Bel Esprit II won the Blue Ridge Hunt open timber race yesterday and bought himself a ticket to Saturday's Virginia Gold Cup at Warrenton.
The 13-year-old black gelding, second in the Gold Cup last year, won his way back by taking the measure of Prince Image by two lengths in the featured three-mile, 17-jump steeple-chase over the Woodley Farms course.
Third by a distance was Randy Waterman on Just Idling, while the fourth starter, Kelly's Hero, was pulled up after the 12th jump by rider Bill Chewning after leading to that point.
"He (Bel Esprit II) was real good today," said rider Ross Pearce. "He's definitely ready for the Gold Cup."
It was the second victory of the point-to-point season for Bel Esprit II, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Moffit's Bell Agiock chaser, which had won the Eustis Cup at Oatlands two weeks ago. He placed third in Virginia's other two major timber races, the Rokeby Bowl and the Middleburg Hunt Cup.
Pearce was content to hold him off the fast early pace set by Kelly's Hero and ran slightly behind Doug Fout on Prince Image over the first 11 fences. Bel Esprit II moved with Prince Image when that horse took over at the 12th. By the 15th he was only a length behind the leader and jumped even with Prince Image at the 16th.
He was safely on top at the 17th, then beat off an early stretch challenge by Prince Image and won going away.