(Edited press release)
Looking to become the second horse to win back-to-back runnings of the $150,000 Royal Chase (NSA-I), Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete heads a talented list of 12 Thoroughbreds nominated to the race at Keeneland April 20.
The standout group includes 10 stakes winners who have won 57 times and earned an excess of $2.5 million in North American steeplechase races. Entries for the 2 1/2-mile, 12-jump race close April 16 with the National Steeplechase Association. Heading for its ninth renewal, the Royal Chase is Keeneland's only steeplechase.
Sur La Tete, a 9-year-old son of Sky Classic, dominated the race's 2006 running with a 10-length romp over a field that included eventual Eclipse Award winner McDynamo. That foe is the only big name missing from the 2007 list, as Sur La Tete failed to scare off any challengers.
"It's a testament to Keeneland's commitment to steeplechasing that we received such strong interest at the nomination stage," said Bill Gallo, director of racing for the National Steeplechase Association. "Just like in flat racing, it means something to win a race at Keeneland and our horsemen are excited about it. Obviously, anything can happen between now and the race, but it's a great sign to see so many nominations. We're looking forward to a great race."
Bred in Kentucky by Rutledge Farm, Sur La Tete will carry high weight of 164 pounds (yielding between 12 and 25 to the remainder of the field under the race's handicap conditions). He shouldered 158 in his 2006 victory, and will again be partnered by regular jockey Chris Read. A victory will make Sur La Tete just the fourth American steeplechaser to earn more than $700,000.
Competition will come from any number of rivals, including grade I winner Mixed Up from the barn of Jonathan Sheppard. Polaris Stable's front-runner Preemptive Strike, second in the 2004 Royal Chase, returns for new trainer Sanna Hendriks. Also McDynamo's trainer, Hendriks took over the 9-year-old's training this year. The nomination list also includes Mauritania and Feeling So Pretty, second and third behind Sur La Tete last year.
Notable flat owner Ken Ramsey could be represented by Party Airs, a stakes winner in his only start last season. Trained by Tom Voss, the son of Geri raced in Ireland as a young horse, but has won four U.S. jump starts and earned $175,206. Trainer Jack Fisher nominated a pair of talented horses in grade II winner Paradise's Boss and grade III victor Good Night Shirt. Trainer Doug Fout, who won the Royal Chase in 2004 and 2005 with Hirapour, nominated unbeaten Racey Dreamer. The son of A.P. Indyhas not raced since winning his first four starts in 2004. Riddle, who won the first stakes of 2007 at Little Everglades in Florida for trainer Arch Kingsley, also made the list.
The nomination list (with owner, trainer, weight) in order of the weight assignment:
Sur La Tete (Kinross Farm, Neil Morris, 164).
Preemptive Strike (Polaris Stable, Sanna Hendriks, 152).
Mixed Up (Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, 150).
Paradise's Boss (Ann and Henry Stern, Jack Fisher, 148).
Racey Dreamer (EMO Stable, Doug Fout, 148).
Riddle (High Hope Stable, Arch Kingsley, 148).
Good Night Shirt (Ann and Sonny Via, Jack Fisher, 146).
Mauritania (Whitewood Stable, Richard Valentine, 146).
Party Airs (Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Tom Voss, 146).
Chivite (Calvin Houghland, Bruce Miller, 142).
Class Vantage (Mede Cahaba Stable, Lilith Boucher, 140).
Feeling So Pretty (Lee McKinney, Lee McKinney, 139).