Doc Cebu took command late in Saturday’s $40,000 Virginia Gold Cup and drew away with authority in the signature timber stake at the 95th annual Virginia Gold Cup races at Great Meadow in The Plains.

Ridden by Michael Mitchell, 2019’s co-champion jockey, Doc Cebu jumped strongly throughout the Cup’s four miles and delivered a dominant victory for owners Charlie Fenwick, Mike Hankin and Charles Noell.

Hudson River Farms’ Codrington College led from the seventh to the second last but faded in the stretch, second by 12 lengths, with Irv Naylor’s Super Saturday third.

Just a few hundred active participants were at the field events center at the first-ever spectator-free Gold Cup. Virginia Gold Cup Association executive director Diane Jones said “it was weird to be here with just a skeleton crew. It’s so quiet out here.”

The featured timber classic was the second straight stakes victory for the ownership team, which races other horses in the name of Bruton Street-US, 2019’s champion owner. A race earlier, Bruton Street’s Snap Decision scored a similarly dominant victory in the David Semmes Memorial hurdle stake.

Both winners were saddled by champion trainer Jack Fisher.

Doc Cebu was second to Ballybristol Farm’s Andi’amu in Middleburg Spring’s Middleburg Hunt Cup two weeks ago at Glenwood Park, and Saturday shaped up as a battle between the two champions. Trained in Pennsylvania by Leslie Young, Andi’amu had won last year’s Gold Cup and went on the secure the 2019 timber title.

Andi’amu had proved that he could stay four miles; Doc Cebu, who was pulled up in his only 2019 start in the Gold Cup, had yet to win at that distance. Yet he’s no stranger to Great Meadow. Doc Cebu won the International Gold Cup at Great Meadow to lock up 2017 and 2018 timber titles.

Fisher-trained Storm Team went to the lead at the break, Andi’amu settled behind by rider Tom Garner. Doc Cebu trailed, Mitchell allowing the veteran to settle into stride across the long Great Meadow backside.

The race’s complexion changed at the seventh.

Confused by what he called an “inviting route” off the dowling poles marking the north rail turn, Sean McDermott guided Storm Team to the 22nd fence up the outside of the racecourse rather than to the eight fence up the inner. Garner followed with Andi’amu over the incorrect jump.

Both veteran pros quickly realized their mistake when they saw the rest of the field 50 feet to their left, following the correct route.

Both pulled up – off-course horses are not allowed to continue in a race, as Codrington College took command. Doc Cebu jumped strongly through the last mile, moving to lead at the second-last.

Doc Cebu powered home, the 10-year-old running the four miles in 8:15 2/5 on turf rated as good.

Reigning novice champion, like stablemate Doc Cebu sired by Hard Spun, surged late to win the $35,000 Semmes by 4 1/2 lengths.

Somewhat softening the blow of “losing” the Gold Cup, Ballybristol’s Mercoeur (Tom Garner)  fought off a late challenge from Invocation and McDermott to win the $20,000 cross-country Steeplethon. 

Complete results are at nationalsteeplechase.com. Find more photos on the Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation Facebook page.

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