The best steeplechase horses in America tangle once more in the $150,000 Iroquois Steeplechase (NSA-I) at Nashville, Tenn., Saturday. The 3-mile hurdle stakes drew a field of eight -- unquestionably headlined by Sur La Tete and McDynamo.
They meet for the second time in 2006 and fifth time overall.
Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete has finished in front of his rival four times, including a dominant performance in Keeneland's Royal Chase (NSA-I) April 21, but has yet to win an Eclipse Award (something McDynamo did in 2003 and 2005). That could change this season as Sur La Tete seems to have elevated his game. The 8-year-old powered away from the field in a 10-length Royal Chase victory, claiming a $93,825 payday.
Trainer Neil Morris cited a recent workout (with undefeated timber stakes horse Miles Ahead) that hinted at more good things to come for the earner of $554,820.
"I told them I wanted them galloping upsides one another and work the half (mile), but I wanted their mouths wide open and I wanted them to gallop out strong together," Morris said. "I didn't want them going too fast, but I wanted them to work. Their hind legs were overtaking their front legs and they looked great doing it. Afterward, they turned and walked away from each other -- just walked for a couple of miles."
The workout obviously helped Miles Ahead, who won the Virginia Gold Cup a few days later. Sur La Tete gets his chance next.
Morris sent Sur La Tete to Nashville early this week and the son of Sky Classic
will get his final workouts there while trying to win a second consecutive Iroquois. Regular jockey Chris Read will be aboard once again.
Michael Moran's McDynamo flopped in the Royal Chase, laboring in the soft turf and being pulled up in the stretch. Trainer Sanna Hendriks was mystified by her stable star's performance, but she expects a return to form in the Iroquois.
"I don't have any great explanation of what happened," Hendriks said. "He just threw in a clunker. His blood wasn't perfect afterward, but it wouldn't be after running and then shipping back from Kentucky. He didn't bleed. He never looked happy to me at any point."
In 2005, McDynamo led the Iroquois late but lost momentum with a slip on the final turn and was passed by Sur La Tete in the stretch. Though they were separated by just 2 1/2 lengths that day, McDynamo and Sur La Tete went in different directions -- McDynamo to two grade I wins in the fall and an Eclipse Award, Sur La Tete to an 11-month vacation with a foot injury. Head-to-head, Sur La Tete owns a 4-1 record vs. McDynamo.
There are six others in the Iroquois including stakes winners Erin Go Bragh and Mon Villez. Twelve-year-old mare Feeling So Pretty finished third at Keeneland, and returns for another try in the Iroquois for owner/trainer Lee McKinney. Nashville-area owner Calvin Houghland, who rode in the first Iroquois in 1941 and won the race as a jockey two years later, will be represented by three horses -- Mon Villez, Bow Strada and recent Australian import Meneef -- while looking for his fifth win as an owner. The latter won his only jump race in Australia April 26. He joins trainer Kathy McKenna's American barn and will be ridden by Robbie Walsh.$150,000 Iroquois Steeplechase (NSA-I), 4 & Up, 3 Miles (Turf)
PP. (Owner, Trainer, Jockey)
1. Meneef (Calvin Houghland, Kathy McKenna, Robbie Walsh)
2. Sur La Tete (Kinross Farm, Neil Morris, Chris Read)
3. Feeling So Pretty (Lee McKinney, owner, Michael Traurig)
4. Bow Strada (Houghland, Bruce Miller, Chip Miller)
5. McDynamo (Michael Moran, Sanna Hendriks, Jody Petty)
6. Mon Villez (Houghland, Bruce Miller, Xavier Aizpuru)
7. Free Admission (Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon)
8. Erin Go Bragh (Brigadoon Stable, Doug Fout, Matt McCarron)