(Edited press release)
If it's springtime, Thoroughbred racing must be thinking Keeneland, so it's only natural that the jumping division of the sport also heads to Lexington for a major race April 20.
The 10th annual Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings Hurdle (NSA-I), the second-richest race on the National Steeplechase Association calendar at $150,000 added, attracted a standout field of 11. The 2 1/2-mile stakes over 13 fences will be the ninth race Friday afternoon with a probable post time of 5:15 p.m.
Though last year’s winner Sur La Tete was not entered, the race stacks up to be a shootout with a host of contenders, including grade I winner Mixed Up and other major-stakes winners Preemptive Strike, Paradise's Boss, Racey Dreamer, and Good Night Shirt in the field.
Bill Pape's Mixed Up was installed the 3-1 favorite based on a 2006 campaign that included three stakes victories and $205,080 in earnings. The 8-year-old, also a winner of six races on the flat, won the New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap (NSA-I) at Saratoga last summer and is ideally suited to steeplechases at racetracks such as Keeneland. Trained by Jonathan Sheppard, the son of Carnivalay carries 150 pounds, including 2006 champion jockey Danielle Hodsdon.
"He's coming into the race as well as to be expected," said Sheppard, who runs three flat horses at Keeneland Thursday. "I wish he had a jump race as a prep, but that would be as much to soothe the nerves of the owner and the trainer as much as anything. He had a nice little break through December, his flat race (a second March 31 at the Carolina Cup) was good, and he's had several good schools since then. It's just a question of racing luck now; with 11 horses, there's always a chance one or two of them will run the race of their lives."
Polaris Stable's Preemptive Strike gets the highweight assignment of 152 pounds, thanks to a stellar career that includes five wins and $305,654 in earnings. The front-running chestnut has not raced since 2005, but won twice that year and finished second in the 2004 Royal Chase after leading for most of the race. Sanna Hendriks, trainer of three-time steeplechase champion McDynamo, recently took over the training of Preemptive Strike and named veteran Chip Miller to ride the 9-year-old. Hendriks expects a good effort, though the horse remains somewhat unfamiliar.
"I don't really know him that well, and this is the first time I've run him over jumps," said Hendriks. "He schooled (Monday) and he hasn't forgotten how to jump, so that's good. He's definitely on his toes and seems ready. Without Sur La Tete, it's a wide-open race."
Preemptive Strike tuned up for the Royal Chase in two NSA training flat races-- finishing second at Colonial Downs April 14 and winning at Stoneybrook April 7.
EMO Stable's Racey Dreamer comes off an even longer layoff for trainer Doug Fout. The 8-year-old son of A.P. Indyhasn't raced over jumps since 2004, but sports a perfect career mark of 4-for-4. After the stellar first season, the chestnut attempted comebacks from a tendon injury in 2005 and 2006, but was shelved when things didn't progress well enough.
"He's been back and ready to run two times, but last fall I just had a gut feeling it wasn't right, so I backed off again," said Fout. "He's as ready as I can get him without a jump race, and he's there to play and will put on a good show."
Current leading jockey Matt McCarron takes the call for Fout at 148 pounds and an 8-1 morning line.
Trainer Jack Fisher saddles two contenders, 6-1 third choice Paradise's Boss and 10-1 Good Night Shirt. After missing all of 2006, the former bounced back into contention with an impressive stakes score in Aiken, S.C. March 24. The 7-year-old Florida-bred also had three black-type victories in 2005. Xavier Aizpuru gets the return riding assignment at 148 pounds for owners Ann and Henry Stern.
Fisher-trained stablemate Good Night Shirt makes his 2007 debut after a 2006 that included a stakes win at Colonial Downs and a grade II placing (behind champion Hirapour) at Saratoga. Willie Dowling gets the ride at 146 pounds.
Rounding out the field are stakes winners Riddle, Party Airs, and Class Vantage; 2006 Royal Chase runner-up Mauritania; Irish import Chivite; and veteran mare Feeling So Pretty.
Royal Chase (NSA-I), $150,000 added, Keeneland, April 20 2 1/2 miles stakes over 13 fences, approx. post 5:15 EDT
PP. Owner, Trainer, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Good Night Shirt, Sonny Via, Jack Fisher, Willie Dowling, 10-1
2. Racey Dreamer, EMO Stable, Doug Fout, Matt McCarron, 4-1
3. Feeling So Pretty, Lee McKinney, Lee McKinney, Robbie Walsh, 30-1
4. Paradise's Boss, Ann Stern, Jack Fisher, Xavier Aizpuru, 6-1
5. Mixed Up, Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon, 3-1
6. Chivite, Calvin Houghland, Bruce Miller, Paddy Young, 15-1
7. Mauritania, Whitewood Stable, Richard Valentine, Rob Massey, 10-1
8. Preemptive Strike, Polaris Stable, Sanna Hendriks, Chip Miller, 4-1
9. Class Vantage, Mede Cahaba Stable, Lilith Boucher, Richard Boucher, 20-1
10. Party Airs, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Tom Voss, Cyril Murphy, 10-1
11. Riddle, High Hope Stable, Arch Kingsley, Jody Petty, 8-1