Thanksgiving heralds the holiday season, and we have many reasons to be grateful despite and because of all the challenges thrown at us throughout 2020. Now more than ever, staying well is a priority that requires significant effort and planning. It isn’t easy or fun to protect ourselves from OPGs (other peoples’ germs), although some have been doing this for years. It isn’t a political statement to wear masks, practice good hygiene, and distance yourself from others. It’s just plain old-fashioned common sense.

A big thank you on behalf of all racing and ‘chasing enthusiasts to the National Steeplechase Association and its NSA Network for making sure that you had options if you couldn’t be there in person. They provided Live Streams of each race meet on the day, bringing sanctioned meets into the safety of our homes, and the archived videos are available to one and all.

Will O’Keefe is one of the greatest and possibly the best race announcer. We think he deserves a special lifetime achievement award and heaven help ‘chasing and point-to-points when he retires. It hasn’t mattered whether Will is calling the races for a mega-crowd of thousands or spectator-free meets. His passion for the sport comes through loud and clear as he narrates each contest from start to finish.

The video camera work is excellent, even with changes in natural lighting on various portions of the course, but it’s all there: gorgeous Thoroughbreds piloted by jockeys in bright silks, beautifully framed by the undulating sea of green turf. Will keeps you posted on who’s in the lead, who might be challenging, and, with videos, you can see so much more detail. It’s almost as good as being there, and “almost” is way better than no racing at all.

Now, however, the fall steeplechase season is a wrap, and standings are final for both sanctioned and point-to-points. It’s challenging to contemplate Great Meadow on October 24 without its signature crowds of nearly 50,000 arranged around three sides of the course, but this season has been all about the horses. Tod Marks, the official NSA photographer, writes terrific previews and reports, and we enjoyed what he wrote about this year’s International Gold Cup.

Here’s Tod’s opening sentence: “Saturday’s 10-race card at Great Meadow Race Course in The Plains, Va., had it all: Blow-out wins, white-knuckle finishes, and outstanding rides by apprentice riders. And of all the highlights, none shone brighter than Curve of Stones’ victory in the $25,000 International Gold Cup, his second timber-stakes score in two weeks.”

Everyone was there, and Tod gives the full scoop better than we ever could do it. Suffice it to say, when the racing concluded in November, Jonathan Sheppard ended up adding a win and purse money from five horses, thereby boosting his bid for yet another top trainer title in both races won (16) and money won. Jack Fisher ran a very close second in Money Won but saddled only half the winners.

It was an interesting season, no matter how you view it. But it’s all about the horses really. One favorite race is the Steeplethon, a very unusual hybrid mix of timber and hurdles that demand a special Thoroughbred.

Starlight Racing LLC’s Invocation, this year’s Steeplethon winner, was pretty brilliant over hurdles earlier in the gelding’s career, as stated in Will O’Keefe’s Central Entry treasure trove of racing information and statistics. In October 2016, Invocation debuted as a 3-year old over hurdles, placing third, and four weeks later, proved best in a field of nine at the Colonial Cup for his first win. He earned eight firsts over hurdles and on the flat by mid-2019 when he went to a new trainer, Mark Beecher, who grew up in the saddle in Ireland and crossed the big puddle to the USA in 2010. Within two years, Mark’s career as a jump jockey took off like a rocket. He retired from race-riding in a blaze of glory after piloting Mystic Strike to victory in the 2019 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Among his many awards are seven NSA titles, including several as leading rider over timber.
They say it takes one to know one, and no doubt this trainer and the horses in his program have come to a good understanding because Invocation has gone from flat to steeplethon to hurdle to timber to steeplethon as if it’s all in a day’s work. It will be interesting to see how next season goes for Invocation and what’s in store for him and his trainer.

All this research has made us very keen to engage in a marathon of following some favorite horses in their careers by taking a ride down memory lane via NSA Network’s archived videos. Because watching these amazing equine athletes and their riders is a great way to get some joy and alleviate cabin fever – the next best thing to being there…

Happy Healthy Thanksgiving!