Three champions and one possible spoiler are scheduled to run in the $50,000 open timber race at the 62nd International Gold Cup today on the 3 1/2-mile Great Meadow course in The Plains, Va.
Six-time Virginia Gold Cup winner Saluter will be up against his nemesis, Gold Quoit. However, they will have to contend with Buck Jakes and English entry Father Sky in the feature of the eight-race card that also includes the $20,000 Steeplethon (both hurdles and timber) and the $25,000 Future Champions hurdle race for 3-year-olds.
Saluter and Gold Quoit met Oct. 2 at the Virginia Fall Races in Middleburg and Gold Quoit finished just a quarter-length ahead of a closing Saluter on the three-mile course.
Although Saluter has won the four-mile Virginia Gold Cup open timber race in each of the past six springs, he has won the fall's shorter International Gold Cup race just once--last year, when Chip Miller stepped in for trainer-rider Jack Fisher after Fisher broke his leg in several places in a farm accident.
"It will be just like at Middleburg, with the two of us on the front end," said Fisher, who has won eight Virginia Gold Cups and one International Gold Cup on various horses. If Saluter wins today, he will tie champion timber horse Dosdi for the all-time National Steeplechase Association record with 20 career wins.
But 11-year-old Buck Jakes is a two-time Pennsylvania and Maryland Hunt Cup winner who won the fall meet in 1994 and '95 with his regular jockey Anne Moran. The gray gelding was second to Big Boo Boo in 1996.
However, Moran has retired from jump racing. Buck Jake's trainer, Charlie Fenwick, had scheduled Arch Kingsley Jr. for today's ride, but Kingsley was injured last weekend at the Morven Park Races. So, Jonathan Kiser will step in. Kiser is riding in three other races at the International Gold Cup, but he also is riding a horse for trainer Thomas Voss at today's Maryland Million at Laurel Park.
"We are hiring a helicopter," Kiser said. "It is not that much if we split it between all of us."
Still, that trip won't cover nearly the distance that was involved when English trainer David "Dai" Williams flew in two horses to compete over the unique American timber course. Unlike the United Kingdom's hurdle and steeplechase courses, timber here is largely made up of post and rails, and is much less forgiving. In addition, the courses here are longer.
"If I didn't think I could win, I wouldn't be here," said Williams, who has entered Father Sky in the International Gold Cup and Bavario in the Steeplethon.
Father Sky comes into this race with 16 career wins and one start over American timber. The 8-year-old handily won a flat race at the Morven Park Races against much younger horses.
Trainers' Fenwick and Fisher are both concerned about the speed of the race. "I wish there were a few more horses in the race, ones with consistent speed.
"I think Father Sky is probably the fastest horse in the race on the flat," Fenwick said, "but this is timber."
Said Fisher: "We will want to stay with him. But I think he will find it will be difficult to negotiate the fences on the front end, especially when he was losing ground at Middleburg," a reference to Father Sky's third-place finish against Saluter and Gold Quoit at the Virginia Fall Races.
Notes: The gates open today at 10 a.m. The Jack Russell terrier and pony races start at 11:30, the International Gold Cup races at 1:30 p.m.