CAMDEN — Jockey Willie McCarthy bided his time before making his winning move late in Saturday’s 82nd running of the $50,000 Carolina Cup Steeplechase knowing he had plenty of horse underneath him.
With three fences left, the 30-year-old native of Ireland overtook race-leading Easy Reach and rode Top Striker to victory by 11/2-lengths for the horse’s owner, Sue Sensor of Camden.
The final time for the 21/8-mile trip over 11 hurdles for novice steeplechasers was 4:012/5.
Easy Reach held on for second while Cat Feathers, the lone mare in the field of six, finished another two lengths back in third.
For Sensor and Camden-based trainer Arch Kingsley, this was their second time teaming up for a Carolina Cup winner. In 2011, Sensor’s Sunshine Numbers won the Camden spring classic by a race-record 27 1/4-lengths.
This time, jockey Jeff Murphy took Easy Reach to the front from the drop of the starter’s flag with Top Striker in close pursuit. Cat Feathers – trained in Camden by Kate Dalton and ridden by her husband, Bernie Dalton – sat in third.
The top three stayed that way until the field headed to the ninth fence. It was there that McCarthy said he decided a day earlier while walking the Springdale Race Course to make his move aboard Top Striker.
“I had a lot of horse coming three (fences) from home,” McCarthy said of Top Striker, a 5-year-old gelding. “I just didn’t want to get into position where he was coming up against a horse with a lot of speed down the stretch.”
Top Striker took the lead for keeps heading into the 10th fence and held off a game Easy Reach.
Trained by Kingsley in his barn located across the street from the Springdale Race Course, Top Striker was a three-time winner on the flat before being claimed by Sensor last January after a win at Gulfstream Park.
This was the fourth start over fences for Top Striker, which won a $25,000 race at Springdale Race Course last November.
Given the home course advantage, the quality of his horse and how well he was training, Kingsley admitted to thinking Top Striker had the potential for a big race on Saturday. He credited McCarthy’s touch guiding the horse to the win.
“I left (the ride) up to Willie because he knows the horse so well, now. It was pretty much his call as to how to ride him and he made all the right moves, thank goodness.”
The win in Saturday’s feature was the second of the afternoon for McCarthy. He rode the Kingsley-trained Ryvit to victory in the $25,000 Camden Plate. Connor Hankins rode Grand Pride to a win in the $20,000 C.P. and Edith Wills DuBose Cup, a 3-mile race over timber fences.
Bodie Island carried jockey Kieran Norris home a winner in the $20,000 Woodward-Kirkover chase. The day ended with Hiwasse Gem carrying Harry Haynes to a win in the $20,000 Sport of Queens Filly and Mare Hurdle.