Sunday, Mar. 10
Jockey Woods Winants went a perfect three-for-three Saturday to open the spring steeplechase season on a winning note, his best start in 32 years on the circuit.
It made a long winter of workouts and reducing to “make weight” all worth it, said the amateur rider.
The Middleburg-based Winants partnered with trainer Eva Smithwick to win two over timber and one over hurdles at the March 2 Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds Point-to-Point in Sperryville.
"I've lost 22 pounds so far, maybe lost another half-pound today,” said the approximately 170-pound Winants of the strict diet and exercise program he employs beginning each January.
Winants was sure busy Saturday, sweating out his three victories and power-walking the steep hillside course earlier in the day.
Winants booted home two winners for Rappahannock County owner David Semmes' Indian Run Farm – Fogcutter in the amateur hurdle and Whodoyoucallit in the amateur timber, and one for Smithwick's family Sunny Bank Farm – Rutledge Classic in the foxhunters' timber.
“My heart belongs to the Virginia point-to-points,” Winants said. “It's hard to lose enough weight for the [sanctioned] rides, but if I have one of these horses good enough, I'll make it work. I've still got 10 [pounds more to lose to make the lower sanctioned weights.] It's pretty hard.”
He knows from experience the only way to draw his nearly 6-foot frame down to race-weight is to sweat. He jogs in a tight rubber suit. The trapped heat forces sweat and pounds to pour from his body.
“I didn't bury myself in the muck heap,” Winants said with a laugh, referencing the legendary weight-loss method of old, when jockeys would bury themselves up to their neck in a fermenting manure pile wearing a plastic garbage bag, sort of old-fashioned sauna.
He dresses in thick layers of winter clothes no matter the weather and turns his car heater up full blast when driving. “I've had people ask if they can ride with me to the races sometimes,” he said. “I warn them it'll be pretty hot. They only ask me once.”
In the Seven Corners timber, Winants rode Whodoyoucallit for Smithwick, with competitor and friend Ted Zimmerman aboard his own Dr. Alex, also trained by Smithwick. They had strict “orders” from their trainer. “I told them, as a joke, that I wanted them to finish in a dead-heat,” said the Middleburg-based Smithwick.
Though Winants held an easy lead from the start with Whodoyoucallit, Zimmerman urged Dr. Alex strongly after the last, missing by just a nose at the wire.
“You know, I've never two jockeys follow instructions any better,” Smithwick said. “I didn't really mean it. Though, well, I guess maybe I did.”
Winants also won with Sunny Bank Farm's Rutledge Classic in the foxhunters' timber, and aboard Indian Run Farm's Fogcutter, his third in a row in the Thornton Hill amateur hurdle.
Thornton Hill is the first time Winants has ridden races since he came down hard in last April's Maryland Hunt Cup (he fell with Volle Nolle.)
“I'm still hurtin' from that,” he said of the 13 months away from the racecourse. “But it felt good to get back in the tack."
“He tried to add a stride” at the Glyndon, Md. Course's enormous fifth fence, Winants recalled. “You can't do that over those [big, solid rail] jumps.” Winants suffered a broken rib and a badly-bruised back, though he believes there's no lasting damage.
Winants works as a fiber optics operations technician, finding time to gallop horses for Smithwick before reporting to the office most mornings.
“I like that just as much as the racing,” Winants said. “The training is a big part of which I love this sport.”
Best of the rest
Maggie Bryant was represented by two winners, Irish-bred Sulwaan (Paddy Young up) in the open hurdle, and Classic Bridges on the turf. Sulwaan won three over hurdles in Ireland before being imported to the U.S. this season. Classic Bridges, trained for Bryant by Neil Morris, is by Sky Classic, also sire of the Morris-trained multiple champion Sur La Tete.
Virginia-bred maiden winners included Trappe D'Or and Getaway.
Paddy Young steered Bruce Smart homebred Trappe D'Or to win in his third try over hurdles, while Rod Mackenzie was aboard fourth generation homebred Getaway for Wayne and Susie Chatfield-Taylor's Morgan's Ford Farm.
Getaway was a winner on the turf at Laurel last year. The 4-year-old daughter of Skip Away (sire of hurdle champion Slip Away) represents 35 years of Morgan's Ford breeding. The gray filly is out of the Editor's Note mare Proof Positive.
Complete results are found online at www.CentralEntryOffice.com