Though there is no $5 million bonus for sweeping all three races, the Steeplechase Triple Crown trail continues on at Pimlico Friday with four repeat customers from Churchill Downs two weeks ago.
The $100,000 Joe Aitcheson Stakes (NSA-I), second leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown, attracted 12 entrants with the National Steeplechase Association this week. Heading the list are the first three finishers (Trebizond, Naughty Prince and Fighting Star) from the Hard Scuffle Stakes at Churchill on May 1. The Aitcheson, run in honor of the Hall of Fame jump jockey and Maryland native, will be the third race on Friday's card, which also includes the Grade I Black Eyed Susan and Pimlico Special (gr. I).
Trebizond, owned by Delawarean Bill Lickle and trained by Kathy Neilson, passed two horses in the final furlong to win the by a half-length in the Hard Scuffle.
"He is a very tough horse, and I'm sure that's the Sadler's Wells in him," Neilson said of Trebizond and his sire. "He's had soundness issues that were pretty significant and in spite of that his heart swells up and he's very determined. That's how he won the race (at Churchill)."
The 7-year-old Irish-bred gets a new jockey in Tom Foley, who steered the horse to an allowance win at Saratoga last summer, as Rob Massey is committed to Ghost Fever.
The favorite should get plenty of pace in front of him this time as Ghost Fever, Crafty Celt and Hard Scuffle runner-up Naughty Prince all like to race on the lead. The first two are prime examples off "crossover" steeplechasers.
Owned and bred by Ned Evans, Ghost Fever is a half-brother to stakes horses Stormin Fever and Raging Fever but went 0-for-2 on the flat with trainer Mark Hennig. The 7-year-old son of Silver Ghost won a maiden hurdle last year and comes into Pimlico off a second in a $30,000 allowance April 19. The speedster, trained in Virginia by Doug Fout, gets jockey Rob Massey.
Barbara Graham's Crafty Celt won two races on the flat including the 1999 Maryland Juvenile Championship stakes at Laurel Park. Then owned by Dumbarton Farm and trained by Jimmy Murphy, the son of Opening Verse was sidelined by a fractured cannon bone. Converted to jumping by Graham, Crafty Celt was sent to steeplechase trainer Richard Valentine this winter and responded immediately with a maiden win April 19.
Two-time champion jockey Gus Brown has the mount, and likes what he feels so far.
"The biggest impression I've gotten from him is that he does things like he's more than ready for them," said Brown. "Inexperience is a definite concern, but what he has as a flat horse and what he's shown as a jumper give him a shake in the race."
The field (with jockey) in post position order:
1. Malagash (Cyril Murphy)
2. Trebizond (Tom Foley)
3. Blasphemous (Chip Miller)
4. Crafty Celt (Gus Brown)
5. Mr Perkolater (Michael Traurig)
6. Naughty Prince (David Bentley)
7. Fighting Star (Jody Petty)
8. Ghost Fever (Rob Massey)
9. Hendler (Richard Boucher)
10. I'm Hit Sarge (Robbie Walsh)
11. Major Hero (Murphy)
12. Vintage Class (Matt McCarron)