Championship contenders Sur La Tete and McDynamo, second and third, respectively, in the Royal Chase (NSA-I) three weeks ago, headline Saturday's $150,000 Iroquois Steeplechase (NSA-I) at Nashville, Tenn.Six others line up against the heavyweights in the 3-mile test, America's longest hurdle race, but they would all be bidding for major upsets.Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete opened 2005 with a gutsy win over 2004 champion Hirapour in the Carolina Cup (NSA-III) and followed that up with a second to that rival in Keeneland's Royal Chase. The 7-year-old son of Sky Classic, trained in Virginia by Neil Morris, has finished in the top three for nine straight races. Regular jockey Chris Read will be aboard.Morris expects a tough race. "We are beatable at the upper end of the spectrum," said the Virginia-based trainer. "He's very competitive, but to win a grade I we have to have everything go right for us too. He's a very good horse; he's well and I think he will run well."Michael Moran's McDynamo appears to be struggling of late, but only because he set the bar so high. The 2003 steeplechase champion won six consecutive races, five of them grade I stakes, from October 2002 through October 2004 while rocketing to the top of the steeplechase world. His last two races have been defeats, a fourth in the Colonial Cup in November (when post-race bloodwork indicated an infection) and a third in the Royal Chase three weeks ago (where he was keen early, made the lead on the turn, and was caught late).Trainer Sanna Hendriks will change to a ring bit (from a snaffle) and trust her horse to settle early in the race. "Getting him to harness his energy has always been a challenge," said the Pennsylvania conditioner. "He ran his race at Keeneland, he just ran it too hard and too early. If he relaxes a little bit better, he will finish a little bit better."
Beyond the top pair, the field is full of gamblers looking for a big score. Bow Strada and Seafaring Man come off victories vs. much weaker opponents and look like the only logical upset plays. Owned by Nashville-area resident Calvin Houghland, Bow Strada was a classy chaser in England before winning his U.S. debut at Atlantic City April 29 for trainer Bruce Miller. Hudson River Farm's Seafaring Man won an allowance hurdle at Tryon, N.C. April 23 for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.The Iroquois card features three other stakes and total purses of $315,000, second highest on the NSA calendar and tops for the spring season. The $50,000 Marcellus Frost (NSA-III) lured six 2-mile hurdlers headed by Ken Ramsey's Party Airs. The 6-year-old comes out of the Tom Voss barn in Maryland and looks to recapture his 2003 form, when he won two stakes. Others in the field are stakes winners Barzulu, Understood and Najjm, rising star Three Carat and French import Airolo.