Seven hurdle stakes horses will square off in Saturday's $100,000 Iroquois Steeplechase (NSA-I), at three miles the longest hurdle race on the National Steeplechase Association calendar, in Nashville, Tenn.
Preemptive Strike, runner-up to Hirapour in his last start, rates a slight favorite among an evenly matched group that also includes stakes winners Tres Touche, Snowball Flannagan and Imperial Gold.
Owned by Polaris Stable and trained in Pennsylvania by Paul Rowland, Preemptive Strike sports a 2-for-3 mark this year with wins I the Little Everglades Stakes and the Carolina First Carolina Cup (NSA- III).
His effort in the Royal Chase (NSA- I) April 16 at Keeneland may have earned him more admirers than either win, however. The 6-year-old set the pace throughout, was passed by Hirapour on the final turn, battled back to take a slim lead after the last fence but was eventually worn down by Hirapour's effort in a 1 3/4-length win.
The Iroquois and its test of stamina is next. The race includes 18 fences and a long, gradual uphill finish from the backstretch home.
"Last year, I don't think (Preemptive Strike) would have gotten the trip because he didn't settle the way he does now," said jockey Robbie Walsh. "It's definitely a staying race and I think he can stay. He relaxes better in his races and doesn't have to be in front. I just let him settle where he's comfortable."
The Iroquois card features six races, with a first post time of 1 p.m. The meet is the second richest in total purse money ($290,000) on the NSA calendar and showcases three other stakes races -- one for fillies and mares, one over timber and a grade III hurdle stakes at two miles.
The field for Saturday's $100,000 Iroquois (NSA-I) includes:
1-- Airolo (Chip Miller),
2-- Imperial Gold (Clayton Chipperfield)
3-- Snowball Flannagan (Gus Brown)
4--Tres Touche (David Bentley)
5-- Preemptive Strike (Robbie Walsh)
6--Duke Of Earl (Xavier Aizpuru)
7--Gallant Turk (Ted Thompson)