Cocks seeks first Valentine victory


Running winners at Fair Hill Race Course is nothing new for W. Burling Cocks.

The Hall of Fame steeplechase trainer is always a force at the one- or two-day spring and fall Fair Hill meets.

The Cecil County track, devoted exclusively to jumpers, runs a nine-race card starting at 1 p.m. Monday.

Cocks is a four-time winner of the National Steeplechase, Fair Hill's former spring feature, but he has never won the $25,000 Miles Valentine Novice Stakes, which replaced the National in 1988 and is named in honor of one of Cocks' longtime owners, the late Miles Valentine of Unionville, Pa.

But all of that could change on Monday's Memorial Day card.

Cocks saddles two horses, Newport Hero and Mort The Sport, in the Valentine field, which drew eight starters.

Newport Hero, the 6-5 morning line favorite, is owned by Valentine's widow. The horse, sired by Assert, is typical of many steeplechasers. He was a failure on the flat, winning only one claimer at Philadelphia Park. But he loves jumping and has become a happy horse since he was converted into a 'chaser.

"He would run on the front in his flat races, and quit," Cocks said. "But now he comes from way behind. He gallops along behind the field in the jump races and runs when we ask him to."

Newport Hero has won three of his four starts over fences. The 4-year-old gelding was third first time out this spring at Aiken, S.C., and has since won his last three races at Southern Pines, S.C., Camden, S.C., and Warrenton, Va.

The horse is ridden by Joe Walsh, a 23-year-old native of Ireland "who schooled and made him," Cocks said. Walsh's older brother, Peter, who is currently the country's leading jump jockey, also has a mount in the race, 3-1 second choice Lexington Ball.

Newport Hero is the only starter in the race who is eligible for a $5,000 bonus available only to Maryland Million nominees.

The Valentine field, with early track odds: Newport Hero, 6-5; Lexington Ball, 3-1; Mort The Sport, 6-1; Overnight Hero, 8-1; Happy Friar, 10-1; Miss Una F., 10-1; Aisling, 15-1; and Silent Spiral, 20-1.

The Valentine is contested over 16 hurdles at 2 3/8 miles. Also on the card is a novice timber race, five other hurdle races and two flat races.

The Fair Hill gates open at 11 a.m. General admission is $5; reserved seating is $10. For more information, call (410) 398-6565.

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