Breeders' Cup Steeplechase contenders Tres Touche, Sur La Tete and Pelagos are part of the eight-horse field entered for the $75,000 Metcalf Memorial (NSA-II) at Monmouth Park Sunday.The 2 1/2-mile hurdle stakes, Monmouth's first steeplechase since 1992, is the last jump prep for the $175,000 Breeders' Cup (NSA-I) at Far Hills, N.J. Oct. 23. The Monmouth chase draws the first and second leading earners of 2004, Sur La Tete and Tres Touche. Tres Touche won the New York Turf Writers Cup (NSA-I) at Saratoga Sept. 2 and recently passed the $500,000 mark in lifetime jump earnings. Only eight U.S. jumpers have earned that much and Tres Touche seems primed to add to the total. The 7-year-old, owned by Barracuda Stable and trained at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland by Ricky Hendriks, is enjoying the best season of his career with two wins (both grade I) and $134,010 in earnings. Regular jockey David Bentley has the call at top weight of 158 pounds."His biggest forte is his jumping – he gets lengths at his hurdles," said Bentley in Saratoga. "You probably don't realize it watching, but if you're getting a length at each fence it adds up and can be very important late in a race, especially when horses are trying to catch you. He always gives 101 percent. He's so tough and honest."In just his second season of steeplechasing,Sur La Tete, the 6-year-old son of Sky Classic, has bloomed. Owned by Kinross Farm and trained by Neil Morris in Virginia, Sur La Tete took two-thirds of the Steeplechase Triple Crown this spring (and was third in the other stage) and leads all 2004 jumpers with $134,560 in earnings. He makes his first start in open company (the Triple Crown races are restricted stakes) at Monmouth, but few doubt his ability. In his last start, Sur La Tete won the June 3 Meadow Brook (NSA-I) at Belmont Park by 3 1/2 lengths. Morris gave his stable star the summer off with the plan of reaching the Breeders' Cup in prime form. Sur La Tete is a nervous horse with claustrophobic tendencies – he never raced as a young horse after proving too difficult to train for then owner/breeder Rutledge Farm – and Morris takes great precautions against "turning the switch" again. With Morris, the horse made his career debut at age 4, and has won four of 13 starts (3-for-9 over jumps) and $162,270.
Regular jockey Chris Read, also Morris' chief assistant, gets the riding assignment at 152 pounds. Beyond the top pair, the race lured veteran stakes performer Pelagos from the Pennsylvania barn of Bruce Miller. Owned by Michael Hoffman, Pelagos won the Iroquois (NSA-I) in May 2003, and placed in two grade I stakes (the Breeders' Cup and the Colonial Cup) last fall. Unraced since April, the 9-year-old French import is a distance specialist who will enjoy the 2 1/2-mile trip. Veteran jockey Chip Miller, the trainer's son, gets the call at 150 pounds. $75,000 Metcalf Memorial (NSA-II), 3 & up, 2 1/2 miles
PP. Horse (Trainer, Jockey, Weight)
1. Pelagos (Bruce Miller, Chip Miller, 150)
2. Imperial Gold (Doug Fout, Gerry Carwood, 146)
3. Sur La Tete (Neil Morris, Chris Read, 152)
4. Santenay (Doug Fout, Cyril Murphy, 148)
5. Popular Gigalo (Bruce Miller, Blair Waterman 140)
6. Tres Touche (Ricky Hendriks, David Bentley, 158)
7. Foretold (Jonathan Sheppard, Danielle Hodsdon, 142)
8. Mulahen (Kathy Neilson, Tom Foley, 142)
Coupled: Imperial Gold and Santenay.