopefully can finish one better than last year.” 

French Light carries 144 pounds, a lighter impost than Historic Heart (148 pounds) and Iranistan (152 pounds), and Brion can’t separate them.

“These three are very good and I really don’t know which one I’d choose,” their trainer said. “Their works last week were all really good.”

Jack Doyle comes in for the ride aboard the 7-2 Iranistan, while Nico De Boinville makes the trek from Britain to stick with Pistol Whipped.

Young has a pair of chances, with Pistol Whipped joined by last-out David Semmes Memorial (NSA-G2) romper Redicean. Fourth in the past two runnings of the Smithwick, Redicean was second in the 2020 New York Turf Writers Cup and third to The Mean Queen and Snap Decision in the 2021 Lonesome Glory (NSA-G1).

Down Royal, the only mare in the field, has won three straight since placing to The Mean Queen last season. Awarded the victory via disqualification in the 2021 Randolph Rouse S. at Colonial Downs, Down Royal wired the Oct. 16 Peapack Hurdle at Far Hills and the May 14 Margaret Currey Henley Hurdle at Percy Warner.

The Cyril Murphy-trained Chief Justice edged future Smithwick winner Baltimore Bucko at Percy Warner last summer before heading to the sidelines. A six-length scorer in his April 30 comeback in the Daniel Van Clief Memorial at Foxfield, Chief Justice was a remote second at Willowdale May 14.

Wednesday’s flat-race feature is the $125,000 Suzie O’Cain S., a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for New York-bred sophomore fillies. She’s a Mia has been installed as the 7-5 favorite in a field of nine, including three main-track-only hopes.