Unlike the hundreds of Thoroughbreds nominated to the Visa Triple Crown Challenge, chances for a steeplechase Triple Crown winner are much better, with only 11 horses nominated to the first leg, the two-mile Georgia Cup (NSA-I). Not only that, but unlike the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), Preakness (gr. I), and Belmont Stakes (gr. I), horses over the age of three can compete in the National Steeplechase Association's Triple Crown.
The April 10 Georgia Cup, contested at the Atlanta Steeplechase in Kingston, Ga., kicks off the three-race series which also includes the National Hunt Cup at Radnor on May 15 and the Meadow Brook Cup at Belmont Park on June 3. All three races offer $100,000 purses.
Kinross Farm's Sur La Tete towers over the field in terms of accomplishments with a grade I novice hurdle stakes victory last fall for Virginia trainer Neil Morris. The 6-year-old won a maiden hurdle last spring, then broke his maiden on the flat at Laurel over the summer. The son of Sky Classic
trounced a quality field in the $100,000 Foxbrook Novice at Far Hills in October to clinch the NSA Novice Championship.
A nervous shipper, Sur La Tete will go to Atlanta early and undergo final preparations at a nearby farm. Morris also trains budding star Gritty Sandie, but opted for Sur La Tete at Atlanta and probably an allowance start for $500,000 flat earner Gritty Sandie.
"I think they're both very very nice, both powerful horses," said the trainer. "Sur La Tete's had eight, 10 starts in his life. Gritty Sandie's had 55 or whatever. So there's a difference in what you can do training. That's a big difference. I'm really excited about having both of them, that's a nice situation to be in. Gritty Sandie got behind schedule a little bit this winter, and Sur La Tete is ready now."
Martin Cherry's Serazzo packs loads of breeding (he's a brother to grade I flat winners You And I
and Chaposa Springs) into a two-start steeplechase career that began last fall. Trained by Tom Voss in Maryland, Serazzo won a maiden hurdle in September and an allowance hurdle in November. The 8-year-old preps in a training flat race at Stoneybrook Saturday.
Others on the nomination list include 2003 3-year-old champion Hidden Key, four-time winner Mauritania and stakes-placed Irish import Raise A Storm. Entries close April 6, at which times supplementary nominations can be made.
The nomination list (with owner, trainer):
Cardiff Arms (Sonny Via, Tom Voss)
Frecuente (Mason Lampton, Sanna Hendriks)
Hidden Key (Paul Fout, Doug Fout)
Lumiere Sprout (Gillian Johnston, Kathy Neilson)
Mauritania (Whitewood Farm, Richard Valentine)
Pressure King (Mimi Voss, Tom Voss)
Raise A Storm (Bill Lickle, Kathy Neilson)
Serazzo (Martin Cherry, Tom Voss)
Sir Howard (Claytonville Stable, Jimmy Day)
Sur La Tete (Kinross Farm, Neil Morris)
Water Hunter (Dale Thiel, Toby Edwards)