08/26/2010 2:30PM

Sermon of Love leads one-two finish for Sheppard

Barbara D. Livingston
Sermon of Love, one of three contenders in the race saddled by Jonathan Sheppard, wins the New York Turfwriters Cup Steeplechase Handicap.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The question going into Thursday’s $100,000 New York Turfwriters Cup Steeplechase Handicap at Saratoga was not if trainer Jonathan Sheppard would win the race but which of his three evenly matched jumpers would come out on top.

And sure enough Sheppard, who had won 12 previous editions of the Grade 1 race, scored again when Sermon of Love outfinished stablemate Arcadius by a length. In fact, Sheppard missed sweeping the top three placings when his Divine Fortune finished fourth, a half-length behind the pacesetting Swagger Stick. Only five of the eight horses who started the race actually completed the 2 3/8-mile event.

Sermon of Love, who finished a distant second behind Spy in the Sky in this race last year, benefited from a perfectly judged ride by jockey Brian Crowley. Reserved just off the early leaders for nearly two miles, Sermon of Love picked up the pace approaching the stretch the final time, cleared the final hurdle cleanly, overtook the tiring leader in late stretch, and edged clear.

Arcadius, who also finished a close second behind Divine Fortune in the A.P. Smithwick earlier this month, rallied just behind the winner but could not kick with Sermon of Love at the end. Swagger Stick led to the final jump despite not taking the fifth jump well, remained clear despite brushing the final hurdle, but could not withstand the top pair in the final run to the wire.

Sermon of Love completed the course in 4:36.83 and paid $4.30 while coupled in the wagering with Divine Fortune. Bothy horses are owned by William L. Pape.

“We figured two or three in the race were speed types so I told Brian to just sit in behind them and not leave him with too much to do at the end,” said Sheppard. “Brian’s riding in top form now. He won three of the four races here this summer and finished second in the other, and he gave this horse a perfect ride.”

Sheppard admitted there was little to choose among any of his three entrants in the race.

“The trips and weight are probably the difference between all three of these and if you ran the race back again in two weeks you’d likely get a different result,” said Sheppard. “They’re not champions but all three are very useful, solid horses.”

◗ Only three horses ran in Thursday’s $63,000 High Rock Springs Stakes but two of them put on quite a show before Never Right Joey edged away to a hard-fought three-quarter-length decision over a game Freuds Ana Streak in the overnight stakes for 2-year-old New York-breds.

Never Right Joey ($2.50) and Freuds Ana Streak hooked up at the top of the stretch and dueled on even terms until the sixteenth pole, exchanging brushes along the way. Never Right Joey ultimately asserted his superiority in late stretch when finally able to edge away to his second win in as many starts.

John Velazquez rode the winner for trainer Todd Pletcher.