Hudson River Farm's Moneytrain, who set a steeplechase course record at Colonial Downs last month in a dominating performance, is the horse to beat in Sunday's seventh annual Zeke Ferguson Memorial (NSA-III) at the Virginia racetrack.
Highlight of Colonial's summer steeplechase lineup, the $50,000 Ferguson attracted a field of nine and will be carded as the day's third race at 2 1/4 miles over 10 fences. Past winners of the race, run in memory of the Richmond-area resident and longtime steeplechase owner whose horse Leeds Don won the Virginia Gold Cup three times, include champion Flat Top and grade I winner Pinkie Swear.
Veterans Indispensable (39 career jump starts), Najjm (22) and Trebizond (21) have a big experience edge on Moneytrain, who has six hurdle races, Racey Dreamer (three) and others in the early stages of their jump careers.
Moneytrain announced his arrival with a dominant, 12-length allowance score at Colonial June 13. The German-bred stalked the pace and drew off while coasting across the finish line in 3:22.83 for 1 7/8 miles. After the win, Sheppard spoke highly of the 5-year-old, and said stakes would be next. Jockey Danielle Hodsdon gets the return assignment.
"We've had a pretty good year with our steeplechase horses (12 wins from 37 starts), but hopefully now we'll have a horse to run in the better races," Sheppard said. "Maybe he can make the step forward. He's given the impression of an above average horse, and I know he's got a motor in him."
EMO Stable's Racey Dreamer puts his undefeated steeplechase mark on the line in his first starts vs. open company. The 5-year-old converted quickly from flat racing (he won twice on the turf last October) with a maiden hurdle win April 3, an allowance hurdle score May 1 and a grade I novice stakes score May 15. The son of A.P. Indy
has improved with each start with trainer Doug Fout and will again have the services of 2004 leading jockey Matt McCarron.
The flashy chestnut is a budding star with $82,500 earned over jumps since being purchased from Jayeff B Stable and New Jersey-based trainer Alan Goldberg.
Edie Dixon's Indispensable won the Ferguson in 2001 at a big price, and has hit the board in several other important races during his lengthy career. The son of Mane Minister carries three losses in as many starts this year, but could still toss in a big effort for trainer Jack Fisher (who has three horses in the race). Fisher's other starters, imports Duke Of Earl and Saitensohn, have yet to prove themselves on these shores.
Trainer Bruce Miller entered Najjm, whose best effort would be good enough to contend here. Trouble is, his best effort seems to only be sporadically available. The 7-year-old son of Dynaformer ran two solid races last fall and then floundered. Miller opted for a flat prep, a fourth on the dirt at Colonial June 26, as a tightener for this.
Coppertree Farm's Major Hero comes off a win in starter allowance company, and has been freshened for this by trainer Tom Voss. Bill Lickle's Trebizond gets the high weight assignment of 158 pounds thanks to two grade I wins vs. novice foes last year, but has lost his last seven starts for trainer Kathy Neilson.
Shady Valley and Racey Dreamer are confirmed front-runners, with Moneytrain and Major Hero also wanting to sit close. Closers like Najjm and Indispensable want a speed duel to develop.
The Ferguson field (with trainer, jockey) in post position order:
1. Shady Valley (Bruce Haynes, Tom Foley).
2. Major Hero (Tom Voss, Cyril Murphy).
3. Indispensable (Jack Fisher, Paddy Young).
4. Racey Dreamer (Doug Fout, Matt McCarron).
5. Moneytrain (Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon).
6. Najjm (Bruce Miller, Chip Miller).
7. Trebizond (Kathy Neilson, Rob Massey).
8. Duke Of Earl (Jack Fisher, Blair Waterman).
9. Saitensohn (Jack Fisher, David Bentley).