Not all classic lines bring big winnings in the end, and Middleburg rider-trainer Don Yovanovich may be the first to admit it.
Last Sunday, Yovanovich guided Classic Line, an aged bay gelding, to the front of a respectable six-horse field and showed the way over all but the first of 23 fences in Virginia's toughest timber steeplechase race, the four-mile, $2,000 William Corcoran Eustis Cup at Oatlands. But the race's famous uphill stretch to the finish line took its toll on the gelding as Dr. Joe Rogers' Private Gary glided by with a reserve of energy, winning by eight lengths.
"He ran out of gas," admitted Yovanovich afterward. "I thought I was a sure winner until two fences from home. I wish I could have pulled it off, but experience beat him."
Past experience with Private Gary tiring in the stretch caused trainer Donna Truslow to develop a new pre-race strategy.
"She wanted him Private Gary to rate hold back a bit because he wants to run on the front," admitted rider D.M. (Speedy) Smithwick Jr., who, at 25 is already a seasoned rider with a 52-point lead in the Rider of the Year race. "You can rate him, but he's got to be near other horses or he loses interest. We're just trying to change his style a little bit. He's a good galloper and a good jumper. He's just a little rapid."
"We wanted him to finish strong," said Truslow. "We've done it all spring and it's worked really well."
But the Eustis Cup was really only the second timber test for the sleek 11-year-old Private Gary this season. He began the season in late March with a walkover victory in the 44th Rokeby Bowl at Piedmont after a soggy course forced six entries to scratch. A week later in Maryland, Private Gary nosed out Cervo in the final steps of the Howard County Cup.
But Sunday's well-calculated pace and 8:52 2/5 clocking over four miles was proof that Private Gary has the right stuff and is the horse to beat on the timber circuit.
Truslow said the gelding will not go in the demanding four-mile Maryland Hunt Cup but will stay closer to home and run in the May 4 Virginia Gold Cup at the new Great Meadow course. A pre-race favorite in last year's Gold Cup, Private Gary tired over the final jumps and finished a disappointing third.
The Virginia point-to-point circuit winds up Saturday with the Fairfax Hunt's meeting at Belmont Plantation near Leesburg. The six-card program begins at 1 p.m. and will decide several local steeplechase titles, including the Lady Rider of the Year competition, in which Patti Cassel leads with 28 points, followed by Eva Dahlgren with 22. Nelson Gunnell's Make the Move has a 23-point lead in the First Colony Life Hurdle series, while Michael Power's Fleet Buster and Dale Thomas' Land Leviathan are tied in second place with 17 points.