The 2007 steeplechase season gets in full swing Saturday when the Carolina First Carolina Cup, a grade II for novices, is run for the 75th time over the Springdale Race Course in Camden, S.C.
A $75,000 stakes for novice runners, the Cup is the first leg of the Steeplechase Triple Crown. The glorious weather and top quality racing routinely attract huge crowds -- Camden's spring meet set the National Steeplechase Association record when 71,000 fans attended in 2000.
While just six runners will meet the starter, the compact field is filled with untapped potential from powerhouse connections. Trainers Jack Fisher and Doug Fout will send out two-thirds of the field. The Maryland-based Fisher will be represented by race favorite Quem Se Atreve as well as Rare Bush. Fout will lead over Orison and Gliding.
A 7-year-old Foguete Rodolfo gelding, Brazilian-bred Quem Se Atreve is the most accomplished jumper in the race, having taken the Georgia Cup (NSA-II) last year against open company. Ridden by Paddy Young and owned by Sarah Lyn Stable, Quem Se Atreve has not been seen since May. Fisher, however, isn't concerned about the time spent on the bench.
"We won a few last week at Aiken with fresh horses," Fisher said. "So we have them running well off the layoff. It obviously gives us a lot of confidence when we bring them over."
With the small field and an apparent lack of pace, Fisher sees Quem Se Atreve on the lead with Rare Bush close behind.
Rare Bush, who will be ridden by Xavier Aizpuru, was trained by Todd Pletcher during his flat racing career and was purchased by Fisher after his 3-year-old season.
"I went over to watch (Rare Bush) train and I galloped him too," said Fisher, "and shortly after I bought him."
Orison had a productive 2006 for Fout, hitting the board in all seven starts, winning two. In his last out, the (Novice) Championship Supreme Hurdle, a grade I in November, he finished third. Matt McCarron has the ride. Gliding, to be ridden by Chip Miller, has also been off since November, when he won an allowance race over the jumps.
"Both my horses are doing very well," Fout said. "I would have to say Orison is a little sharper than Gliding. I would have liked to have gotten a prep on the flat into (Gliding), but it just didn't come about."
Last year's champion trainer, Jonathan Sheppard, will give a leg up to Danielle Hodsdon, last season's champion jockey. Hodsdon will ride outsider Sovereign Duty, who won twice over the jumps in 2006. He last raced in October, finishing in fourth eventual Novice champion Kilbride Rd in the grade I Foxbrook Supreme Hurdle Stakes.
The Steeplechase Triple Crown is for "novice" steeplechasers in their first or second year of racing over fences. Experience-wise, they are the equivalent of 3-year-olds on the flat By definition, horses can not have won over hurdles before March 1, 2006.
$75,000 Carolina Cup (gr. II-novice), 4&Up, 2 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Jockey, Owner, Trainer.
1. Sovereign Duty, Danielle Hodsdon, Hudson River Farm, Jonathan Sheppard
2. Extra Check, Carl Rafter, Kinross Farm, Neil Morris
3. Orison, Matt McCarron, EMO Stables, Doug Fout
4. Quem Se Atreve (BRZ), Paddy Young, Sarah Lynn Stable, Jack Fisher
5. Gliding (NZ), Chip Miller, Brigadoon Stable, Doug Fout
6. Rare Bush, Xavier Aizpuru, Sheila Williams, Jack Fisher