Meadow Brook Chase Kicks Off Belmont Week

(from Belmont report)
The most widely anticipated week of racing this season at Belmont Park begins on Thursday with $100,000-added Meadow Brook Steeplechase (NSA-I) for older horses at 2 1/2 miles over National Fences.

This is a novice event, carded for horses that have not run over the hurdles prior to March 3, 2003.

The bear will stay in the barn for Thursday's Steeplechase Triple Crown finale at Belmont Park, meaning the race is wide open for several of the 10 entrants in the Meadow Brook Stakes, which will be the first race on Thursday's nine-race card

Heavily favored Hirapour, a Grade I winner against open company in April, was not entered due to a respiratory problem, leaving Sur La Tete and Serazzo as the main contenders in the 12-hurdle race. The Steeplechase Triple Crown began in April with the $100,000 Georgia Cup in Atlanta and continued May 15 with the $100,000 National Hunt Cup in Radnor, Pa.

Sur La Tete dominated the first leg, with a powerful 11-length score for Virginia-based Kinross Farm and trainer Neil Morris. Racey Dreamer took the second leg over Serazzo and Sur La Tete, but like Hirapour won't make the Belmont race for trainer Doug Fout. Racey Dreamer was going to skip Belmont in favor of a summer campaign at Saratoga.

Hirapour, who won the Grade I Royal Chase at Keeneland and leads all U.S. jumpers in 2004 earnings, will get the summer off and point for the rich grade I stakes in the fall and a possible Eclipse Award for owner Eldon Farm.

Sur La Tete, bred in Kentucky by Rutledge Farm, is a son of Sky Classic and was being trained for a flat career before proving too difficult to ride and train. Kinross purchased the languishing gelding as a 3-year-old in 2001 and embarked on a new career as a jumper -- which thus far has included three wins in eight starts and $147,500 in earnings.

Serazzo, an 8-year-old son of Kris S and Peruvian champion La Chaposa, brought even more to the flat game. His full-brother You And I won the 1995 Metropolitan Mile (gr. I) and was a $700,000 earner before embarking on a solid stallion career (he's the sire of You among others). Half-sister Chaposa Springs also is a grade I flat winner. Owned by Martin Cherry, Serazzo won five races and nearly $200,000 on the flat with trainer John Kimmel before being sent to Maryland-based trainer Tom Voss for a go at steeplechasing.

"The horse had reached his level," said Cherry of his first steeplechaser. "He had gone through all of his conditions, he had run in the Maker's Mark Mile and some of the other big races and he was just a little short of those horses. I got tired of seeing him take a beating."

Serazzo won his first two hurdle starts last fall, cruised in a flat race for jumpers at Atlantic City and added a grade I stakes placing to his past performance line with the runner-up effort at Radnor. Like Sur La Tete, Serazzo should appreciate the Meadow Brook's 2 1/2-mile distance.

At Radnor, Serazzo raced close to the pace throughout and drew even with Racey Dreamer in the stretch before coming up three-quarters of a length short. Sur La Tete rated farther off the pace, reached contention on the far turn but was no match for the top two while finishing 3 1/2 lengths behind Serazzo.

Another contender is the late-running Cherokeeinthehills, who was second at Atlanta and fifth at Radnor for Marilyn Ketts and trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Once a stakes horse on the flat, the 7-year-old will benefit if a speed duel develops on the front.

Whitewood Farm's Mauritania was third at Atlanta and fourth at Radnor for Virginia-based trainer Richard Valentine. The 7-year-old son of Trempolino won four races last year and could be the likely pacesetter.

Barracuda Stable's Naughty Prince fell at the first fence at Radnor, but proved his ability with two wins, a second and a third last year for trainer Ricky Hendriks. The 5-year-old son of Rakeen also looks like a potential pacesetter.

Newcomers to the series are Udeman, a late-running maiden winner in early May, Foretold, who's 2-for-3 in his first jumping season for Sheppard and owner Bjorn Nielsen and recent allowance winner Jonstar.

$100,000 Meadow Brook Steeplechase (NSA-I)
1. Naughty Prince, Richard Heendriks, David Bentley, 151
2. Udeman, F. Bruce Miller, F. Bruce Mille, Jr., 148
3. South by Gosh, Bruce Haynes, T. Foley, 148
4. Cherokeeinthehills, Jonathan Sheppard, D. Hodson, 148
5. Sur La Tete, Neil Morris, C. Read, 154
6. Foretold (IRE), Jonathan Sheppard, Matt McCarron, 137
7. Preferred Guest, Jack Fisher, P.Young, 151
8. Serazzo, Thomas Voss, Cyril Murphy, 151
9. Mauritania, Richard Valentine, C. McCormack, 151
10. Jonstar (NZ), Sanna Hendriks, Gus Brown, 151