Steeplechasers Leap into Kentucky on April 16

Edited from an NSA release

Streaking steeplechase stakes horse Preemptive Strike and 11-year-old veteran Lord Zada headline the list of nominations for Keeneland's $150,000 Royal Chase (NSA-I), the richest race on the National Steeplechase Association's spring schedule, to be run Friday, April 16.

Owned by Polaris Stable and trained in Pennsylvania by Paul Rowland, Preemptive Strike has won two consecutive stakes--the March 7 Little Everglades Stakes and the Carolina First Carolina Cup (NSA-III) 20 days later. The Royal Chase will be the 6-year-old's toughest assignment, but a logical next step for a rapidly improving horse.

"He hasn't come out of them any worse for wear. Hopefully he'll still find some improvement," Rowland said. "I thought going into Florida that he would need the race because he's always needed one race. He's probably as fit as he can be right now. How he runs in Keeneland will be what he is. It will be a big test for him. Hopefully, he can step up and do a good job on the day."

Preemptive Strike was assigned 150 pounds in the race, which this year is being run as a handicap for the first time. He gains an eight-pound advantage from grade I winner Lord Zada.

Lord Zada, an 11-year-old owned by Augustin Stable and trained in Pennsylvania by Sanna Hendriks, earns his highweight assignment based on a record that includes a grade I win in the 2001 Colonial Cup and a runner-up effort in the 2003 Colonial Cup. Hendriks, who won the Royal Chase in 2001 with Pompeyo and 2003 with McDynamo, has prepped the son of Lord Avie with two training flat races on the NSA circuit. Lightly raced over jumps due to leg troubles, Lord Zada has won four of 10 starts and $229,000 over hurdles after winning six races and more than $250,000 on the flat.

Hendriks would rather be pointing defending steeplechase champion McDynamo to the Royal Chase, but will settle for Lord Zada as McDynamo is recovering from off-season hock surgery. In the Colonial Cup last year, Lord Zada finished second (beaten four lengths) in McDynamo's course-record-setting win. The victory margin was McDynamo's narrowest in three starts--all wins--last year.

"(Lord Zada) seems really good--old, but great," she said at the start of the season. "He came out of (the Colonial Cup last fall) great so I've got my fingers crossed that we can keep him that way."

Others on the Royal Chase list include multiple grade I winner Al Skywalker, who finished second in the 2002 Royal Chase and was fifth after setting the pace last year; Irish-bred Hirapour, who was second to Preemptive Strike in the Carolina Cup; multiple stakes winner Indispensable; recent allowance hurdle winner Hotspur from the barn of trainer Jonathan Sheppard; and owner Ken Ramsey's Man From Artemus from the barn of trainer Tom Voss.

First run in 1998, the Royal Chase has been won by steeplechase Eclipse Award winners Lonesome Glory, Pompeyo, Flat Top and McDynamo. Entries for the 2 1/2-mile race, to be run on Keeneland's turf course, close Monday, April 12.

The nominations from highest to lowest weight, with owner, trainer and weight:
Lord Zada, Augustin Stable, Sanna Hendriks, 158.
Preemptive Strike, Polaris Stable, Paul Rowland, 150.
Al Skywalker, Jennifer Majette, Jennifer Majette, 148.
Hirapour, Eldon Farm Racing Stable, Doug Fout, 148.
Indispensable, Edie Dixon, Jack Fisher, 146.
Hotspur, Michael Watt, Jonathan Sheppard, 144.
Mulahen, Gill Johnston, Kathy Neilson, 144.
Brinton Bridge, Crestview Farm, Kathy Neilson, 142.
Dancewel, Arcadia Stable, Jack Fisher, 142.
Man From Artemus, Ken Ramsey, Tom Voss, 138.
Miles Ahead, Derry Meeting Farm, Jonathan Sheppard, 138.