Eclipse Champs Aim For Grade I At Keeneland

Edited Press Release

The April 22 Royal Chase at Keeneland (NSA-I) drew nominations from previous Eclipse Award winners Hirapour and McDynamo. Both horses are also prior winners of the $150,000 Royal Chase, the second-richest race on the National Steeplechase Association calendar.

Nominations to Keeneland's only steeplehcase closed April 12 and attracted a talented group of 10. Entries and supplementary nominations close April 18 for the 2 1/2-mile test.

"This ought to be a good race," said NSA director of racing Bill Gallo. "You can't do much better than two Eclipse Award winners. We're excited about the prospects and as always we are thrilled to be going back to Keeneland."

The horses must be, too. Michael Moran's McDynamo won the 2003 Royal Chase on his way to the Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser that year. The Keeneland yearling purchase missed last year's race while recovering from hock surgery, but returned to take the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (NSA-I) off an 11-month layoff last fall. He missed out on a repeat Eclipse when he finished a dull fourth in the season-ending Colonial Cup. This year, the 8-year-old has tuned up with two training flat wins for trainer Sanna Hendriks. Gallo assigned the son of Dynaformer high weight of 162 pounds.

"He's doing better than he was at any point last fall," said Hendriks from her Pennsylvania base. "He's fitter, sharper and I don't feel like I'm pushing to get him (to a race). It's really hard to come back from a layoff like we did last year, and we haven't had to deal with that this spring. He didn't get a whole lot of time off, and everything has gone smoothly."

Eldon Farm's Hirapour won the 2004 Royal Chase as part of an Eclipse season that included a win in the Colonial Cup over McDynamo and two seconds (one to McDynamo in the Breeders' Cup). The 9-year-old Irish import got his 2005 season started with a narrow loss to Sur La Tete in the Carolina Cup (NSA-III) April 2. Trained by Doug Fout, Hirapour unleashed his usual late run in the race but came up a head short. He was second in the Carolina Cup before winning the Royal Chase last year, and gets 160-pound assignment from the handicapper.

"He came out of this last race better than he did the last two, which is a great sign," said Fout, who spent the winter in South Carolina but is usually based in Virginia. "He's better mentally, happier. In his last two races last year, it took him a little longer to recover but in two days he was bouncing around and ready to get back to work - they are going to have to run to beat him."

Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete led all steeplechasers in 2004 earnings with $207,060, but lost to McDynamo and Hirapour late in the season. The 7-year-old avenged one of those defeats in the Carolina Cup, and heads to Keeneland as the main threat to the top pair. The son of Sky Classic started 2004 in the novice division, and got his first taste of open company in the Breeders' Cup and Colonial Cup. He looked superb in the Carolina Cup, turning aside Hirapour with a determined stretch run after taking the lead on the final turn.

Others on the list include National Steeplechase Association grade I winners Tres Touche and Cherokeeinthehills, 2005 stakes winner Raise A Storm, European winners Il Capitano and Airolo, 2004 Royal Chase third-place finisher Dancewel, and U.S. stakes winner Mulahen.

The nomination list (with owner, trainer and weight under handicapconditions):

McDynamo (Michael Moran, Sanna Hendriks, 162).
Hirapour (Eldon Farm, Doug Fout, 160).
Sur La Tete (Kinross Farm, Neil Morris, 156).
Tres Touche (Barracuda Stable, Ricky Hendriks, 150).
Cherokeeinthehills (Marilyn Ketts, Jonathan Sheppard, 142).
Raise A Storm (Bill Lickle, Kathy McKenna, 142).
Il Capitano (Eldon Farm, Doug Fout, 142).
Airolo (Calvin Houghland, Bruce Miller, 140).
Dancewel (Arcadia Stable, Jack Fisher, 140).
Mulahen (Gillian Johnston, Kathy McKenna, 140).