Edited from an NSA release
The National Steeplechase Association season steams into its second stop Saturday (and begins a run of racing for 12 consecutive weeks) with the 38th annual Aiken Steeplechase in Aiken, S.C. Always popular with spectators, Aiken expects a crowd of 25,000 in one of the area's most traditional rites of spring.
And the horses will be there too. Aiken's $30,000 hurdle feature, the Regions Bank Imperial Cup, attracted seven entries including grade I winner Trebizond, 2003 race winner Snowball Flannagan, multiple stakes winner Indispensable, six-time winner Regal Again, and promising newcomer He's A Dreamer.
"It's a great mix of horses, and that's what the Aiken feature is about," said NSA director of racing Bill Gallo. "We've got open stakes horses, horses with a lot of experience and some novices."
Trebizond's past form, which includes two grade I novice stakes wins last year, would make him the favorite, though he hasn't won since June and will get tested. Rob Massey has the ride for Kathy Neilson and owner Bill Lickle. Owned by Gil Johnson and trained by Janet Elliot, Snowball Flannagan won his first career stakes in last year's Imperial Cup. The 9-year-old comes off a fourth at Little Everglades March 7, but should benefit from that race. Last year's champion jockey David Bentley has the ride.
Jack Fisher, the 2003 champion trainer, makes his 2004 debut at Aiken and entered Edie Dixon's Indispensable in the Imperial Cup. The 10-year-old can be brilliant, his best races have come against top competition, but he can also turn in a sub-par effort. Two-time champion jockey Gus Brown gets the call in his first action since breaking his wrist in a fall last October.
Two horses on the upswing pose threats to the favorites. Stewart Strawbridge's Regal Again, who won six races last year, comes into Aiken off a training flat score at Little Everglades. The 6-year-old Canadian-bred proved his ability against claimers in 2003, but could make the step up here. Trainer Kathy Neilson named Danielle Hodsdon to ride. Kinross Farm's He's A Dreamer brings a 2-for-7 steeplechase mark into Aiken and could pose an upset threat in his stakes debut. The 6-year-old, trained by Neil Morris, won over the course last fall, and gets regular jockey Matt McCarron.
Aiken cards six races, five over hurdles and a training flat event. In addition to the stakes, the card includes a $20,000 allowance hurdle and a $15,000 maiden hurdle. The training flat race attracted hurdle stakes horses Lord Zada, Hirapour, and Imperial Gold who are aiming for major races this spring.Eight Nominated To Carolina Cup
Two-time race winner Al Skywalker heads a group of eight horses nominated to the March 27 Carolina First Carolina Cup (NSA-III) at Camden, S.C. The $50,000 stakes, three weeks before the grade I Royal Chase at Keeneland, should be an ideal prep for that race. In addition to Al Skywalker, a winner of more than $430,000, the nomination list includes grade I novice winner Hirapour, grade III winner Imperial Gold, and 2004 stakes winner Preemptive Strike.
Al Skywalker set the pace before fading to finish fourth behind Preemptive Strike at Little Everglades March 7, but still must be considered a threat over a course he loves. The 11-year-old won the Cup, a 2 1/4-mile race of natural brush fences, in 2001, finished second in 2002 and came back to win again last year for owner/trainer Jennifer Majette. No horse has won the Carolina Cup, first run in 1930, three times.
The nomination list (with trainer): Al Skywalker (Majette), Hirapour (Doug Fout), Imperial Gold (Fout), Michele Marieschi (Richard Valentine), Mulahen (Kathy Neilson), Najjm (Bruce Miller), Preemptive Strike (Paul Rowland), Regal Again (Neilson).Eclipse Champion McDynamo On Sidelines
Michael Moran's Eclipse Award winning-steeplechaser McDynamo will miss the spring season after undergoing surgery this winter to repair a small fracture to his right hock. The minor surgery was successful, and a full recovery is expected.
Veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center discovered the fracture during a routine nuclear scan or full body X-ray. McDynamo set a record in the Colonial Cup (NSA-I) in November and probably won October's Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (NSA-I) with the fracture.
"He's always been a little funny behind so we felt like we should send him for a nuclear scan to see exactly what we'd need to pinpoint for this year," said trainer Sanna Hendriks. "We discovered an old fracture. The amazing thing was he ran so well with it. It makes those races even more amazing."
Hendriks and Moran had planned to duplicate last year's spring schedule of just one start, in Keeneland's Royal Chase, so McDynamo will miss just one race and will be aimed for a fall campaign.
"I think we'll just go for the fall. We might think about Saratoga for the Turf Writers because it would be fun to take him up there, especially if he'll miss the spring, but we haven't firmed any of that up," she said. "(The injury) wasn't a major thing, didn't involve the joint. It's pretty straightforward, but any time you have surgery it's serious. We just missed having him ready for the spring."