SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – When Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher saw his esteemed steeplechaser Snap Decision was assigned a field-high 164 pounds for the Grade 1, $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard Handicap, he nearly decided against running the son of Hard Spun in the 2 3/8-mile test for older horses. But Snap Decision answered the challenge with aplomb, posting an impressive open-lengths victory on Wednesday at Saratoga Race Course.
The Jonathan Sheppard was the fourth start this year for Bruton Street-US’s Snap Decision, who was last seen finishing third over the flat in the Colonial Cup on July 27 at Colonial Downs. It was his third career Grade 1 triumph, and second this year after successfully defending his title in the Iroquois in May at Percy Warner.
Ridden to victory by Graham Watters from post 6, Snap Decision briefly allowed Chief Justice to lead the field of seven, but quickly established command with Chief Justice tracking in second. There were few tense moments for Snap Decision throughout as positions remained unchanged around the firm inner turf course for a second time.
Approaching the final turn, Snap Decision increased his margin to 10 lengths as Chief Justice tired and Going Country came under a strong ride from Danny Mullins to chase in second. But there was no catching a runaway Snap Decision, who extended his margins with ease to cross the wire 13 1/4 lengths clear under a celebrating Watters in a final time of 4:32.88.
Going Country finished second 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Redicean with Belfast Banter completing the superfecta. Song for Someone, Down Royal and Chief Justice completed the order of finish. Historic Heart was scratched.
Snap Decision has run a majority of his races from off the pace, but Fisher said going to the front made sense as the most accomplished horse in the field.
“That was kind of my call,” said Fisher. “I told him that he was on the best horse, so I told him, ‘Don’t go crazy fast if they want to go crazy fast.’ If not, just go and be on the lead and say, ‘Come and get me.’”
Watters agreed on being forwardly placed, noting his prominent victory in the Iroquois earlier this year.
“We jumped off, everybody jumped off sharp. He’s drawn wide but I didn’t want to get trapped in behind the other horses, I wanted to just let him run and jump so I passed the guys around the turn the first time and got to the front,” said Watters. “Just had to get them and let him do his thing, run and jump. I won the Iroquois back in May on him, did the same thing, pistol whipped on there and that seems to be the best tactic on him.
“He’s got the biggest engine by far of any horse I’ve ever ridden,” Watters added. “I just let him use it. Simple.”
Fisher said while he was concerned about the weight going into the race, Snap Decision proved it was no issue with his strong performance.
“It could have been [a problem] on the turn, but the way he jumped at the last [fence] and the way he stood back at the last kind of far, that tells me they have enough energy left,” Fisher said.
With another top victory under his belt, Fisher said Snap Decision will likely turn his attention to the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory slated for September 15 at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Watters, who stood up and waved to a cheering crowd as he and the fan favorite crossed the wire, said horses as talented as Snap Decision are worth celebrating.
“Look, I’m 30 years of age, I’ve been riding for 15 years and he’s a horse of a lifetime and if I’m just mentioning the horse’s name, I get emotional about him,” said Watters, who has ridden Snap Decision in each of his seven graded stakes outings. “He’s an absolute legend of an animal. He’s a tiger. All I’ve got to do is unleash him. I’ll never come across another one of him. I’ve just got to soak it all up.”
Snap Decision, who was graded stakes-placed over the flat prior to becoming a jumps specialist, began his career with Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, finishing third in 2017 in the Grade 3 Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park and the Better Talk Now at Saratoga. He made his first start over jumps for Fisher in April 2019 at Charlotte and since then, the 8-year-old bay gelding has reinvented himself, scoring his first Grade 1 win in the 2021 Iroquois to cap a memorable nine-race win streak that included two novice victories at the Spa.
Bred in Kentucky by Phipps Stable, Snap Decision improved his impressive record to 35-13-7-7 with earnings of $822,334. He returned $3.10 for a $2 win wager as the 1-2 post-time favorite.
Keri Brion, trainer of Going Country and winner of this event last year with subsequent Champion Steeplechaser The Mean Queen, said her lightly-raced runner-up showed heart in his effort after finishing third at the novice level just two weeks ago.
“I am delighted with him. He was the most inexperienced horse in the race, obviously he got the weight which is why I took the chance,” said Brion, noting Going Country’s field low weight of 140 pounds.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of him. I’m thankful that Danny came here to ride him and gave him a great ride,” Brion added. “He’s a fun horse and he was not expensive so you can’t be too upset with running second to Snap Decision. We’ll get him with The Mean Queen in a couple of weeks.”
Live racing continues Thursday at Saratoga with a nine-race card, featuring the $150,000 NYSSS Statue of Liberty in Race 9. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Press Release
Photo: Snap Decision (Chelsea Durand Photo)