(from National Steeplechase Association release)
A second steeplechase Eclipse Award already wrapped up, Sonny Via's Good Night Shirt aims for perfection Nov. 16 when he starts as a heavy favorite in the $150,000 Colonial Cup (NSA-I) at historic Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.
Just four rivals are signed on to challenge Goodnight Shirt in the Colonial Cup. The 2 3/4-mile race anchors the 39th Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup meeting, the penultimate stop on the NSA schedule.
Defending champion Good Night Shirt has done little wrong in four 2008 starts for trainer Jack Fisher. The 7-year-old son of Concern has already broken the single-season earnings record he set last year and is a perfect 4-for-4 on the season--all grade I tallies. He enters on the heels of five straight grade I scores, a streak that started in the 2007 Colonial Cup.
Good Night Shirt's victory over McDynamo in that race clinched the Eclipse Award and signaled a changing of the guard in the sport. McDynamo retired immediately after that race and Good Night Shirt entered 2008 as the heir apparent. He has yet to disappoint.
Good Night Shirt started the year with a win in the Georgia Cup at Atlanta in April, and then headed to Nashville to secure the Iroquois in May for the second straight year. After his usual summer freshening, he returned Sept. 21 to post a repeat victory in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont Park. He then answered any doubts about his ability to handle Far Hills with an easy four-length win in the American Grand National Oct. 18.
Good Night Shirt has won his four races by a combined 13 3/4 lengths this year, while leaving plenty in the tank each time.
"With the way he's run this year, I don't really know where there's room for improvement," Fisher said. "You can say he is better this year if you want, but he did run very well last year. Some people might have had a few questions about him at Far Hills, but I never did. Last year he just got beat by a better horse on that day (McDynamo), but then he rebounded to win the Colonial Cup, and we're looking forward to trying to win it again on Sunday."
Last year in the Colonial Cup, Good Night Shirt set the pace, maintained a measured one-length lead through much of the running, dueled late, and then drew off late to score by 2 1/4 lengths. The Colonial Cup is contested over natural brush fences, which are larger and taller than the standard National Fence. The race has 17 hurdles in all, and Fisher enters knowing he doesn't have to worry about Good Night Shirt making the adjustment.
"It's nice to know he's handled those fences well in the past and I think that's to our advantage," Fisher said.
Willie Dowling, Good Night Shirt's regular jockey for the past two years, once again has the call. All horses carry 156 pounds under the race's weight-for-age conditions.
Peggy Steinman's Dark Equation poses the biggest threat among the rivals. The 7-year-old son of Polish Numbers took home the prestigious New York Turf Writers (NSA-I) at Saratoga this August and has been freshened by Doug Fout since running fifth behind Good Night Shirt in the Lonesome Glory. Dark Equation encountered stretch traffic at Belmont and couldn't get clear in his run to the wire.
Dark Equation prepped for the Colonial Cup with an impressive win in a 1 1/2-mile training flat race at Montpelier Nov. 1, when he was an easy 2 1/4-length winner while never being asked by regular jockey Matt McCarron, who has the return call at Camden.
Polaris Stable's Preemptive Strike (Jody Petty) hasn't missed a beat in two fall starts since returning from a long layoff. The always dangerous front-runner won Aiken's Imperial Cup in flag-to-wire fashion this March, then missed seven months with a leg injury. The Sanna Hendriks trainee returned to finish third (he was moved up to second via a disqualification) in the Appleton at Far Hills, then was third, beaten three quarters of a length in the Noel Laing at Montpelier.
A relentless 10-year-old son of Roanoke, Preemptive Strike defeated the legendary McDynamo by five lengths in the Somerset (NSA-II) at the Meadowlands back in 2005. The multiple graded-stakes winner finished second behind Hirapour (and ahead of Sur La Tete and McDynamo) in this race in 2004.
Best Attack (Paddy Young to ride) was third in the Grand National, the same spot he finished in 2007 for Sally Radcliffe and Bruce Miller. The 7-year-old son of Bahri was a grade II winner as a novice and has shown promise since graduating to the open ranks. He ran second to Good Night Shirt in the Iroquois and third in the Lonesome Glory. He also finished third in the grade I Royal Chase this spring at Keeneland.
Pleasant Pick (no rider named) rounds out the field for High Hope Stables and Arch Kingsley. The 9-year-old son of Piccolino is winless in 12 hurdle starts since taking a Tyron claimer in April 2007.
$150,000 Colonial Cup (with jockey, trainer and owner):
1. Dark Equation (Matt McCarron, Doug Fout, Peggy Steinman)
2. Good Night Shirt (Willie Dowling, Jack Fisher, Sonny Via)
3. Preemptive Strike (Jody Petty, Sanna Hendriks, Polaris Stables)
4. Best Attack (Paddy Young, Bruce Miller, Sally Radcliffe)
5. Pleasant Pick (no rider, Arch Kingsley, High Hope Stables)
All horses will carry 156 pounds.