Steeplechase Season Starts in Florida March 6

The National Steeplechase Association's 2005 calendar begins March 6 with the fourth annual Little Everglades Steeplechase in Dade City, Fla. The tour's southern-most stop kicks off a 24-stop spring circuit that offers total purses of $2.6 million.

Highlights of the spring lineup are the $150,000 Royal Chase (NSA- I) at Keeneland April 22 and the $150,000 Iroquois (NSA- I) at Nashville May 14.

The two hurdle stakes will surely attract championship hopefuls like Hirapour, McDynamo, Preemptive Strike and Sur La Tete among others.

The Iroquois increased its purse $50,000 to reach a par with the Keeneland racing as the second-richest races on the annual calendar.

"It's encouraging to see a race step up like that," said Bill Gallo, NSA director of racing. "Keeneland has been a staple of the spring calendar at that level for seven years, and now it's got a worthy companion at the highest level. The schedule sets up perfectly for horses to run in both races, making for a more impactful stakes lineup."

Just under those two open stakes in importance are the Steeplechase Triple Crown races for novice hurdle horses. The series gets a new home for its first leg, the Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg April 23 and will continue with the Mellon National Hunt Cup at Radnor May 21 and the Meadow Brook Cup June 12 Each race will be worth $75,000 and carry grade II status.

The Meadow Brook was moved to the day after the Belmont Stakes, the finale of flat racing's Triple Crown.