The $100,000 Joe Aitcheson Stakes, second leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown, has been canceled for 2003 because of the weather at Pimlico Race Course along with scheduling conflicts for the three-race series.
Originally slated for May 16, the National Steeplechase Association grade I steeplechase was postponed the morning of the race when three inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours at Pimlico. The race had attracted a full field of 12, and was in the Pimlico program for that day, which also included the grade I Pimlico Special and Black Eyed Susan Stakes. Due to the rain, all races were run on the main track -- an option that's not available to steeplechasers. Races must be run on turf to ensure safe takeoffs and landings over the fences.
Attempts to reschedule the race for May 24 or 25 failed, again due to rain slated for this weekend in the Baltimore area. The final leg of the series, the $100,000 Meadow Brook Stakes, will be run June 5 at Belmont Park.
"It's a huge disappointment for us because we had 12 horses ready to participate on what would have been a great day, but you can't change the weather," said National Steeplechase Association director of racing Bill Gallo. "Steeplechasing understands Pimlico's needs to protect its turf course, and there was really nothing anyone could have done about it. Pimlico wanted the race on a weekend to maximize the betting handle, and we couldn't run any later (than May 25) because it would be too close to Belmont."
Gallo said Pimlico has offered to make up the race with a steeplechase stakes in September that could coincide with the Baltimore-area steeplechase meet at Shawan Downs (Sept. 27).
Without the Aitcheson, Gallo expects an overflow field for the Meadow Brook including Trebizond, who won the series' first leg at Churchill Downs on May 1. Nominations close Monday, May 26 with entries taken on Monday, June 2.