With the big names headed to Keeneland for the Royal Chase later this month, second-level stakes horses tangle in the $75,000 Georgia Cup Hurdle (NSA-II) at the Atlanta Steeplechase at Kingston, Ga. Saturday. The 2-mile open stakes draws a good group that includes Mixed Up, Mauritania, and Niello.
Bill Pape's Mixed Up won a leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown last season for trainer Jonathan Sheppard and steps into open company. Danielle Hodsdon rides the 7-year-old Pape homebred whose 2005 included an allowance win and a grade II stakes score at Radnor in four starts. The son of Oh Say has been worse than third just once in seven career jump starts and makes his 2006 debut in the Georgia Cup.
Whitewood Stable's Mauritania has yet to win a stakes, but has built a solid career that includes an allowance score at Saratoga and five wins and $116,000 in 24 jump starts. Trained by Richard Valentine, the son of Trempolino usually goes to the front and will be tough to handle. Rob Massey has the ride. Mauritania comes off a third behind I'm Hit Sarge and Niello at Aiken March 25.
"He's been training well and moved up a lot from his run at Aiken," said Valentine. "He was third in the novice to Sur La Tete at Atlanta (2004), so he likes the course. Two miles and an uphill finish will suit him."
Niello nearly went wire-to-wire three weeks ago at Aiken, getting caught at the line in the $40,000 Regions Bank Imperial Cup. Owned by the estate of Madeleine Murdock, Niello should be tighter for the run and will likely race close to the pace. Bernie Dalton gets the riding assignment. Niello returns to the scene of his maiden win, which came at Atlanta in 2003.$75,000 Georia Cup Hurdle (NSA-II), 4 & Up, 2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse (with owner, trainer, jockey)
1. Niello (estate of Madeleine Murdock, William Cocks, Bernie Dalton)
2. Super Fame (Gil Johnston, Jack Fisher, Xavier Aizpuru)
3. Bow Strada (Calvin Houghland, Bruce Miller, no rider);
4. Mixed Up (Bill Pape, Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon)
5. Pals Pride (Little Bay Racing Stable, Kevin Pallister, Michael Traurig)
6. Quem Se Atreve (Sarah Lyn Stable, Jack Fisher, Rylee Zimmerman)
7. Mauritania (Whitewood Stable, Richard Valentine, Rob Massey).