By Don Clippinger
Trainer Julie Gomena offered a wry smile when asked whether her outlook for Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget (Bellamy Road) had improved as Saturday’s 84th annual Carolina Cup Races progressed toward the $150,000 G1 Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup at Springdale Racecourse in Camden, S.C.
“Yep,” she replied. Indeed, Virginia-based Gomena had every reason to be confident. Almost everything was winning on the front end on a firm racecourse that was only slightly dampened by rain a day earlier.
A speed bias is all but unheard of in steeplechase racing, but three of the afternoon’s first four races had been won by front-runners before the Colonial Cup, the day’s fifth hurdle race.
Balance the Budget prospers on the front end. If the course conditions favor him, he is dangerous. If the course comes up sticky, Gomena scratches him, as she did before last spring’s G2 David Semmes Memorial Hurdle S. at the Virginia Gold Cup. “That’s not his game,” she said at the time.
With his regular partner, Mark Watts, in the saddle, Balance the Budget gunned away from the starter, opened a yawning lead in the first mile of the 2 3/8-mile Colonial Cup, and came home to an easy 6 1/4-length score in the first Grade 1 race of the young National Steeplechase Association season. He ran the distance in 4:30 on firm turf.
The Colonial Cup, run for the 48th time, was the second consecutive graded victory for Balance the Budget and his first Grade 1 score. He had opened a big lead in last October’s G2 David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial Hurdle S. and won by nine lengths.
Watts said he never had any misgivings about opening up on the Colonial Cup field. He gave his mount a time-out into the final turn, and the veteran hurdler continued to jump forwardly. “I gave him a break there, and then I got him going again. He was going very well,” the South Carolina-based rider said.
Zanjabeel (GB) (Aussie Rules), making his first U.S. start in open company after two novice victories last fall, closed ground through the stretch but never was a threat to catch the speedy Balance the Budget, who won over fences for the sixth time and raised his steeplechase purses above $300,000.
Edith Dixon’s Schoodic (Tiznow), a talented but mercurial hurdler, closed willingly for third.